Don’t S.O.S. … S.O.P. Instead

August 18, 2015 — Leave A Comment


I could feel the Tsunami coming. Frankly, it was overdue.

Like many creative types, I like having several different projects going at once in my professional life. In addition to individual and team coaching, I also head up the Destiny Project and Braveheart Intensive retreats, which are presented by a team of fantastic facilitators at various times around the U.S. and in Europe. I also serve as President of WayPoint Coaching Community, a Christ-centered collective of professional “transformational workers” around the country and overseas. And I’m working on the third novel in my Pearlsong Refounding trilogy.

I love it all, but it’s a lot to handle. Most of the time it’s pretty manageable, but every so often the ebb and flow of tasks in each of these arenas align to form a Task List Tsunami large enough and urgent enough to quickly drown me in feelings of overwhelm and resentment.

Oh, and self doubt. Did I mention self doubt? ‘Cause it’s not lost on me that I’m doing this to myself.

Used to be when these monster waves hit, I’d go into panic. I’d isolate, procrastinate, whine, play the victim, and binge watch just about anything on Netflix to avoid facing reality. Needless to say, that strategy was super effective.

But now (thanks to coaching! Coaching is awesome!), instead of curling into the fetal position and tossing up an S.O.S., I activate an S.O.P.

S.O.P. is a military acronym for “Standard Operating Procedure.” The concept was born out of the heat of battle and other high stress situations where warriors have neither the time nor the mental energy needed to hyper-analyze a situation, evaluate a myriad of options and choose the one you hope is best, all while under a great deal of external pressure. Instead, soldiers are provided a compendium of S.O.P.s for a variety of common high stress situations. The S.O.P.s are drilled into the warriors until they’re automatic. So when X happens, soldiers automatically do S.O.P. #37. When Y happens, they do S.O.P. #42. And so on.

The advantages to this approach are many and impressive. For one, soldiers have a clear sense of the “best path forward” in all kinds of intense situations. They don’t have to waste precious time figuring out what to do because the S.O.P. is right there in their brain telling them the next step. Most importantly, they aren’t making choices from a place of panic and overwhelm. The S.O.P. effectively circumvents the rash decision making that would otherwise threaten to overrun everything in the heat of battle.

So I say, why should the military have all the fun? Even though S.O.P.s were designed for military scenarios, they can (and do!) work just as effectively in high-stress, curve ball situations we all face every day.

My Task List Tsunami, for example.

My S.O.P. for when the tsunami hits is really pretty simple. I do these three behaviors, over and over, until the tsunami passes:

  1. Strategically focus on one task at a time.
  2. Give my full presence to that task.
  3. Take mindful, unhurried action until the task is done.

Rinse, and repeat. Again, it’s a simple S.O.P., but it really works! And it’s a thousand times more effective (and less trama-inducing) than eating a party-size bag of Fritos while I binge watch 15 episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

So let me turn it to you. What’s the tsunami you deal with on a regular basis? What external scenario regularly sends you into overwhelm or panic or takes you out of commission in some other way?

What if you designed an S.O.P. that would help you surf the tsunami rather than get pummeled by it?

Why not give it a try? Here’s how:

  • Pick a scenario where you typically get tanked.
  • Write out what you usually do (i.e. how you tank)
  • Then write out what you think is the best possible way you could respond to that scenario (instead of tanking).
  • Turn that “best possible response” into a series of specific action steps. First I’ll do this. Then this. Then this. You get it.
  • Finally, test it out. Next time the tsunami hits, employ the S.O.P.
  • Afterward, evaluate: How’d it go? Make adjustments to your S.O.P. to make it work even better next time.

Rinse and repeat.

Michael Warden

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