What to Do When You Mess Up

  1. Own up to it and take responsibility for it.
  2. Fix it immediately.
  3. Put a system in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Could be a checklist, could be checks by multiple coworkers before something goes out, etc. Whatever works best for you and your team.
  4. Remember that feeling bad about it helps keep it from happening again, but don’t dwell on the mistake for multiple days. Make the necessary changes and keep working.
I once messed up a routine server update without doing a backup first. It froze in the middle the and an entire school district lost access to their email. My boss graciously took the angry phone calls and I stayed up all night learning how to rebuild the mail server from various online documentation. I finally got it back up and running with messages restored.
The only thing that my boss said when he came in the next morning was, “Now you know why I stress the importance of backing up before every update, no matter how small. I trust you’ll never make a mistake like that again.”
He was right. I’m now a fanatic about backing up. My failure got me to institute a process that I’ll rely on for the rest of my life.