Career Advice

The Day a Monkey Took Out the Internet, or How to Deal With a Deadline Disaster

By Sharon Hurley Hall June 14th, 2018

I pride myself on never missing deadlines. But every once in a while, the universe throws you a curveball that no amount of time management skills can overcome. On one fateful day, the universe appeared in the form of a monkey.

A few years ago, I was pursuing a freelance career remotely from Barbados. In terms of a home office, it’s hard to beat “tropical paradise.” And the internet connectivity was some of the strongest in the Caribbean. So far, so good.

In addition to sun, sand, surf, and decent broadband, the island is also home to hundreds of green monkeys. Originally from Senegal, they’ve inhabited Barbados for more than 350 years. They tend to travel in troops around the island, stealing fruit and getting into mischief as monkeys do.

Maybe it was only a matter of time before one of those furry little demons got into the island’s main power grid. Something tripped that day, the monkey was toast, and the whole island lost power, taking my Wifi and cell connection with it. With several deadlines looming, I had to move fast and avoid panic.

Trouble(shooting) in paradise

Luckily, I was at least partly prepared for calamity and managed to deliver my pieces within an acceptable window. Several years prior, I’d lost days of work when my hard drive went down without warning. I vowed never to let it happen again. The changes I made then served me well when the monkey flipped the switch. (They’ve also saved me in much less dramatic situations since.) Here’s how you can keep working, even when disaster strikes.

Stay mobile

You may have your home office set up exactly to your liking, but if you work off a desktop, you will always tethered to the power grid. I do my work on a laptop, which meant that when the power went out, I had a few hours to triage before I had to stop. Many people on the island were able to keep going about their day because they kept gas-powered generators as backup. If you live somewhere with regular outages, take note from them and keep a backup power source handy.

Notify clients right away

When my laptop battery finally gave up the ghost, I had most of my work done, but I hadn’t reached out to my clients to let them know about the setback. I’d naturally assumed that without a power grid, cell service was off the table.

What I’ve learned since is that even when power goes out on a major scale, you may still have a way to communicate. Many towers have backup power sources that can keep networks up after a disaster. It may take a little running around, but try to find a decent spot and get a note off to your clients immediately. You may even have access to a data network if you really must get a piece out (but beware of the data charges you’ll incur).

Don’t bet on the cloud

You’d think that the arrival of the cloud and platforms like Google Docs meant the end of worrying about losing your precious drafts, but in a deadline situation, a loss of connectivity could mean the temporary disappearance of your research (all those browser tabs!) and your project. Even if I am working in the cloud, I store all my research and drafts in one of my favorite offline tools, Scrivener. It’s helpful for tracking projects in the best of times, and should rogue simians strike, you’ll be glad to have your thoughts tucked away securely.

If you can’t bear the thought of underutilizing the cloud, then at least be sure to enable offline functionality in Google Docs and sync work across all your devices. Worst case scenario, you can work off your phone after your laptop battery dies.

Stop accepting quick turnarounds

One reason I was not completely undone by all that monkey business was a change I made in my business model. For years now, I stopped accepting contracts with short deadlines. It’s just not worth the stress. Instead, I’m upfront with clients about when I can accept and deliver work. That means I’m almost always working at least a week ahead. Do I sometimes miss out on assignments? Sure, but I’m also able to manage my time, account for setbacks (monkey-related or otherwise), and deliver a higher-quality product.

As it turns out, my experience in Barbados wasn’t wholly unique. The same thing happened in Kenya not too long ago. Which goes to show, the more we plug in, the more we have to be prepared for the unexpected. The deadline-conscious freelancer accounts for all scenarios, even the furry kind.

Image by iStock
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