How to Plan in the Midst of Uncertainty
You know I’m a huge advocate for planning. Planning and time management are what allow you to avoid overwhelm and to maintain Work + Life Harmony.
However, I know that planning doesn’t (and can’t) look the same for all women and in all stages of their lives.
If you are in a season of life that is surrounded by uncertainty and constant changes in your day-to-day schedule — whether your job has you on call, you’re parenting several young kids, or running multiple businesses — you can still effectively plan in a way that works for you and your lifestyle.
Will this type of planning look a little different? Absolutely.
But it is possible to give yourself the support and relief that planning will bring to your life even in the midst of uncertainty and fluid schedules.
Tip 1: Stop Planning for Certainty
If you know you have a lot of uncertainty in your life, then quit trying to create plans as if your life doesn't have that uncertainty.
Planning as though you are sure your schedule will be one way when you know that’s not likely to happen is only going to set you up for frustration.
So the first step in planning for an uncertain week is to acknowledge that things are going to come up and are going to change.
Tip 2: Embrace Weekly Planning
This may feel counterintuitive because I just told you to stop planning for certainty, but I promise there is still a productive and helpful way to weekly plan even with a fluid schedule.
You can still embrace weekly planning 100%!
Tip 3: Identify & Plan for Your Must-Dos
Start your weekly planning by identifying the tasks that must be done this week. These tasks can be related to your business, family, job, personal life, etc.
The important thing here is to recognize those tasks and to estimate the amount of time those crucial to-dos will take.
Then, you need to create specific appointments in your calendar to accomplish those tasks during the pockets of time when you experience the most certainty in your schedule.
This could be in the early morning hours before your kids wake up or on a day when you know you’re not going to be on call for your business. This is the time that is least likely to be hijacked by unknowns.
Tip 4: Plan With Buffer Zones
A big key to planning for uncertain schedules is to create your appointments with a buffer zone.
For instance, if you know a task has to be done by Thursday, don’t plan to work on that task during your Wednesday evening pocket of time. Instead, put that time-sensitive task in your block of protected time on Monday.
Giving yourself this kind of buffer will allow for unexpected things to come up without your necessary to-dos not getting done on time.
Tip 5: Don’t Add Too Much
Another key to weekly planning in the middle of uncertainty is to avoid overfilling your calendar.
Does this mean you won’t do things that don’t have appointments? No.
However, you don’t want to overschedule your time and set yourself up for disappointment at the end of the week because you couldn’t fit everything in when you thought you could.
Tip 6: Identify Your Have-Tos
Your have-to tasks are different from your must-do tasks. Must-do tasks are the ones that will bring about negative consequences in your life when they aren’t done.
Have-to tasks are the ones that you feel compelled to complete in a given week and would even try to catch up on over the weekend if you didn’t get them accomplished.
Put these tasks in a list of priorities with one being the most important. Then, look at your week and tentatively plan for when you will accomplish these tasks. However, with these tasks, know that the times and even days may be fluid as other things come up.
You’re going to at least take a stab at planning which day those have-to items are getting done.
What you do not want to do is to work from one giant, unprioritized to-do list for the entire week. Because on Monday, when you have the opportunity to get started on something, if you're looking at a list with 25 things on it, it will feel overwhelming.
This is a different approach to planning than I normally teach. With a more certain schedule, I recommend also giving your have-to tasks a specific place in your weekly calendar. However, with a more uncertain life situation, you want to be prepared to shift when needed while also having a prioritized framework for your week.
The most important thing is looking at your week and your life realistically and planning accordingly. Don’t set yourself up for something you know you likely can’t achieve.
If you have uncertainty in your lives right now, stop trying to plan for certainty and honestly acknowledge that this is where you are in life right now. Then, you can put the right systems and processes in place that will actually support you.