Part #1 of 4: How to plan for problems and chaos
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Make space for a friend called Chaos. Also known as Margin, Downtime, or simply: Space.
In my teacher training on lesson planning, we were always reminded to leave space for the unexpected, for students who don’t get a concept straight away… Or for those who finish everything too soon. Basically, I call this stuff 'chaos'. Even though I apply this practical concept to planning English and Chinese lessons for my students, as well as my training sessions, I didn't transfer it to planning my life and days until this year. "Life is too chaotic and uncertain, I can’t plan for anything right now." This year, I heard many people who said this, or something similar. I even said it to myself - a couple of years ago. How can one possibly plan when nothing is certain? When everything is up in the air, and going wrong? When you have no time to catch your breath each day, let alone making a plan for a year!? But I found that if everything is uncertain and unclear, there is nothing better you can do than to make time to reflect, visualise and plan. In fact, it’s especially when things feel out of control, that planning becomes a kind of healing medicine. There is something special that happens when you take time to map out your intentions and your wishes for the year to come. When you do it in a realistic and conscious way, it can be comforting. But what about chaos? All the things that hit you in the face unexpectedly? All the things that knock you down? The solution is just like how they trained me to do my lesson plans: you plan time just for chaos to happen. At the end of last year, I started planning for chaos, and it became a daily habit. Each day, I started leaving 3-4 hours, just for chaos. If I got booked for meetings, I tried to spread them out. I left gaps in between. I avoided booking things back to back. I started leaving a whole day in the week with nothing scheduled at all. (It still always got filled up with something.) But zooming out a little, the biggest change was in my annual plan, where I left huge margin and timelines for my intentions and goals. I allowed space for the unexpected. I didn't realise it back in December 2019, but this plan became an unexpected comfort to me when everything in 2020 went wrong. Particularly financially, the plan meant that I was more secure than I had ever been, at a time when everything else was the opposite of secure. So, in the first of these posts on planning, this may be the most important one of all: The idea of leaving space for chaos to exist. Life is chaotic, and each day always seems to have something that eats you up - even if it's just distractions on your phone. So you might as well plan some space for it. This way, you’re the one in control. 🙂 References: Cal Newport's book, 'Deep Focus' & Sean D'Souza's work on 'Chaos Planning' are just two thought leaders on this topic who helped inform my own thinking around planning and structuring goals.