Project Management optimize

What to do when it's one of those days

If nothing seems to be going right, read Chip Camden's words of wisdom for dealing with these stressful situations. He also lists three reasons why people may experience streaks of bad luck.

Ken: "How's it going, Bill?"

Bill: "Did you ever have one of those days when everything's going along fine, and then someone throws a monkey at you?"

When Ken related this exchange to me, my first reaction was "Of course, it happens to me all the time. Projectile simians are my enemies' perennial weapon of choice."

Bill had mangled the old metaphor, "throw a monkey wrench into the works" -- the image of factory workers sabotaging the machinery in order to have a break. It's the American form of the British "spanner in the works," which John Lennon cleverly adapted for the title of his collection of short stories, A Spaniard in the Works. But whether we're talking about the unexpected placement of tools, primates, or Iberians (nobody expects the Spanish... oh, never mind), one thing's for sure: our best laid plans have gone agley yet again.

It's not so bad when we only get one unexpected problem, but these things seem to come in bunches. The idea that both good and bad luck run in "streaks" is so commonly held that it's the rationale behind many betting systems for games of chance. Whether or not that idea conforms to mathematical probabilities, there may be some good reasons why it happens in human affairs.

First of all, causation in the real world is much more complex than it is in a card game. The factors that cause one thing to go wrong might also have a connection to other things that therefore also go off the rails. Often we can perceive these connections, but sometimes we don't. That's when it seems like a bad streak of luck. We might get a feeling that "things are out of joint today," which is probably an intuition of the underlying cause.

Second, we can fall victim to a domino effect. When one thing goes wrong, not only may it break other things, but it may also direct our attention and resources away from unrelated matters that suffer as a result.

Third, our emotional response to one catastrophe can make us susceptible to more. We don't think as clearly when we're upset. When we start wondering "what ELSE can go wrong?" then we can easily enter a vicious cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy. And if we believe in streaks of luck, that only compounds the problem.

So what do you do when you're having one of those days when nothing goes right? If you can, it might be a good time to call it a day. A good night's sleep solves many a problem. A new day's perspective often comes with obvious answers. If you can't leave it for the morrow, though, see if you can at least take a break. A walk outside works wonders.

If you're dealing with client emergencies, you might not be able to put the problem down even for a short period of time. In that case, you must do what you can to eliminate the third cause of trouble listed above. Take a deep breath, and reset your thinking. Recognize your emotional response, then analyze the situation rationally. It's times like this when the inner voices start whispering "You're not going to be able to solve this," or "You're a fake." Realize that those voices are normal fears that almost everyone encounters. As George S. Patton said, "Do not take counsel of your fears." Imagine that you're your own best friend watching you struggle -- what word of encouragement would that friend utter? "Of course you can do it. You always figure it out eventually."

Another approach to reducing the stress that can become disabling is to take a broader perspective. If you do fail here, will the world end? That's not an excuse to slack off -- rather, it's a way to gain the confidence you need in order to do well. Humor helps, too. When I get into these situations, I often imagine how funny it will be in the retelling. If you can laugh, you lighten the load. When you don't take yourself too seriously, your problems aren't so serious either.

Thanks to TechRepublic member Bob Eisenhardt (reisen55) for suggesting this topic. And Bob, I hope your wound is better now.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

11 comments
JimWillette
JimWillette

When I had these kinds of problems, the first thing I attempted to fix (usually successfully) was the source of the projectiles. Getting your client calmed down, sometimes by explaining that you have always been able to fix these things (don't say eventually, even if true). Once that front is under control, you have one (or more) less distractions and can concentrate on what you do well, fixing the actual problem. Appearing to be hard at work sometimes helps to keep the projectiles from returning. Perception is nearly everything in these situations.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Yes I have those days all the time and for some reason they all seem to revolve around iTunes breaking things. OK so I have one Client who likes his iPod and must have iTunes on his computer. And no it's no good talking to his boss as he owns the company and what he wants he gets. Just to make my life that bit harder he has now talked one of his staff into buying a iPod so there are now two of these things I have to support. :-& However when I get a real problem and no matter how much I try I simply can not find an easy answer I have got to the stage where if I sleep on it I come up with a solution. Granted it's not the easiest way to do things and when you have a Nasty problem that just has to be fixed now it's not that easy. I remember a Core Dump of a Banks System which fell over taking the entire country Transactions for the day with it that they wanted a solution yesterday. Sure it had not happened before and I was [b]"Assured"[/b] that nothing new had been changed but it couldn't happen again. I spent till midnight trying to find the fault in the code with reams of Fan Fold paper spread all over the place gong through the code line by line. Didn't matter that the Banks IT Staff couldn't fix it I had to and ideally yesterday as their staff had spent days on it with no success so I didn't have any time to waste. Every thing I could think of they had tried so I was getting nowhere fast. Next morning I walked in with the answer to their problem and pointed out the subroutine that had been added which caused the problem. Not sure just how I managed that but when a teller stood on their left foot only in Perth on a Wednesday afternoon and the Head Accountant in Sydney put their tongue between their teeth with just the tip poking out the right side of his mouth while someone unknown in Cairns farted while looking cross eyed at the screen the system fell over. Take that new bit of code out and it didn't fail. I just love the Unknown Interdependencies that do occur and the strange things that happen in large complex systems. ;) Anyway now I no longer try when it becomes obvious that things are so badly screwed up that there is no easy solution the people who employ me tell me to go have a sleep and they expect an answer after that. Makes thing a bit hard when this happenes ar 8.00 AM though. :D It works for me though I'm sure that it's not for everyone. :D If you can just walk away if even for a short time it helps. One good reason to be a smoker I suppose you can always walk out for a smoke to clear your mind. :^0 Col

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

When the issues are not critical, or the critical ones have been handled, take a walk. shake off the crap and get your head back in the game. If it's really bad and you can arrange it, take a small vacation, even a 3 day weekend. The last thing you need is a toxic attitude bleeding over and screwing up the next job.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Just as I began reading over the final version of this post, my music feed started playing Cannonball Adderley's version of "Mercy, mercy" -- which seems fitting.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The more intelligent systems become, the more bugs look like personality disorders.

GSG
GSG

that he IS the HAL 9000 unit. If he starts singing "Bicycle built for two", I'm outta here.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]There is a flower Within my heart, Daisy, Daisy! Planted one day By a glancing dart, Planted by Daisy Bell! Whether she loves me Or loves me not, Sometimes it's hard to tell; Yet I am longing to share the lot - Of beautiful Daisy Bell! Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do! I'm half crazy, All for the love of you! It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage But you'll look sweet upon the seat Of a bicycle made for two. We will go 'tandem' As man and wife, Daisy, Daisy! 'Peddling' away Down the road of life, I and my Daisy Bell! When the road's dark We can both despise P'licemen and 'lamps' as well; There are 'bright lights?????????????????? In the dazzling eyes Of beautiful Daisy Bell! Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do! I'm half crazy, All for the love of you! It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage But you'll look sweet upon the seat Of a bicycle made for two. I will stand by you In 'wheel' or woe, Daisy, Daisy! You'll be the bell(e) Which I'll ring you know! Sweet little Daisy Bell! You'll take the 'lead' In each 'trip' we take, Then if I don't do well, I will permit you to Use the brake, My beautiful Daisy Bell! Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do! I'm half crazy, All for the love of you! It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage But you'll look sweet upon the seat Of a bicycle made for two.[/i] Whoosh Out the Air Lock it goes. :p Col 0:-)