What You Can Learn From Delays

Let me just start by saying this: I wrote most of this GovLoop article while stuck on a passenger train from Washington, DC to Norfolk, Virginia. What should have been a three-hour trip to Norfolk turned into a seven-hour trip filled with delays, emergency track repair and lots of headaches.

From the rank-and-file employee to the CEO, and everyone in between, we’ve all experienced delays. Project delays, stuck in traffic, you name it.

Here are five lessons we can learn from delays:

1. Stay Positive

A train delay due to emergency rail repairs is bittersweet. Sure, you’re delayed, but the situation could have been much worse. There could have been a major accident!

Always keep it in mind to stay positive. If you receive bad news at work, try and keep your cool. It could be a temporary setback, or it could be less problematic than you originally thought. Your positivity will allow you to make the best decisions with clarity of mind.

2. Be Realistic

Passenger rail in America is not without its delays. I took my work phone, an extra charger, some snacks and wore comfortable clothes for a three-hour trip. I did not make much plans on the same day of my travel, and the plans I did make were easily moved to the next day. When the announcement came that emergency track work would only take 30 minutes, I prepared for a more realistic delay of 1-2 hours.

When creating a project schedule, or setting up your work day, be as realistic as possible. Are you assuming in your project schedule that your team members have impeccable health and will not take a single sick day? Are you assuming that every meeting will start and end on time? Plan your project schedule, or your work day, as if delays will happen (because they often do!)

3. Ensure Communication

Rumors tend to spread through a group like wildfire. In the absence of information, a half-truth or a guess will become a fact. Passengers on the train were talking about why we were delayed, ranging from hitting a deer to someone pulling the emergency brake. Only after a whole 30 minutes did someone make an announcement: there was emergency rail repair in progress. The conductors realized their mistake and started passing information on a more regular basis.

Communicate early and communicate often. The earliest messages may not be the most accurate, but it will help keep the rumor mill at bay. Additionally, if you’re staying positive (see point #1), people will sense it view your positivity as a strength.

4. Prepare to Act

During the delay, I still weighed my options: What time is the last bus to Norfolk? How much is an Uber or taxi ride at this hour? Does anyone like me enough to drive two whole hours on a Friday night to pick me up? I packed up my bag (leaving just my notepad out) and was ready to make a quick move if I needed to.

Weigh your options, and be prepared to make decisions with the information you have. If a key team member called out sick, resulting in a significant delay, are you prepared with a plan B? If a system goes down at the worst possible time, are you prepared with a contingency plan?

5. Recognize What’s Outside Your Control

No matter how much passengers complained, no matter how much screaming and yelling went on, it was the technicians fixing the tracks who decided when we left. Even with all of the best intentions, planning and attitude adjustments, sometimes you just have to go for the ride.


Delays are never fun, and they always come at the worst possible time. Charles R. Swindoll said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” Eventually, the track work was repaired, and we went on our way. We pulled into the station four hours late. I got to my parents’ house and had a great time. I was in complete control of myself and my emotions, even though the same delay brought out the worst in some of the passengers.

How do you handle delays at work or in your personal life? Share your tips in the comments section below!


Fredy Diaz  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.


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Brady Smithsund

Awesome post, Fredy. Really like how you compare train delays to delays and other issues at work. Your fifth point stood out to me the most and is something that everyone could benefit from understanding. Thanks for the post!

Michael Santon

Excellent way to correlate real life and business relations.

Appreciate this post as it is always good to sharpen tools you have put away for some time.