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  • June 20, 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On

You know the poster: the one that was really amazingly-inspiring for a few minutes in 2000 until it was killed by hundreds of parodies. I’ll admit it. I loved it when I first saw it. Still do. Decorative Illustration

In case you didn’t know, the poster was produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War in order to strengthen morale in the event of a wartime disaster. When you think about the meaning of the poster and its original intent, it’s pretty powerful. Over 2,500,000 copies were printed, though the poster was distributed only in limited number and never saw public display… until the internet found it and destroyed it. Now, it’s spun off everywhere.

So why, on a web design blog, am I talking about this inspiring message from the past that related to genuine crisis? I’m not trying to demean the actual meaning and intent of the original poster—plenty of people have already done that. And, I know that we don’t save lives in web design. But, we do often hit some sort of “crisis” on projects, don’t we?

Oh no! What now?

I’m sure you can relate to these types of scenarios:

  • CRISIS: There’s a bug on the site you just launched.
  • CRISIS: Your client is not happy with the fourth version of a design.
  • CRISIS: You missed a project requirement, and your client is asking for something new.

Keep calm. Take a breath. Think about it, and…

  • CARRY ON: You can fix that bug.
  • CARRY ON: You can revise the design and talk about scope issues.
  • CARRY ON: You can have a conversation about the new requirement and decide if it is actually feasible.

See what I did there? There is always a solution to your issue. It might not be easy to get to the solution, but if you keep calm and think through a plan to resolve your issue, you will certainly be able to carry on.

Heed the Words

Are you the type to get worked up about anything that comes your way and freak out when things are not as you had expected? If you are, follow these tips, and you’ll be able to calm down and get through your own project crises.

Take the time you need.

Project-related issues are typically urgent, and you feel the need to ACT NOW! It’s great for everyone to understand that you’re “on it” and will do everything in your power to fix the impending issue, but you should always take the time you need to make sure this is the last time you’ll have to “fix” it. Taking the time to devise a plan or revise an approach to your work and doing it the right way is a much more productive use of your time—and everyone else’s on your project.

Side note: You always have the option to try to reschedule an immediate meeting request (remember, you control your calendar). If you get push back, just let the other parties know that you need time to develop options or to resolve the issue. Simply stating that you’re working on it will quell any concerns.

Don’t take things personally.

If there is one thing I have learned through my own work crises, it’s that business is business. If you handle situations professionally and swiftly, you’ll work them out. If you take personal offense, you’ll get caught up on every little word or action and just let it get to you. Trust me, it’s never worth it. Separate your work from your personal life, and things will be much easier for you.

Document everything.

A good set of notes will always help you. There have been so many times in my career where I’ve labored over meeting notes and thought, “Who is reading these? NO ONE!” But, in many instances, I’ve referred back to them months later.

It’s also great at any point to just write down ideas you have. Imagine if you’re in that crisis where your client hates the fourth version of a design. What if you had really awesome notes from a brainstorming session and could refer back to some ideas you discussed but never acted on? You’ve already got half of the re-work done!

It’s okay to make mistakes.

You’ll get good at what you do through experience, and experience comes from making mistakes. So remember that it’s okay to make mistakes from time to time as long as you learn from them.

Also, maybe think about it this way: if you handle yourself well with mistakes, people will likely remember the awesome recovery instead of the mistakes themselves. I’ve certainly made tons of mistakes in my career. After the first few, I learned that I needed to power through them rather than cower and complain to my friends or coworkers about them. In fact, I even had one boss tell me, “You fucked up royally, but I’m really impressed by how you fixed [the issue] and handled yourself professionally.” I learned big time from that one.

Keep perspective.

Chances are, you’ll work with someone who thinks every single issue is a giant problem. You’ll inevitably have to deal with those issues and the personality (or attitude) that comes along with it. Some people simply cannot keep perspective. Remember that, and keep focused on your work. You do you.

Or, maybe you tend to blow things out of proportion yourself. I’ll admit, I can get in my own head and freak myself out easily. When I get in that space, It always helps me to step back and think, “This is one small blip in this phase/project/relationship/career/whatever, and even though I’m freaking out about it now, I’ll fix it. And, at some point, it won’t even matter.”

Keep calm (you knew this was coming).

Do whatever it takes to keep yourself chilled out, because no one wants to work with a stressball. If you hit a rough spot in your day, take a short break and take a walk and get some fresh air, call a friend, do some exercises… whatever works for you. Just remember to keep calm, because not only are you unpleasant to be around when you are stressed, but also you’ll probably end up making bad decisions.

It All Works Out in the End

Thankfully, I’m not in a crisis now, but there’s sure to be another soon. I’ll always keep in mind that I have the support of an amazing team to help sort out issues. And, if we can collectively keep a level head and provide our best solutions, we’ll be happy—and so will our partners.

I hope this little history lesson and insight into how I handle my own work crises might help you. In the meantime, comment below and share your own crises or coping mechanisms… or even your favorite ripoff on the classic poster.

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