“How do you plan for life hitting you in the face?”

(What a great way to preface the question.)

What followed was an all-too-familiar lament.

Every week, I make a plan for the week, but by Tuesday, I’m completely off-course. Last week, my first-grader got sent home sick. I spent the next three days just taking care of him. I got nothing else done! How do you plan for this kind of disruption?

The short answer is, you don’t. There are too many variables to control for.

You create your plan for the week. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll have an amazing week. Even if you only get 80% of it done, you’ll still be in great shape.

Now, for how many different contingencies do you think you’re able to accurately plan? I once heard someone describe being proactive as the art of worrying about everything that hasn’t gone wrong yet. Even if you try to plan for things that might maybe go wrong, you’ll probably just get the details wrong and end up disrupted anyway.

Fortunately, there are still some things you can do make sure that you don’t go down for the count when life starts throwing punches.

  • Be flexible. Short-term planning gives you clarity on what tasks you need to accomplish today and this week in order to move your goals forward. When an interruption comes in, determine whether it’s an opportunity to do something greater or a distraction that’s going to pull you off-course.
  • Stay connected to the bigger picture. You might have wanted to spend the morning on strategic planning for next quarter, but your son needs to go to the ER for stitches. So you take off your Leader hat, put on your Parent hat, and spend the morning working on a much longer horizon.
  • Put first things first. You never know when a disruption is going to strike. You might only have time to get one task done. Keep that in mind as you schedule your day. If you put your big rocks first thing in the morning, you’re more likely to accomplish them than if you schedule them late in the day. If you only had time to get one thing done today, which would it be?
  • Leave yourself margin. You may not know what’s going to go wrong, but you know everything isn’t going to go according to plan. Meetings run long, traffic gets snarled, and milk turns sour. Only schedule your day to be 80% full. If everything goes smoothly, you can always pick up some C tasks. Most days, you’ll appreciate the margin.
  • Replan before you resume. When life throws a punch, push pause while you deal with it. People understand that life happens. When you’re ready to get back at it, take a minute to replan. Your A tasks might still be your priorities for the week, but you may need to drop some B tasks to make room for what just happened.

Have your plan in place. Work it until you’re done, you finish, or something interrupts you. Whatever you do, don’t freeze up, fearing what might happen. That’s an especially debilitating form of analysis paralysis.

When interruptions come—and come, they will—you have to make a decision. Should you change course and pursure this new opportunity? Or do you stay your course? Sometimes, the best days are the ones we didn’t plan for.

Question: If what you’ve already done today were all you’d get done today, how would you feel? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.