The question that helps you to prepare for the unexpected change in your plans

Prepare for the unexpectedOne night I was woken up at 3.45 AM by my son’s crying. He is (when writing this post) a little over 10 months old.

I have agreed with my wife that whenever he wakes up in the middle of the night, I go to his room, nurture him and put him to sleep again.

Many times this whole operation takes approximately 5-10 minutes and I’m able to get back to bed very quickly.

That night things were different.

Even if it was in the middle of the night, our son was fully awakened and he was ready to play. He had difficulties of understanding that it was still nighttime and that he’d have to get back to sleep.

Finally, after spending 45 minutes with him, he fell asleep. I looked at the clock and it was 04.30 AM.

Things were otherwise fine, except that there was one thing that was bothering me: my alarm clock was about to wake me up at 05.00 AM.

I knew I needed some extra sleep and I hesitantly set the alarm clock wake me up at 06.30 AM. That’s when I eventually woke up, but now I was 1.5 behind my normal schedule.

In other words, I had lost my most productive hours of the day – the early morning ones. Otherwise this wouldn’t perhaps matter, but since I’m building my online business while having a day job, every second, minute and hour matters to me.

All I knew was that this morning I had even less time to get my work done than in the earlier mornings.

Losing my productive hours made me frustrated and a bit annoyed too, because this would affect my other schedules for the rest of the week. And, I didn’t know if I was able to get everything done by the end of the week.

I can only blame myself

When I analyzed my situation; I had done certain things that made me feel even worse. As if the losing of productive hours wasn’t enough!

First, I realized that my task list was too intense. Specifically, I set myself a goal to finish the week with three guest posts and one post for my own blog.

Now, this goal wouldn’t be too hard to reach in normal circumstances, but then again, my calendar for the weekend was a bit different than before.

In fact, most of the next Saturday was spent on my marathon race in other town, so I had completely failed to see this when doing my weekly plan.

The second thing that affected to my mood was a very simple thing: baby’s wake up at night!

Unlike adults, small children don’t necessarily know how to deal with the situation when they wake up in the dark – except by just by crying and trying to catch their parent’s attention. And that’s when mom or dad goes to nurture the child, so that he/she can fall asleep again.

Finally, I also forgot to set my attitudes right.

Yes, I was frustrated and bit annoyed at the moment. But I failed to remember that all this – being tired and waking up in the odd hours (especially when your child is still very young) was part of being a parent and I had to play the game by the rules.

Did you expect the unexpected?

The biggest reason that stressed me in the current situation was that I didn’t take the unexpected into account with my plans.

So what do I mean by unexpected?

Well, when there is a baby in the household, you have to be prepared for anything to happen.

More specifically, it was always possible that my son would wake-up in the night and stay awake for a longer time than just 10 minutes. This would make it harder for me to wake up when I wanted, thus making it harder to follow-up on my schedules.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten this completely.

My schedule was also a bit awkward: I had scheduled one certain task (writing a blog post) to happen at the end of the week and this very task was the only one with a hard deadline.

This plan gave me less time to write the post, proofread it and prepare it before it was published.

Finally, the shortcomings with my plans were caused by the lack of focus during the planning time.

I’m planning my weekly tasks on Sundays. This time I made the plan in a hurry and without full concentration. And for sure, these two factors made my schedule less than optimal.

What if?

Next time you create your weekly or daily plans, try to be bit more forward-thinking by asking yourself the following question: “What if?”

In my case, I could’ve asked myself in the planning phase: “What if I wasn’t able to follow my schedule, what I should do then?” This question (and the answer) would’ve been a powerful one and it would have probably helped me to avoid the scheduling pitfalls that I was now experiencing.

When you ask this question, the answer should become your backup plan.

Although you may have to spend a bit more time on planning your schedule this way, it’s all worth it. The “what if” technique helps to create a plan B, which you can then follow if your original schedule changes unexpectedly.

The backup plan will also help to tackle the negative emotions that arise very easily, when things are not working out the way you wanted.

Now, are you ready to create your plan b?

Then plan for the unexpected

Here is how to set your plan in a way that it’s takes the unexpected into account:

1. Feel grateful. As I mentioned, I was a bit frustrated and annoyed when I had to wake up in the middle of the night when our baby was crying. Then again, those feelings melted away pretty fast since I felt grateful for having a healthy baby.

Yes, babies do wake up in the middle of the night (more in the beginning of their lives), so understanding and remembering all this made me more relaxed and able to set my attitudes correctly.

2. Plan well in advance. I’m doing weekly planning every Sunday, so I have some kind of idea of what I’m about to do next week.

At the same time, I keep answering the “what if” questions, when doing the planning. The answers help me to find alternative ways to deal with unexpected schedule changes.

3. Cut out everything else. In my case, I eventually woke up at 06.30 AM and by that time; I was 1.5 hours behind my original schedule.

I knew that I had only a limited amount of time available, so I started working on the most important task and I skipped all the other tasks I had planned for the morning.

That way, I was able to make progress in that one task, which was the most crucial one.

4. Deadlines first. From now on, I’ll execute the tasks with a hard deadline first, so that they are taken care of.

This way I can take the pressure off my back, since the most urgent tasks are taken care of well in advance.

5. Don’t overstuff your list. Finally, add some flexibility to your task list. If your schedule is prone to change unexpectedly (for e.g., you have a baby in the house), your whole week is not affected by this.

From now on, I’ll have to figure out more carefully, what is realistic in my schedule and what’s not. This is also another way to lessen the stress and negative emotions, when the original plan doesn’t work.

Conclusion

Now that I look at the situation, I felt quite happy that it occurred. This made me think more about my planning and I learned to be more prepared for the similar situations in the future.

This is what I want you to do as well: plan your week ahead, but with some flexibility in mind. Understand that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to.

If you have asked yourself the “what ifs,” you’ll most likely have the plan B in place, which you can then execute when the plan A becomes obsolete.

Over to you: How do you deal with the situation when your plans change unexpectedly? Do you have a backup plan in place? Share your comments in the comments area.

Finally, if you liked this post, please share it or opt-in to my e-mail list for updates and future articles.

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About Timo Kiander

My name is Timo Kiander aka Productive Superdad.

I want to show how an online entrepreneur like you can improve your productivity in your online business.

Comments

  1. Timo, you’ve experienced the wonder of parenthood. Trust me, the unexpected doesn’t end when they start sleeping through the night although that really helps 8=)

    I advocate the “expansion joint” principal. Just like a bridge needs space to expand and contract with changes in the weather, you need to have space in your schedule for things that take longer than expected or run late. Or for emergencies that pop up. When you have the extra space between tasks you can move them around somewhat to accommodate things.

    Then, if nothing happens to use up the extra time you can use it to extend a task, start the next one early, add in a lower priority task or just relax (which is an important task in itself).

    But when something does happen you have the extra time to handle it without stressing out about how it will affect the rest of your day.

    I once heard that we need a minimum amount of stress in our lives to keep us functioning properly but most of us are maxed out on what we can handle. Little things end up pushing us over the top when they shouldn’t.

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Hi Bill!

      Yes, I have heard similar advice from other parents :)

      Anyway, your advice is solid and I like the analogy of bridges and “expansion joints”.

      It’s very easy to plan a tight schedule – only to see that it’s unrealistic and it fails you down.

      With some flexibility, you save yourself from a lot of stress.

      Thank you for the great insight!

      Cheers
      Timo

      • Hi Timo and Bill,

        I have once read that you should schedule 70% of your available time slots, leaving 30% for emergencies and the unexpected. I have been trying this out for a couple of weeks, and I can tell you it works wonders.

        To do so, you take the normal numbers of hours you have to actually do work during the week (for most of us it is the normal number of hours, whatever this is, minus time allocated to meetings, travel time that can’t be productive – like for instance car travel, lunch, coffee breaks, etc). You allocate 70% of the remaining time to scheduled tasks and you label the remaining 30% as “unscheduled”. If that unscheduled time is not used by emergencies or the unexpected, simply draw stuff from your to-do list and get some extra work done.

        It is quite relaxing as you don’t set irrealistic targets and you (almost) always end up with more work done than what you had scheduled to do.

        Now, if you are really under pressure even when applying this, you’ll need to apply Pareto’s law to choose what to do and what not to do !

        Hope this helps :-)

        • Timo Kiander says:

          Hi Fabrice!

          This is a very good advice, thank you for bringing it up!

          I have never heard of this technique (70/30), but it definitely makes sense.

          It’s useless to overstuff your schedule with too many things and then feel disappointed when your plans fail.

          With 70/30, you can prepare for the unexpected much better.

          Cheers,
          Timo

  2. Great article again TImo! You are a great dad and a tactician at baby-managing! I enjoyed reading your strategies in managing your child. I totally agree with your point of planning ahead and scheduling. Thanks for this post! :)

  3. I loved this post! This describes my life perfectly! It may be the baby in the night, a forgotten lunch or call from school that someone is sick, or unexpected guests. There is always something unplanned that comes up!

    Last night my baby woke up at 3:30. When he went back to sleep (quite a bit later), I found myself unable to sleep! I decided not to waste all that time doing nothing in my bed, so I got up and tackled a big task from my day. I then went back to sleep (I was good and tired and fell asleep easily) around 5:30 until it was time to get up and send the kids off to school. Of course, I had the advantage of napping for an hour during the day while my baby slept!

    I was glad to be able to be flexible about the change in schedule. The best part was that by the time I began my day, I already felt like I had done something important!

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Hi Ita!

      Great, that’s awesome!

      Sometimes I wake up earlier than what I planned to and it means that I achieve a lot during that day.

      Normally I wake up around 5 AM, but sometimes I have woken up even earlier than that. When my family wakes up hours later, I have pretty much cleared my task list :)

      Cheers,
      Timo

  4. Timo

    As a brand new father, a hopefully blogger, a new homeowner, and a day job daydreamer, I find your articles inspiring and insightful. I came here via your guest post on ProBlogger. I took off the blogging hat and put on the reader hat!

    Thank you for what you do!
    -scott

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Hi Scott!

      Nice to meet you :)

      I’m glad to hear that you liked my articles.

      Just let me know if you have any productivity questions and I try find an answer or point you to right direction.

      Cheers,
      Timo

  5. I hate it when things don’t go according to plan and I’m very much behind schedule.

    First time in your blog and I like that we share the same style in analyzing what went wrong with our day. I try to plan 70% of my time but I often plan my week chock full of tasks. I’ll try better not to do that. There’s also the 30/30 rule where you work on a task for only 30 minutes then switch gears/context to do another task or take a break so you don’t get bored with your current tasks.

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Hi Kate!

      Yep, I’m not a big fan of falling behind either :)

      I think that adding too many weekly tasks is very easy to do. When I do my weekly planning, I only include the most important tasks that I want to get done.

      This way I’m not adding too much stuff on my list and it’s easier to get them done.

      Anyway, thanks for pointing out the 30/30 rule. It sounds reasonable and I have to give it a try!

      Cheers,
      Timo

  6. It’s important to note that things are not always going to go the way you planned. I have learned that time and time again. My advice would be write in advance or reach out to people to guest post on your site to give yourself some extra time (as long as they write good content).

    My mentality is Plan A: succeed,Plan B: succeed,Plan C: succeed. When you have setbacks don’t worry about it that much, just keep chugging along.
    Garen recently posted..65 Blog TipsMy Profile

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Hi Garen!

      Sure, you can’t always prepare for the unexpected.

      Especially when it comes to content for your blog, it definitely helps if you can get quality guest posts for your blog.

      Cheers,
      Timo

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