Negotiation Skills

How to Take on a Stretch Project Without Getting Burnt Out

strong, confident, businesswoman

Your organization may be navigating uncharted waters right now, but you can actually utilize this opportunity to show your potential for growth. Taking on a stretch project outside of your day-to-day responsibilities can not only help your organization innovate but also give you a chance to shine as a top performer. However, you can’t drink from an empty well, and we still believe it’s possible to make 2020 the year of zero burnout. We’ll give you advice on how to successfully plan for, execute, and demonstrate success with a stretch project without spreading yourself too thin.

The Key Elements of a Strong Plan

Your strategy for executing the project should be detailed but also dynamic enough to anticipate possible feedback, changes, and curveballs. An unexpected day filled with meetings and deadlines that takes you away job searchfrom your stretch project shouldn’t derail you. Drawing up realistic project timelines and schedules will show your colleagues how you can integrate it into your workday and keep you on track so you manage your time effectively. If upon closer inspection, a large initiative seems too daunting, you can choose shorter-term projects that you can launch more easily. Of course, you can’t accomplish stretch projects alone. You’ll need to loop in at least one trusted advisor to work with you to keep you on track, steer you in the right direction toward the right people and resources, and keep you accountable. The advisor can also champion your project across the business. Identify this person and get them on board before you present your idea.

How to Make the Ask

First, you need solid plans for how you’re going to ask for the stretch project and how you’re going to execute it including the elements above. When you can devise and communicate a strategy, you’ll have a firm handle of how you’ll spend your time to avoid burning out. It will also help inspire stakeholders to buy into your project. When you make the ask, you’ll need to state your project goal right away. For example, maybe you want to implement a community service initiative, deliver a presentation to a VIP client, or put together a virtual employee summit. Since you’ll need company time, personnel, and resources, you’ll want to clearly outline how your stretch project will be valuable to the business. The expected results can be anything from traditional business metrics like enhancing revenue to softer gains like building key external and internal relationships. Next, justify why the project matters to you, and why you are the right person to take it on. This is where your passion for your idea will shine through, which will resonate with people who will have a vested interest in your project and get them excited about your idea.

Show Your Success

To keep up the momentum of your new initiative, you’ll need to demonstrate success at regular intervals. This will also allow you to demonstrate your capabilities in a way that will keep you on the radar. You can start with man presenting a graph‘quick wins’—for example, you’re introducing a new software tool and provided training for your team. Another idea is to communicate three major action items each week you plan to take based on what you’ve learned during the project. This will keep your project focused and keep you from feeling overtaxed. Lastly, we suggest that you strive to overdeliver on this project. After all, you’re conducting an initiative that lies outside the scope of your core responsibilities, requiring extra time and energy. Your organizations and advisors are trusting you to explore new territories that will benefit your business. Going above and beyond will ensure confidence, spotlight you as an exceptional employee, and position you for career advancement opportunities.

Value the process, not just results

Do you have reservations about embarking on this new path? Embracing a growth mindset can help you unlock your potential and blueprint your path to success. While every individual has both a mix of fixed and growth mindsets, a fixed mindset is more of an outcomes-focused, all-or-nothing perception—that is, if you don’t achieve the desired result, you fail. A growth mindset helps you value the process of what you’re doing, rather than fixating on the desired outcome. After all, when you take on a stretch project, you’re thinking differently, networking, learning new skills, and enhancing your visibility in the organization. When you derive meaning from each step, it will energize you and propel you to do more. It’s also important to hush your inner critic in the process and break the negativity loop, which means we tend to recall negative events more easily and specifically than the positive events. To offset this, when you take on your stretch project, keep a list of a few positive things you’ve gotten from it for your eyes only. Perhaps you learned a technology tool that you’ve always been meaning to, or made a valuable new contact, or had an interesting conversation. When you’re excited about what you’re doing, you won’t feel exhausted by it. A stretch project is also a great exercise in shedding humility, as sharing your successes is really key to leveraging this project towards your goals.

Take a Chance for Your Career

Whether the results are valuable connections or improved visibility, a stretch project can springboard your career. Strategically managing your time can help stave off burnout. Creating and communicating plans, timetables, and wins will set you up for a successful stretch project that doesn’t run you into the ground. Once you’ve achieved your goals, you’ll be in a great position to negotiate your next career step!


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About the Author

Suman Sridhar has over a decade of experience creating business content. She's worked for large brands like Experian and Pegasystems as well as smaller organizations. She has an MBA from Boston College.