No running in airports

Every time I travel, just before I leave the house, I do a weird thing. I stop at the front door of our house, look myself in the mirror, and say out loud: “Remember, no running in airports today”. Travel is inherently stressful and I’ve found that once it boils over into having to run to catch a flight, I lose my ability to deal with things well. So I try to remind myself to keep calm and walk on.

Of course, there are a lot of variables in the “no running in airports” equation that are out of my control. A delay might cause a tight connection. A messed up security line could take longer than expected. I could miss a gate reassignment and try to board the wrong flight (yes, that happened). And yet, that statement helps to ground me in the two most important things I can do to stay in control of my travel day: be prepared (know when to go where, renew my Flighty subscription, etc.), and pay attention to detail (um, just, you know… read the gate assignment right).

I was thinking about this as I was getting ready to head into another workweek. There seems to be a lot of “running in airports” going on in the tech world right now, and it sometimes feels like it gets too much to handle. So what would it mean in a work context to look in the mirror on Monday morning and say out loud: “Remember, no running in airports today”? Yes, lots of variables are out of our control, but how could we be prepared and pay attention to detail in a way that reduces some of the likelihood of that happening?

For me? I could be prepared by looking ahead at my calendar and making sure I am spending my time in the right meetings—and that I go into them knowing exactly what is expected of me and what we expect to get out of them. I could try to anticipate “delayed flights”—those unexpected wrenches in projects—and what I could do to get things back on track if that happens.

I could pay attention to detail by listening intently when people speak, by hearing the meanings and feelings underneath the words in meetings where things seem a little wobbly. By noticing when “a gate assignment changed” (no, I’ll never stop being embarrassed about that one) and preemptively figuring out how and why it happened and what I can do about it.

There are, of course, no guarantees. But I still firmly believe that teams make better products in calm environments. Just like in travel, we can’t really create calm. The planes are going to do what they do. But we can remind ourselves that the goal is not to run, and that we have some agency over that.

Here’s to not running in airports this week.