As a boss, I sometimes have to listen to a member of my team explain why something went horribly wrong. As as a business owner, I also have to ease the concerns of clients who have been burned by vendors in the past. And as a human being, I hate being on the hot seat myself. Worrying about things that could go wrong on a project can seize your brain. Just as Steven Covey counsels professionals to get task lists out of their heads and on paper, I’m finding my head has more room for creativity if I know that I’ve got a “Plan B” for any situation.
Project managers and engineers call this technique “eliminating single points of failure.” Simply put, if your routine or your process relies too heavily on one particular tool, technology, or person, something as simple as a rogue squirrel can ruin your week. (I’ll explain that in a bit.) Before you think I’m obsessed with failure, let me show you seven ways I’ve eliminated the single points of failure that become performance bottlenecks in my work routines, along with some strategies I coach my teams to use when we’re working together.
1. Break Down the Morning Commute
2. Keep Yourself Healthy
If you work in an office, it’s no longer a badge of courage to be slogging through your work with a cold or flu. You’re just going to get a reputation for being “patient zero.” Most of the common bugs that knock us out of our routines are surprisingly easy to prevent if you prepare for flu season properly. You don’t even need to become a hand sanitizer junkie. Just stay aware of your surroundings, wash your hands with hot water before and after meals and after every trip to the bathroom, and boost your immune system by taking a multivitamin. Even if you have the luxury of being able to work from home, take your body’s hint and rest up on your sick day, so it doesn’t stretch out to a sick week.
3. Run Lines with Your Understudy
4. Sync Your E-Mail
5. Back Up and Back Away
Some of the most painful conversations I’ve ever had involve lost data. As a writer and media producer, I’ve watched hours of my life vaporize with failed hard drives. Vowing never to let that happen again, I backup and sync my active projects in the cloud. I’ve got a local backup hard drive making nightly copies of my recent work, and I also subscribe to an emergency online backup service that I hope I’ll never need. If you want to save money by avoiding online backups, try keeping two portable hard drives. One stays at work, and the other comes home with you. Swap them out weekly, so if something bad happens in one location, you’re not affected at the other.
6. Treat Internet Access Like a Transit Agency
7. Break Glass in Case of Emergency
Let’s say the worst happens. You or a loved one ends up in a real emergency. Not a work-is-stressful emergency, but a someone-might-actually-die emergency. This happened to me, and not being prepared for it nearly cost me my business. To get ready for next time, I’ve got an “emergency kit” ready for retrieval by my assistant or my wife. It’s got my most important passwords, phone numbers to partners and vendors I’ll need on board if I have to check out for a while, and instructions on who to call if things get worse. Your clients may love you, but their world shouldn’t have to sit on hold if you take a leave of absence (temporary or permanent). Consider it the ultimate act of customer service.