Project Practitioners > Stop Reacting

Stop Reacting

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll


Your alarm rings signaling the beginning of another workday. Immediately, you check your email and start scrolling through your inbox. You see a subject line stating ‘Gas Leak.’ Your next mode is panic. You have not even risen out of bed, and already your heart rate is like you have run for miles.


You call the tenant asking where the leak may be coming from or what their thought is to direct the technician once he can arrive on site. The tenant states, “The alarm is making a noise, so we assume there is a gas leak.”


In the background, you hear a ‘chirp, chirp’ noise every 30 seconds. This noise, to the tenant, signaled a carbon monoxide leak. In actuality, the battery needed to be changed in the detector. No leak, no fire department gets called, no technician rushing to the site. This emergency gas leak reaction I gave to a changing of a battery caused unnecessary stress and anxiety before my feet hit the floor.


Avoiding one disaster, I make it into work and start opening the emails. Every proposal and quote that is needed ends with ‘asap.’ We need a technician to diagnose the plumbing asap. The owner wants to know the pricing asap. This invoice from last month needs to be revised and sent back asap.


I start to wonder if people forget the meaning of that acronym. As soon as possible, to me, reads immediately. Do not wait on this or leave it on the table. This issue must be dealt with or else. When you dig a little deeper, most of these issues can wait another day or two, even a week in some cases. This notion that everything is a priority creates an environment where nothing is a priority.


Instead of reacting to everything, you must take back control of your emotions.



  1. Do Something That Scares You

Learn a technical aspect of your project you never knew. Reach out to senior managers for more responsibility. Ask for help.


These activities can scare people. If you learn something you did not previously know, you have the chance to look inferior amongst your team. They can question your ability because they saw weakness. More responsibility is scary too. You have enough on your plate. Why ask for more? Asking for help shows weakness too. You mean you do not know everything?!


Growth comes from the breakdown. You are breaking down your knowledge so you can obtain more and become more effective. Asking for help may be the scariest thing ever. You are the leader of a team or group of teams. You must know a lot otherwise how did you end up in that position? You answer questions with clarity and intent. Now, you are asking for others help when mostly you are always the one being asked for help? This role reversal can be scary. Embrace it.


  1. Everything Is a Choice

Can’t is no longer part of your lexicon. This mantra forces you to think about what is possible and what activities you cannot do are things you will not do. You probably can help shovel off the curb when rocks start to build up, but you think it is below your pay grade so you will not do it. You could help fix an issue when you see it, but you would rather watch the train wreck so you will not help fix it.


My reaction to the asap emails is an example of poor choices I make too often. Over time, I have learned to get the real deadlines of these tasks. ASAP is not a deadline or a schedule. It is a throwaway line that should never be in an email discussing tasks. The message is better delivered with a time and date. I still choose to become panicked whenever these come in because the translation can get twisted. Sometimes, it means now.


  1. Practice Poverty

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.” – Seneca


What is the worst that could happen? If you fear the worst, try it out. Is it what you thought it was? Can you survive your worst nightmare? If so, it probably is not that bad. Train yourself when times are good. Calculate how something can go wrong because something always does go wrong. In that case, you are prepared for the worst, so when the situation is much less, you have the answer prepared.


  1. Change Your Wardrobe

Your outward presentation reflects your inner feelings. Put on a suit jacket over a t-shirt, and it turns drab into fab. You go from some person in a t-shirt to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur extraordinaire. A classic interview technique is dress for the position you want. If you dress like a CEO, you start to become one.


The presentation makes a difference. You start to become the thing you represent. People perceive you differently. Even if they know you are not in charge, you can present yourself as such, and people start to follow. You no longer react to the small stuff because you are big time.


Plus, who does not like a shopping spree every once in a while? I am not a fashionista, but a well-fitting shirt can turn the day around. Look good, feel good.




This process of not reacting is like a fighter who first starts to strike. If you watch a seasoned fighter, they do not react to every faint and punch thrown. They become accustomed to seeing punches coming at them and can react appropriately. Reactions are good and necessary. However, not every situation is an emergency, and slight reactions can provide major results.


You slip a punch and counter with one of your own. That subtle movement pays dividends. If you react like everything is a knockout punch, or you throw every punch like it is your last, you start to gas and get worn down.


Project management is no different. You only have so much battery for decisions and putting out fires. If you break out the big guns every time, your big guns become small, and you get worn out. Reactions are appropriate, even instinctual. You need to make sure you are reacting appropriately at the appropriate times.

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