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3 Brain Hacks for high performance during escalation hours at workplace

Updated: Sep 21, 2022


The year was 2014, it was an usual day at work for me. The whole day went by without any issues and I pretty much was done with all my scheduled work and meetings. Post 8 pm one by one all the IT managers of different platforms started leaving for home. Myself being the IT building manager was normally the last to leave everyday, that was an usual day at work for me at IBM. But I remember this particular day for a reason. Just around 10 pm, I packed my bag and just when I was almost ready to move out, a critical incident broke out of a sudden. My phone started ringing from all business Unit heads that their staff were not able to access their application all of a sudden and a High severity ticket has been opened. I tightened my jaws, put down my bag from my shoulder, unpacked everything, took out my laptop and I was back online. Unlike other critical incidents which I have experienced so far this was difficult, I mean very difficult. I had to engage my network team and server team to look into the issue and within about half an hour it was well established that it was not a network issue. Till that day, I did not see the server team manager work at my office branch, I only interacted with him on emails, chats and over phone. Post 2 hrs. of intense troubleshooting the server team was not able to fix the issue and with each minute passing by business was losing money and reputation. Post Midnight the server team manager entered our office and came straight to the data center where myself along with server engineers were there. We had no time to meet and greet, we were men at work.

The manager questioned engineers and kept collecting information about the application and the steps done so far while I had to keep the incident management team and business heads informed. Keeping the temperature down in the bridge call was difficult with each passing minute, people were losing patience and I knew that this will eventually be escalated to the region head. A around 4 am when the bridge was so densely populated with heavy weights that anytime it could have collapsed, employees confirmed that they can finally access the application. Everyone was relieved, we started pulling each other's leg, light jokes were cracked, we all had tea together and then finally bags were packed and off to home. Anyone who has worked in IT will easily relate to this kind of stories and incidents but question is why I am writing about this particular incident. I have faced critical incidents in my career which went on for days but this one was special since it gave me a big lesson.

Post that day I understood why the server team spoke very highly of their manager while I thought otherwise. I was judging him as per his daily work and activities and probably his visibility at work but when push came to shove he rose up like a true leader. Whole night he kept cheering his men, when engineers were tired, he cracked jokes with them, sometimes took over control of that server himself. I heard him saying in Hindi " Hum chhod ke jaaney walo me se nehi hain " ( English Translation- We are not the ones who will runaway during difficult hours ), it was him who made a difficult choice to reboot the old server to get it out of hung state, initially his decision boomeranged since everyone's fear came true, the server did not come backup post reboot but the server team lead by him was in no mood to give it up that night. They kept trying and trying and trying till they got that machine to bow down to them. Post that incident the manager once again went out of my sight but this time I knew that whenever there will be trouble I will see him with his team. He performed when it mattered the most.

In my career, I have seen many people, observed them, worked with them and what I have realized that your talent, your extrovert nature, your willingness to speak up, your productivity has nothing to do with your ability to perform during high octane escalation hours. I have seen extremely talented, highly skilled individuals struggle during these high demanding situation Even if at times some of the skilled certified workforce performed well during these hours, they were extremely unhappy with the nature of work or their organization post that incident and wanted to quit their jobs. Even I have struggled myself initially, at times I had these same feelings but somehow I found out that over the years I have actually performed well in these situations, so well that whenever I have been involved in any escalation hours I most often ended up with an award. So I decided to write this article to help those people who struggle to cope up with the pressure of escalation hours and events. Use the below 3 brain hacks to psychologically prepare yourself during these hours and come out with great performance earning respect from your clients, colleagues and managers. These brain hacks can be used irrespective of whether you are a leader or manager or an employee.

Threat to Opportunity

Whenever we hear or see words like " Urgent " or " High Severity or Priority " or " Emergency", our amygdala gets activated. Our heart starts pumping faster, breathing becomes faster and body releases adrenaline, our fight or flight response gets successfully activated. We all go through the same physiological process when we get involved in an escalation. Different people reacts differently to this situation, some people can remain calm and composed in this kind of situation, they can control their breathing as well which allows them to participate in these incidents more confidently than others. Vast majority of people on the other hand do get tensed and stressed out and I intend to help those vast majority since I think I also fall in that category ( Although lately I am trying to regulate my breathing and be in meditative state for some hours every week ).

Recent scientific researches have proved that whatever physiological process we go through during stress and anxiety situation, same changes happens in our body when we are excited. Now I only recently came to know about this research which allowed me to understand why I was able to perform better during these situations. The moment I get involved in any escalation, my initial response is anxiety like many others, I have found telling myself as " Oh no, not again " and specially when it happened on a late hours of Friday when I am mentally prepared for a weekend. Professionally since I work in the Network and Network Security domain invariably a lot of outages or cyber attacks happened on Friday which made me work on my weekends. However after about half an hour I found myself on different mental trajectory since my 2nd response to the situation was to think about this as the moment to shine, think about this as a leadership moment, think about this moment as if I have been selected by god for this situation again since others cannot what I can. I looked at it now as an opportunity to prove my mettle and shine. Even if you are consistent with your work or highly certified or highly skilled, if you cannot rise up in these situations no one will value or remember you. The moment I start thinking this way I have always found myself mentally prepared for the war irrespective of how many hours or days it last. The server team Manager were spoken very highly of at IBM and till that night I did not why.

Kill Distractions

The sudden escalation or emergency situation is not only stressful or anxious for you but even in relatively smaller scale, it is the same for your family. Your weekend plan or your plan after work was jeopardized for your family as well. Maybe you planned for a dinner, maybe you planned for a weekend getaway or going to park or going to a movie or planned to go to a zoo with your kids. So, your unhappiness, your anger, your frustration is also theirs, sometimes more than you. So once you have taken the 2nd step of tricking your brain to think of this as an opportunity not threat, take the 3rd step right away. Talk to your family, tell them about this situation at hand and why you are needed. If required tell them sorry and promise them to make it up once this situation is over ( And do that without fail once you are out of this situation ). Set up their expectation that for how long you think it can last and tell them not to check on you frequently as you cannot afford to lose focus till it is over. If it takes longer than expected then it will be you who will call them and update about the situation. This whole exercise will do 2 very important things, one is to relieve you from feeling bad about it and getting worried what your family is thinking now. The second thing is that it will kill your distractions during those crucial hours, thereby enabling you to put your energy and focus into your work.

Gift yourself an incentive

Since these are short time situations, a bit of motivation can really give you some more zeal and energy required to shine. This 4th step is a motivation that you will gift yourself.

While you are midway into the escalation, when your initial energy is on the wane, this brain hack can give you instant energy to get going. Mentally prepare yourself to take few days off post your herculean effort. Think about taking your family out somewhere to relax or enjoying a Netflix series with your wife. Think about doing something what you absolutely love to do like reading books or hitting the gym or cycling or painting or playing guitar etc. You will find instantly you feel recharged and energized to continue. Post the situation, whether you go on a vacation or not is your choice but make sure you take few days off and do things that you love to do and give time to family as well. This will be your recharging time, if you do not have down time post those demanding hours then sooner or later you will be burned out and think of quitting. Recall what I said earlier in the article, I never saw the server team manager once the situation was over and nobody missed him.

I hope you will apply these brain hacks and let me know whether it helped or not. I know, one size does not fit all but it is also true that one size can fit many so I thought of sharing something which has worked for me so far and I hope it helps someone else as well.

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