23/30: Handling Stress as a Product Manager

As product folks, we are tasked with working in between various sides of the company, users, customers, business partners, etc. The job is demanding and can be very stressful. How does any one person manage all that?

The truth is that sometimes we — don’t.

A lot of product managers burn out. The demand sometimes exceeds our ability to get everything done. So we spread ourselves too thin, and over time, that can have very negative consequences.

Some folks change jobs and quit product management altogether. This is symptomatic of tech broadly, and has as much to do with individual time management as it does with bad luck and tech companies with unhealthy work practices.

Does it have to be this way?

You’re in luck, because I’m here to say an emphatic — no, it does not.

I’ve had a burnout before. My workaholic personality, passion for my job, and learned busy bee behavior all led me to put in way too many hours and disrespect my own boundaries.

Losing a job after burning out was a shock to my system. It took me months to bounce back. But I did, and I learned a few lessons on the way.

  • Set boundaries. Respect your personal work hours. Don’t work on the weekends. Holidays are not made for work.

  • Find a hobby. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need “succeed” at it — find something that you enjoy and that relaxes you.

  • Manage your work time wisely. You have to protect your work time aggressively both to get things done and to keep your mind clear and productive.

  • Go on vacation and disconnect. Give yourself at least 2 weeks once a year where you go offline. Sprinkle in other time off after periods of high stress. While this may not be equally accessible to everyone everywhere, try to secure this for yourself if you can.

  • Build personal relationships at work. Don’t treat work as separate from your life. We all have our preferences, and not everyone can afford this. Perhaps you really don’t want this. But at least discover allies at work with whom you can speak openly about the challenges you are facing.

  • Learn conflict resolution. A lot of work stress comes out of mishandled conflict, regardless of whether you instigated it or suffered at its hand. Conflict resolution skills will help you navigate the stressful terrain of people’s feelings, moods, and needs.

  • Eat healthy and exercise. Find what works for you and your body. There are no prescriptions here. Whether it’s going to the gym, meditating, doing yoga, or eating salads for lunch — whatever floats your boat. So long as you stay above water.

And above all, don’t forget to breathe and be kind to yourself. Work can be fun and rewarding, but it requires active, ongoing effort at self-care. You’ve got this!

And that means you have to, too. But that’s what makes it all so fun in the first place!


24/30: Comfort Zones and Happy Places