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How I Saved My Business Operations and Peace of Mind This Week

Sometimes things go completely wrong without warning. What are the most typical reactions?  

  1. You can curse and complain (and possibly raise your blood pressure).
  2. You can sit, locked in dread, unable to think and afraid to move.
  3. You can run away.

Depending on the situation, you might feel the need to do all three of these things to keep yourself safe or give your brain time to adjust to and face your awful new reality. But what’s gone wrong is already wrong, and whatever you do won’t change it. Your actions can only affect what happens next and afterwards. 

Whenever something goes haywire and I don’t have any control over my circumstances, the framing I use to figure out what comes next looks something like this: 

How can I:

     1. calm myself and focus on the possibilities so I can  

     2. take some practical action that will 

     3. keep more of my options open while making even small progress on the problem?

Step One: Size Up the Problem

I had to put this framing to work a few days ago. I am the smallest customer of a small tech services company hosts email with Rackspace, one of the world’s largest cloud computing companies. Unfortunately, Rackspace suffered some still unexplained (as of this writing) event that caused a drastic service outage. I lost all email connectivity and was not able to send or receive email. Even worse for me, people who were writing to me had no idea that I hadn’t received their email. So, in addition to being unable to take any necessary or desired actions, I am at risk of appearing rude, uncaring, unreliable, or irresponsible—without knowing anything about it.

I discovered the problem at 7:00 a.m. Friday morning when, after realizing I’d received no emails overnight, I Googled “Rackspace outage?” I assumed the outage would continue for perhaps half the day—sure, it would be annoying and create extra pressure to catch up during my already busy Friday afternoon, but it was no major crisis. I texted a couple of people from whom I expected important communications, explained that my email was down, and asked them to text me instead. No big deal.

But by end of the day, the Rackspace messaging only said that the firm was still “investigating.” Whether the outage had occurred due to a ransomware or malware attack or just an internal error apparently was still unknown; the one thing that became clear was that I was going to have to figure something else out on my own. I gave myself Friday evening to mope about the situation, knowing that by Saturday morning I had to act. When I realized I was asking myself a series of questions to determine what to do next, I decided to write down my thought process and share it.

My Questions for Handling Dire Circumstances

What are my options? I can wait until Rackspace fixes their problem and my tech services company works its way through their bigger clients to get to me, but there’s no way of knowing whether that will take just another 24 hours or an entire 10 days. I can create a temporary substitute email process and begin a series of communications to the people who are most likely to be emailing me over the next few days or more. And I can try to do a more general kind of market notification, given that my now nonworking email address is plastered all over the place (I can’t even forward emails from my usual address to my temporary address because that process goes through Rackspace). 

Can I use time to my advantage? Thank goodness this happened on Friday! I can comfort myself a teeny bit over the fact that lots of things don’t get handled on Friday and most people don’t think anything of it. The weekend will give me time to make lists and compose messages. 

How can I tweak my own proposed solutions so they won’t create new problems? It’s possible that I could receive many sympathetic responses as I notify clients and colleagues about my problem. Yes, it will be lovely to get that support, but it needs to be weighed against the time and difficulty of answering countless new emails in an unfamiliar format and structure, which may slow me down further. So I’ll dedicate several time-blocks during the coming week to addressing these challenging communications and get them handled as smoothly as possible.

Are there any unexpected opportunities here? I’m trying to notice as many possibilities as I can. Some may be quite small, but the additive value could be significant. Here are a few I’ve come up with: 

  • I’m always wailing about receiving too much email, and I usually feel like I never have enough time to spend on it, so this may be just the break I’ve been craving. 
  • I may learn which newsletters and promotions I really don’t need to read. This is a great opportunity to clean them out. 
  • It’s also an opportunity to be in touch with people—a chance to do networking without networking, to stimulate dormant relationships. It may even give me the push to learn some new skills or knowledge even at a very low level. 

Keep Calm and Carry on, Regardless

It’s true that I may miss messages from crucial parties: prospective clients, long-lost acquaintances, and my lawyers regarding important legal matters. My sudden lack of response will make me look like I’ve fallen behind; I may also appear rude and uncaring to some people, miss out on business opportunities, harm relationships, etc. It’s stressful, for sure. And I have no idea when I’ll be able to go back to my “regular” email or if it will even be possible to integrate the threads from this contingency process into my overall Outlook history. 

But I’m trying to salvage whatever I can—meanwhile, speaking of finding and taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, this blog practically wrote itself! Let me know if you have any problem-solving tactics for dire circumstances that you’d like to share. And wish me good luck!

Update: My tech services company came through with a strategy to make sure I can see the emails that came in during the outage. What a relief! I may have to clean up hundreds of emails at once, and right now I can only use a clunky webmail interface for who knows how long, but the risk of rudeness has been eliminated. Now we’ll see how long it takes Rackspace to normalize, and help me get back to normal too.

Onward and upward—

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