A Recipe for Productive Crisis Control

Recipe book with spilled rice

Don’t panic. I know the latest hullabaloo about overbearing deadlines, impossible expectations, and insanely long hours sounds a whole lot like a recipe for a mental breakdown. But that’s not what it is, because that’s not the whole recipe. This is what it really is:

  • * 42 overlapping deadlines
  • * 37 impossible expectations
  • * 2 weeks of overtime
  • * 1 on-top-of-it, productive You

That final ingredient turns a mental-breakdown crisis into something completely different, something that’s a little tough, but manageable. But the “on-top-of-it, productive You” is actually a mixture of various components, like a good curry spice, so here’s how to create your own. The best on-top-of-it effects are achieved by a You with the following components.


The first thing you need in a crisis is a moment or three of clarity. You need to be able to distinguish between what is vitally necessary and what is extremely valuable (but nonessential). This may mean that the dishes only get rinsed instead of washed for a few days. It may mean that the product you turn in doesn’t have those slick rounded corners in the design. When crisis hits and the landscape of your week is full of insurmountable terrain, you have to be able to see the path of lesser resistance that skirts around some of the nastier bits. This clarity shouldn’t focus only on what you don’t need to do, but also on what you do need. There are mountains that must be climbed. You’re only looking for the path of lesser resistance, not the path of least resistance. Least resistance will, at best, lead you into mediocrity.


After you’ve achieved clarity and seen what you absolutely have to accomplish, you need to have the humility to recognize what you cannot do. In lesser crises, this may not be an issue: once you cut the fluff with your razor-sharp clarity, you may have a manageable task load. But if you don’t, you have to be humble enough to ask for help. Delegate tasks if you can, or ask someone else to manage everyday necessities (like food) that aren’t relevant to your deadlines. Asking for help is hard, and it takes humility to swallow your yes-I-can attitude long enough to realize no, you cannot, but with some help you can.


Crises are never comfortable. The path of lesser resistance isn’t often the scenic route. Those unwashed dishes can grate on your nerves and cause all sorts of frustration with your current situation. But it’s only your current situation. The deadlines will pass, the projects will be completed, and you can finish the dishes then. During a crisis, normal rules don’t apply, but that’s okay because crises never last forever. Exercise patience so you can stay calm.


Another way to keep yourself calm during a crisis is to have an attitude of gratitude. It may seem like everything is going wrong, and if you decide everything is wrong then the wrongness is all you see. Human beings have a nasty habit of seeing whatever they’re looking for. Human beings also have a wonderful habit of seeing whatever they’re looking for. So look for things to be grateful for: the fact that you have dishes in the first place, the part of the project that came out just the way you wanted, the gracious colleagues who are willing to take on some of your tasks. If it’s sunny outside, be grateful for the light; if it’s raining, be grateful for the pitter-patter of raindrops. If you’re looking for things to be grateful for, you’ll find them all over the place, and you’ll have a better attitude during your crisis.


Working through the night may seem like a great idea, but it should always be the very last resort. Try trimming from other areas, because especially in crisis mode, you need to be sharp and well rested, not groggy and dull. Late-night work, unless you’re a regular night owl, is hardly ever your best work.

A whole lot of elbow grease

You already know you need this ingredient. No matter how good you are at managing your crisis, it’s still going to take a whole lot of old-fashioned work to get it all done. Everything else is just a way to make sure the best work you can do will be enough to meet the current demands. That on-top-of-it, productive You can change that mental-breakdown crisis into a challenge you are fully capable of meeting.

Image by Simon Howden via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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