Recently my housemate came home from work after a long shift on a hot day.

She felt tired, understandably so, and went to bed for a nap. She woke up feeling groggy and headachy. Alarmed, she came down stairs and was panicking that maybe she was falling ill or worse, had Coronavirus.

I sensed that she wasn’t feeling grounded and she was starting to spiral. I was sympathetic to her but knew not to indulge her alarm. Instead I ran through a few options in my mind and ended up asking if she’d had enough water to drink. Her eyes went wide and it turns out that she hadn’t had any water during her long shift and none when she got home. We fixed her up a Hydralyte (a very handy thing to have in stock by the way!) and she drank some more water on top of that. After twenty minutes or so she started to feel better. The panic subsided and she got herself some food which further ‘normalised’ her.

Feeling rebalanced, she had a laugh at herself and thanked me for pointing out other possibilities. “It’s okay,” I said, “Just do what’s in your control first, and then work your way up to other possibilities, rather than doing it the other way round.”

I think this is a good way to go about many things in life. It’s definitely something I live by. Take overwhelm for example. If you feel like you’re beginning to spiral and can’t get out, stop a moment and have a look at what you can control. Maybe it’s planning some more, maybe it’s regrouping, maybe it’s calling a meeting, maybe it’s delaying some actions.

It’s all fine and good to have a schedule laid out and to endeavour to get certain things done during a day, but then stuff happens that throws all that off course. Acknowledging and planning for these interruptions and delays is part of good time management. The reality of the day means that we have to adjust to what we can control. These are the moments when you have to look at what you want to get done and then take stock of what the reality is actually going to allow us to get done.

Best laid plans can trip us up if we’re not flexible in our management of the actual reality that eventuates. It’s being able to recognise that, “Okay, I do need to get this done. But because it’s not due till the end of the week, I’ve still got some time to play with.”

Working within the confines of what you can control gives you buffer room. Best laid plans can feel a little tricky to let go of, especially if you get quite set in your ways (#guilty!), it can be too easy to start telling yourself “Oh, I didn’t get that done or I’m a failure like, oh, I didn’t do that. I should have got that done.” ‘Shoulding’ on yourself works against productivity like nothing else!

But being able to move things around and accept that maybe it’s just not going to happen today. That’s how you’re able to manage your time in a more beneficial way and also a more human way. You’re a human being, not a human doing, so best laid plans are a beautiful thing, but they can also not mirror up to reality.

So the next time you start spiralling, take a deep breath and think about how you can work with the circumstances that have thrown themself up. Stay in the moment, stay calm, and progress what you can. Remember: do what you can control first then work your way up. And also… drink more water generally!

Let me know what best-laid plans you’ve had completely blow up in your face and how you worked to overcome that. I’d love to hear your stories!