The job I do is stressful for many reasons, not the least of which is my reliance on input from other people. I can, at the best of times, control my own output, but it’s very difficult to know for certain what other people will or will not do. And so, working in a team environment becomes challenging — especially when you are a perfectionist and you are responsible for making sure the task at hand gets done. Results matter. And if you have no results, it doesn’t matter how hard you worked. If you have nothing to show for it, you’ve failed.
I work as a proposal writer at a construction project management company. As a proposal writer, my job is to make sure I get the information I need to put together a document that effectively sells our company and our people. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with what essentially amounts to a book in a few short weeks. I like the parts I actually get to write from scratch, like cover letters, project understanding, a project profile or two.
But when it comes to herding technical staff into providing me with their input or lining up the regional VP for a senior review, well, stress levels tend to go up. Because no matter how hard I try to be clear, no matter how many deadlines I outline, inevitably the information I get is late, and the quality is sometimes pretty darn shoddy. And unlike regular project work, proposals show very little mercy: deadlines can make or break a company’s success on a bid. You couldn’t get your document in on time? Tough sh*t. There are no second chances. Somebody else will get the job.
This past week was particularly stressful. I attempted to flag the particularly short turnaround on a proposal that was due to a municipality not so close by (i.e. requiring us to courier the document early, further limiting the time available to write the darn thing).
As a proposal writer, my job is to create a storyline. To take the disjointed bits of information given me and weave them together into a whole that flows and, hopefully, persuades the client that we are the best team for the job. But when my time is spent chasing after other team members for the input they promised two days earlier, I have less time to devote to putting in the strategic thinking required to formulate a convincing argument in an effective way.
Too often I feel myself becoming a dumping ground for such an array of tasks that it’s hard to stay on top of it all: I help develop a strategy for the document in collusion with the senior technical staff, I clearly communicate who is responsible for what, set up the template for the document, populate the portions of the document that do not require technical information (e.g. the cover letter and project understanding and parts of the methodology section), format the document, source images to enliven the pages of the document (which is challenging, as more often than not no project photos exist or technical staff have them stashed somewhere on their desktop or camera where I don’t have access), I print/bind and package the document, arrange for courier or deliver the document myself. Oh and to top it all off I have to make sure I incorporate the steady stream of edits that keep on coming while the document is in mid production.
I get that maybe I try too hard to incorporate everything and that maybe I need to learn to be more assertive about what is and what is not possible. Thing is, though, it is all possible. It’s just that I might have a nervous breakdown in the process. So how do I address that?