Busting Your Performance Bottlenecks at Work

As a boss, I sometimes have to listen to a member of my team explain why something went horribly wrong. As as a business owner, I also have to ease the concerns of clients who have been burned by vendors in the past. And as a human being, I hate being on the hot seat myself. Worrying about things that could go wrong on a project can seize your brain. Just as Steven Covey counsels professionals to get task lists out of their heads and on paper, I’m finding my head has more room for creativity if I know that I’ve got a “Plan B” for any situation.

Project managers and engineers call this technique “eliminating single points of failure.” Simply put, if your routine or your process relies too heavily on one particular tool, technology, or person, something as simple as a rogue squirrel can ruin your week. (I’ll explain that in a bit.) Before you think I’m obsessed with failure, let me show you seven ways I’ve eliminated the single points of failure that become performance bottlenecks in my work routines, along with some strategies I coach my teams to use when we’re working together.

1. Break Down the Morning Commute

I dread getting phone calls before 8am. They’re never good, since they usually mean that someone from my team is going to be late or calling out sick. Accidents happen, but you can prevent missing the start of your work day by mapping multiple ways to get to the office. If you take the train to work, map out an alternate route by bus or figure out the nearest Zipcar location you can use in a pinch. If you drive to work, explore some of the side roads you might need to use if a pileup blocks your normal route. In a tight job market, few bosses will tolerate more than a couple of late starts.

2. Keep Yourself Healthy

If you work in an office, it’s no longer a badge of courage to be slogging through your work with a cold or flu. You’re just going to get a reputation for being “patient zero.” Most of the common bugs that knock us out of our routines are surprisingly easy to prevent if you prepare for flu season properly. You don’t even need to become a hand sanitizer junkie. Just stay aware of your surroundings, wash your hands with hot water before and after meals and after every trip to the bathroom, and boost your immune system by taking a multivitamin. Even if you have the luxury of being able to work from home, take your body’s hint and rest up on your sick day, so it doesn’t stretch out to a sick week.

3. Run Lines with Your Understudy

What happens to your business if you’re the single point of failure. Many of like to believe we’re indispensable, but no amount of Vitamin C is going to prevent every kind of event that could keep you home from work. Unless you’re a movie star, there’s probably someone you can rely on to cover for you when you’re down. Doctors often cover appointments for their peers, just like Broadway actors, news anchors, and sales professionals. The trick to making clients comfortable with a last minute switch is familiarity. If you take time to rehearse your expectations, your fill-in will get your customers’ needs met and you can return the favor. This technique works even better when you delegate tasks for a team member’s development.

4. Sync Your E-Mail

Many of us live in our inboxes, even though e-mail’s only been a major part of corporate life for about fifteen years now. I’m still amazed at the number of professionals I meet who rely on “POP” accounts, especially those offered for free by ISPs. Check with your IT team at work to learn whether your mail server supports IMAP or Exchange protocols instead. The systems manage your messages differently. IMAP e-mail usually stays on the server and syncs to your local devices. Checking e-mail with POP often moves your messages off the server onto your local hard drive, wrecking your archives if you check mail on multiple devices and completely destroying your work if one of your hard drives fails.

5. Back Up and Back Away

Some of the most painful conversations I’ve ever had involve lost data. As a writer and media producer, I’ve watched hours of my life vaporize with failed hard drives. Vowing never to let that happen again, I backup and sync my active projects in the cloud. I’ve got a local backup hard drive making nightly copies of my recent work, and I also subscribe to an emergency online backup service that I hope I’ll never need. If you want to save money by avoiding online backups, try keeping two portable hard drives. One stays at work, and the other comes home with you. Swap them out weekly, so if something bad happens in one location, you’re not affected at the other.

6. Treat Internet Access Like a Transit Agency

Whether you telecommute, work remotely, or handle a traditional 9-to-5, your connection to the Internet has become as important as the nearest interstate. And just like an interstate, you should know multiple ways to get around a traffic jam. Personal mobile hotspots have become affordable, usually between $40-60 per month depending on where you live. I thought it was silly to pay extra for a 3G hotspot until I was stuck in a remote hotel with no Wi-Fi for a week. That monthly fee saved me a deal worth thousands of dollars because I could get to the Internet quickly.

7. Break Glass in Case of Emergency

Let’s say the worst happens. You or a loved one ends up in a real emergency. Not a work-is-stressful emergency, but a someone-might-actually-die emergency. This happened to me, and not being prepared for it nearly cost me my business. To get ready for next time, I’ve got an “emergency kit” ready for retrieval by my assistant or my wife. It’s got my most important passwords, phone numbers to partners and vendors I’ll need on board if I have to check out for a while, and instructions on who to call if things get worse. Your clients may love you, but their world shouldn’t have to sit on hold if you take a leave of absence (temporary or permanent). Consider it the ultimate act of customer service.

What other strategies do you have in place to make sure you’re not the bottleneck in your own workday? Tell us in the comments.

Before joining a Major Corporation as a trainer and sales manager, Philadelphia writer Joe Taylor Jr. spent over a decade as a public radio producer and recording engineer. He edits the music industry weblog spinme.com and covers personal finance for a network of financial news outlets.


  1. Web design portfolio on the 17th September

    pop is so yesterday…

  2. Paul on the 20th September

    Great article. I work from home a lot, and the emergency kit idea I never even thought of…. good to know.

  3. Gabriele Maidecchi on the 22nd September

    All very valid points. Especially point 6 is very valid. In my company sometimes we have some problem with out ISP, so we keep a wireless provider handy to kick-in in case problems arise.

Add a Comment