The concept of red flags found is fairly prevalent because it’s incorporated in every e-mail client. A red flag indicates something that you need to pay attention to. The metaphor of a red flag is associated most often with something negative — a danger.

The second characteristic of a red flag is that it’s preventive. You don’t see a red flag when it’s too late, instead, a red flag shows you before the negative consequence that there is something coming. If you pay attention now and put in place the right measures you might still prevent it.

I think the concept is fairly useful outside of an e-mail context.

In my day job as a Product Manager, we track the behavior of our customers with analytics tools. Once you started to understand the graphs and numbers you get an eye for red flags there as well. Maybe it’s a drop in retention or an unusually high number in the time spent on a new info page data point. The drop in retention might indicate that notifications have stopped working for example. The unusual duration on the page could mean that the explanation is not well written and clear to customers.

If we extend that to your personal life you might be able to see problems before they become catastrophic too.

A friend recently told me that whenever her dishes start piling up she knows something is wrong. I was intrigued and asked what she meant by that. “Well”, she told me, “whenever I neglect chores it is a fairly good indicator that I’m stressed."

It’s super simple but significant. It might take some self-reflection and self-awareness but if you pay close attention you discover these things all over. For some, it might be a worse performance in the gym that poses as a red flag for an upcoming cold. For others, it might be the third night of little sleep that forebodes already a big drop in concentration and performance.

No matter what it is, but knowing the red flags in your life might help you prevent big problems before they occur or at least catch them when they’re still small.

For me, I use different tracking tools to make the discovery of red flags effortless. I have an Oura ring that keeps all my health metrics in one place. I notice immediately when something is wrong and can take action.

Furthermore, I use a simple habit tracking checkbox table. When I neglect certain habits for longer periods I automatically know what is coming. I’ve seen it before. I have the same for my finances and other life areas. Once you know your red flags you can design countermeasures. This allows me to course-correct early and reduce possible consequences.

What are your red flags?