Things have not gone as planned in 2020. For anyone. In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of allowing for time to accept that we’re all struggling instead of trying to force positivity or an easy answer. It’s okay and even healthy to pause and rest when life gets crazy. But we don’t have to stop there. When we’re ready, we can do our best to start moving forward again, at least one step at a time.
So what I want to share in this post is my process for dealing with derailed plans: how I go from lost and overwhelmed to back on my feet and moving again.
Step 1: Get Your Bearings
Several years ago, I got lost while traveling alone in Kunming, China. I took the wrong bus and wound up at a terminal station with no idea what part of the city I was in. My first priority in that moment was to find an internet connection so I could figure out 1) where I was, 2) which direction I needed to go, and 3) the best mode of transportation to get there.
As it happened, I had unusual trouble getting my phone to connect to the wifi I found, so it was a long, frustrating afternoon that involved a few additional wrong turns. I did eventually get to where I needed to go, but because it took me so long to figure out where I even was, the whole process took a lot longer than it would have otherwise.
The same is true of getting off-track in working towards our goals. If we keep blindly pushing forward without stopping to figure out where we actually are, we’re likely to end up in a similar position to me in Kunming: either walking aimlessly or on a bus that’s traveling the exact opposite direction from my destination.
So, as soon as I can after my plans have been derailed, I sit down and ask myself these questions:
What was the original plan? I take out my bullet journal and review the goals and deadlines I laid out for myself. This step is much easier if you’ve written out your plan, but it’s still possible even if you haven’t.
What has gone according to plan? It’s often more than I thought, which is encouraging to see.
What has gotten delayed or derailed? Why and how? It’s important to be specific. Understanding how and why something went off-course makes it that much easier to know what needs to be done to correct it. Was it events outside of your control? Procrastination? Unforeseen difficulties? Something else?
Once I have a solid understanding of where I am and why, I can then start to evaluate where I want to be and how to get there.
Step 2: Set a New Course
Another thing that got in my way that afternoon in Kunming was that I made it more complicated than it needed to be. What I should have done from the start — and what I wound up doing in the end — was navigating back to my hostel. From there, I could have planned out a route to the next location much more easily. But that would have involved backtracking, and I didn’t want to spend so much time in transit. So instead I tried to get to the next location from wherever-I-was, and wasted even more hours than I would have if I’d gone straight back to the hostel.
Similarly, a crucial step in getting plans back on track is to start over. Acknowledge and accept that you can no longer meet the original deadline, and then set new goals with new, reasonable deadlines.
Here I ask myself:
Is there any part of the planned timeline I can still make happen? Again, there’s often more than I think there will be. Maybe something just needs to be delayed a little, or maybe there’s still time to meet the original deadline for one or two of my goals.
Which parts of my original plan can no longer happen or are no longer my goal? Let them go. They’ll only distract you from what you can do.
Which parts do I still need/want to accomplish? What steps do I need to take towards getting them done, and what is a reasonable timeline for getting them done with regard to the changed circumstances? Treat this exactly like your routine yearly, monthly, or weekly goal-setting time. Set new deadlines, break down larger goals or projects into smaller steps, and get started. Congratulations, you’re back on track!
Life is unpredictable. Things are going to happen that throw you off course again and again. You’re going to have to go through this process many times. But having a plan for when the plans get messed up has helped me immensely, and I hope it helps you, too.
I’ve created a worksheet for the process described above that you can print out and work through as often as you need. Sign up for my email list using the form below to get access to this worksheet, as well as all of my other planning and organizing resources!
Do you have your own process for getting back on track when plans go awry? I’d love to hear from you.
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