Beyond proposal burnout – what to do?

Dear Proposal Doctor,

With only 2 weeks before a major proposal submittal, the key people on my team are in an advanced state of burn out. Some are sleeping on couches in the office rather than going home. Others come in to work not having slept at all.

It’s impossible to move any deadlines and still get the proposal done, and it’s going to be impossible to meet the deadlines given the level of exhaustion. Because of multiple proposal extensions, this situation has been intensifying for the last 3 weeks.

It’s getting to me as well, since I am ultimately responsible for the final product.

-Beyond Burnout

Dear Beyond,

Many proposal managers have been in your situation. Most fail to demonstrate what your team needs urgently at this moment: leadership.

Understanding that you do not want to move any deadlines, you must realize that continuing on the current path is dangerous. Someone falling asleep at the office is likely to introduce errors that you won’t have the time or energy to catch later. Furthermore, it’s one thing to fall asleep at the office, and it’s another thing to fall asleep on the road. Exhaustion has been shown to be more dangerous than alcohol for driver safety.

Here is what I recommend:

  1. Acknowledge the state of the team so that everyone realizes you know that there is a problem and you are dealing with it. As a proposal manager, you should communicate every turning point in the proposal, and you are definitely at one now.
  2. Give the key players at least 24 hours off and adjust interim deadlines to accommodate a day off. I know this sounds impossible, but a day of rest will increase productivity in a way that can’t be imagined from your current state. No amount of effort can compensate for lack of sleep. People who don’t exercise every day think that it is too time-consuming; those who do know that regular exercise actually saves more time than it takes because of the increase in energy level. The same is true of adequate sleep.
  3. Consider re-assigning people, introducing new players, or other ways to balance the load. When people are staying up all night to get their work done, they are often in the wrong role. Do the key contributors have what they need to get the work done (equipment, data, connectivity, templates, graphics support)?
  4. After the day off, formally acknowledge that you are entering a new phase with revised deadlines, schedules, and roles.
  5. Be sure to take care of yourself and don’t let yourself get exhausted. Leading by example is critical.

I know you can turn this situation around and wish you all the best,

Wendy Frieman, The Proposal Doctor

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Lohfeld Consulting