When things don’t go according to plan

I started this week very optimistically. I had everything planned out; I’d scheduled when I was going to do each work assignment, when I’d spend time with friends and I’d even written a rough outline of this week’s email newsletter.

Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan. Something personal came up on Thursday which meant I didn’t do any work on Thursday or Friday.

I find I am most productive when I set relatively ambitious time targets for completing tasks, often with non-negotiable deadlines, to minimise the risk of succumbing to Parkinson’s law. However, the flip side of this if things don’t go according to plan, such as this week, things can back up pretty quickly and it’s easy to get stressed.

There was a 15 minute “assembly” talk I had back in school which has stuck in my mind since. The teacher laid out a process for responding to situations where things don’t go according to plan*:

  1. Define the worst-case scenario
  2. Accept this as a possibility
  3. Then do everything you can to avoid it

At the time I thought this was a little cliché, but I’ve found myself returning to it occasionally over the years, and this week it was helpful again.

After coming to terms with the possibility of performing poorly on an upcoming coursework assignment and exam, I came to the conclusion that to maximise my chances of avoiding these I should:

  • Define the outstanding tasks
  • Prioritise them
  • Work through them in priority order

This means that, when my coursework deadline and exam date come around next week, I may not have done everything I wanted to this time last week, but I will have done the most that I can do from now until then.

*I later saw a similar process laid out more formally in the book “How to stop worrying and start living” by Dale Carnegie

Favourite podcast of the week

George Hayward: comedian, lawyer and data scientist

This was both educational and entertaining; the interviewee (Goerge Hayward) explained his somewhat unconventional route of studying law, then becoming a data scientist and comedian, and some of the parallels he sees between the different fields.