“Either you run the day or the day runs you” – Jim Rohn
Almost every person that I know has at some point had a day where nothing went according to plan. These types of days are challenging even for the best planners among us. They are the days where I declare a “Calendar Emergency”.
The question that most often comes to me about emergency days is how to deal with changes to the plan. I always say that understanding how you ended up in an emergency is the first step to handling it and preventing it from happening again. It is like treating the cause of the illness instead of just the symptoms. So, I follow two steps when dealing with a calendar emergency. First, figure out the cause, and second, apply the correct strategy to fix the issue.
Generally, there are only a few causes of a calendar emergency. I say this because in almost all cases I can go back to just these three causes. Here are the top causes I find and the strategies to deal with them.
- A true emergency – Someone is seriously injured or there is a tragedy that couldn’t be avoided. In this case, I always recommend triage and deal with later. To triage, first identify all commitments to other people that will be affected by the emergency. Then, contact each person in that list and cancel your meeting. Tell them that there is an emergency and you will call them to reschedule within a couple of days. Then make sure you actually follow up and reschedule. Triage should be very quick and take no more than 1-2 minutes per commitment. Most people will understand your need to reschedule due to the emergency. I try to only do this when I really don’t have time to set a new date because I find that any time you can reschedule to a firm date, it is better for everyone involved.
- A change in plans caused by outside forces – a good example of this is the daycare unexpectedly closed and you have to watch your child instead of going to meetings. In this case, you have time to look at your calendar and assess what needs to be changed. This is where planning really makes your life easy. You should be able to look at what you have committed to that day and either reschedule or re-frame the meeting. Perhaps, you were supposed to meet a client for coffee. You can call the client and give them the option to meet virtually on the phone or video conference or you can reschedule the client to a different day. Clients will understand if you are truthful with them and you apologize for the inconvenience.
- Underestimating time required for tasks is making you late – this probably wouldn’t fit your definition of emergency but if you have things planned one right after another on your calendar, then a meeting going over can throw off your whole day. This emergency is the most common one. In order to deal with this emergency, we need to use multiple strategies. First, you need to stay in contact with your commitments and let them know if you will be late or need to reschedule. Use the same strategy for moving things around that you practiced in #B. After your day is done, then it is time to work on some strategies for making sure you estimate better in the future.
- Track your time and use that data to do better estimates in the future. In general, most people have a “planning fallacy” when estimating time. They tend to overestimate how long it will take to complete short tasks and underestimate the time longer projects will take. The best way to combat the planning fallacy is to track the time you spend on all of your tasks, even daily mundane tasks like showers and meals. I suggest doing this for a couple of weeks. You can do this with fancy task tracking tools like Teamwork, Toggl, and MyHours. Or you can be simple with just an egg timer and some paper. The key is to first estimate how long you think the task will take and then compare that to how long the task actually took. Keep a record of that and you will begin to see where you need to be better at estimating.
- Take a guess and add a “fudge factor” to your estimate. This means that you will estimate the time it will take to complete a task and then because of the planning fallacy, you will add 25-50% more time on the estimate as a fudge factor to get the task done. You can decide on the percentage you want to add, but if you are just guessing, I would use the 50% more estimate just to be safe. So, if you think it will take you one hour to update your blog, you want to add 50% more time, so put an hour and a half in your calendar to complete that task. If you want to figure out your specific fudge factor, you can use the time tracking methods in the other strategy and calculate your fudge factor. Just take the amount of time it actually took you to do the task and divide it by your estimated time. You will get a ratio that will tell you how much you need to add to your estimate. If you ratio is 1.25, you need to add 25% to your estimate. When you do you guesstimate, you just need to add your fudge factor and that should get you pretty close to the actual time it will take you to complete the task.
Following these strategies will help you better manage changes to your calendar, will help you stay on plan in the future. Next month, I will look at ways to up your productivity and maybe even shorten the time it takes you to do some tasks.
I would love to know if you have any other tips or tools that you use to stay on track or handle calendar emergencies. Put your thoughts in the comments below.
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Thanks so much for reading.