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I’m designing and writing the training curriculum for an important new product launch. It’s a great project and I’m embedded with a big, dedicated team working tirelessly to get it finished, launched, beta-tested, and ready for general availability. We’re building the program as the software is being developed. We’ve got 3 (or 11?) different teams giving input and needing output, like yesterday. We’re introducing a new training methodology for a new product that uses AI to improve a user’s workflow. It’s an Agile environment, so things are moving quickly and evolving by the week. It’s exciting and stressful and demanding and frustrating and complicated; first catching, then putting all the moving parts into a thing that makes sense.

One day last week, after one of those unbearably frustrating conference calls, one of my colleagues said to me “I don’t know how you stay so calm…” [It’s why I do yoga, I said.]

I said to another colleague just the other day, Don’t Panic. Arguably, we were kidding around the significance of the number 42 in ICD-10 codes, but that’s part of the coping mechanism.

After these two conversations, I started to think (3am-Halloween-candy-and-looming-deadline-fueled insomnia) about how not to panic; how to stay sane whilst all of these moving parts need your attention and require your input. I know I’m not the most important rung on the ladder, just one of many steps it will take to get this thing done…

So these are the top 5 things I came up with, things I try and practice more or less every day (or as often I can). They’re from experience, yoga, things I’ve tried enough times to realise they work pretty well in helping me keep my head above water and my general stress level at a manageable volume…

Walk away from your desk. Not only will a change of scenery do good things for your stress level, it will also give your brain some time to let go of the stories around what’s freaking you out. There are realities, sure: The demo environment is unavailable at the precise moment you need it. The changes weren’t made (ditto: recognition of this fact at the precise moment you need it). The subject matter expert is in Timbuktu for 3 weeks during concept development. Change is hard and people are resisting. There aren’t enough hours in the day…

There’s the option to get completely rattled and riled up, shoot off an email, and freak out the rest of the team. Or, you can walk away from your desk for a bit and contemplate the best response to the crisis at hand. Chances are the crisis is worse in your head than in reality. I’ve had to work hard at this, but I’ve learnt that less of a knee-jerk reaction will usually result in a better next thing. [Also, sometimes the system comes back up by the time you get back to your desk.]

Get into nature. There’s a Japanese concept called shinrin-yoku; forest bathing. The natural world has an amazing capacity to reset our internal balance when it’s quite obviously out of whack. There’s a small set of trails near my office. Sometimes in the summer I’ll steal a lunch hour and do a couple of kms on those trails. I’ve seen small animals, wild mushrooms, myriad birds and ferns and flowers on the boggy trails. I’m a different person when I return: focused, ideated (I hate that word, but nature is magic: ideas come when you let go of all the clutter!), and ready to deal with the rest of the day.

Travel. To another country, to another state, to another town, even to another department… Listen to different perspectives and accents and cultures and ideas. I’ve had great ideas and validated conjectures from conversations with friends at different companies. I’ve gotten weird inspiration from travelling (much of it around wanting to travel more, but time away from the normal everyday sheds light on places where you’re stuck). I often travel solo, and the challenge of having to deal with all the logistics, all by yourself, in a foreign place, where you may or may not know the language, is both daunting and rewarding. You see immediately that you are resourceful, and that things work out (maybe just not the way you expected). And when you get home, your self-confidence is improved: you’ve got this.

Let go of expectations. Ok, sure, you need to set deadlines and define deliverables and work towards measurable goals. But sometimes a fantastic idea shows its face in the middle of the process. If you are stuck with a picture of what the thing must look like at the end, you may miss an opportunity for it to be X percent better than the original plan. This is why I like developing training along an Agile timeline. We iterate, we test, we improve, and we deliver a program that is so much more than it would have been had we just slogged forward with the original plan.

Laugh. Much of the time I create training for our healthcare products, and by default I need to know a little bit about a lot of different aspects of the industry. Today, we’re working on tight deadlines and a massively-important rollout. One of my colleagues has this on her Skype for Business status: W56.22XA. It’s the ICD-10 code for “struck by orca, initial encounter.” If you’ve got to work with a mud-thick layer of government codes and acronyms and regulations and processes on top of a looming deadline, you may as well have a little bit of fun with it. I think I’ll include this on the next project: V91.35XA (struck by falling object due to accident to canoe or kayak). Or maybe this: V95.42XA (forced landing of spacecraft injuring occupant, initial encounter). Today, from the week’s circus, it’s this: R42 (head spinning).

And this: Don’t Panic. Douglas Adams was a wise man, indeed.

Thanks for reading. ☮️

Written by

Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic.

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