How to plan your future in times of wild uncertainty: 5 easy-to go techniques
Hit, run, freeze
Shit happens, you know. And it always happens when you expect it the least. Though we all know it, this knowledge doesn’t make life more certain and predictable. You simply can’t anticipate all the problems that may come.
There are life situations when we don’t know how to react and what to do: break up of relationships, getting fired, death of a relative or a friend, pandemic, war or turmoils, etc. When any of these mishaps enters our lives we find ourselves off, buried under all the tasks we’ve set up for. It seems almost impossible to make plans or look forward to having any progress at that moment. Everything we cared about begins to lose its meaning, and it feels as if there's nothing you can do about it. Well, there are ways.
From our ancestors, we inherited a simple hit-run-freeze tactic that we stick to in the days of chaos. Those are usually the first intentions we have when we’re stressed and scared. But as the first shock passes we start looking for ways to overcome numbness, frustration, and upset.
Here’s what you can do to get back your life in times of wild uncertainty when the world is on fire and you can’t see the way out.
Review and reevaluate your tasks
When the paradigm we live in changes, the first step is to review your goals and current tasks. You can do it by asking yourself these questions:
Are my goals and tasks still relevant?
Should I still invest in completing this task? Do I still want to be committed to this goal?
What has changed now? How does it influence my short-term plans? How should I correct the plan to achieve my long-term goals?
This is a good practice even in times of calm and habitual routine. Having too many tasks we may forget to check whether they are still relevant and fit our aspirations. Revising your task monthly will do a great job — you’ll be surprised how many of them need to be updated or rephrased.
That’s why in times of uncertainty, it doesn't hurt to check your goals more often, such as daily or weekly. This will allow you to adapt your vision to the new reality and make decisions based on the new context, rather than blindly stick to the old plan just because it was intended.
Review and reevaluate your current goals to see if you still feel like doing them right now. Adjust your short-term plans to your long-term vision.
Start small and focus on the next step
We tend to plan everything, to foresee all possible options, to calculate all risks, to think about ways to retreat in advance. But there will always be something we couldn’t anticipate: a sudden fall at the market, a tornado, a war. These things take us off guard, and we feel unsafe. The change of plans makes this feeling even harsher.
Our brain constantly looks for certainty, otherwise it begins to think we are in danger. But visualizing the future in detail is too costly for the brain and requires tons of resources. It’s also painful for the psyche when our expectations don’t match reality. Instead of trying to predict our future we should focus on the next step. It’s a gentler approach, with no pressure and stress.
If you have a big goal or a task in front of you, and you have no idea where to start, how to approach it, try not to think of it as a big goal. Instead, think of what your next step might be and take it. This little trick will help you overcome the numbness and begin to act.
The most important step in your life is the next step. Not the one from five years ago, not the one you’ll take a year from now. Just the next step of yours.
Prioritize your weekly outcomes
First thing to do when you’re overwhelmed is to prioritize your goals. It will help you decrease the pressure and get rid of the guilt. Here’s a short checklist to do it.
Choose three main outcomes from areas of life that you’d like to have this week. They can be work-related or personal projects, it’s up to you. The decisive criterion is that those outcomes should feel relevant at the moment. For example, you’ve decided that this week it’s vital to focus on your health, your family, and a new design project at work.
Split these goals into smaller steps. You’ll have three lists of certain steps for every day, some of them may consist of repetitive tasks, some will look like a plan.
Spread these smaller steps over the week. To stay productive and avoid burnout we recommend picking not more than three tasks per day.
Stick to the plan and review your progress at the end of the week. Don’t be hard on yourself if any of the tasks are left undone by the end of the day or even the week. Simply reschedule them!
On Timestripe we have an auto-move option. When it’s on, all overdue goals from previous periods are moved to the current day, week, month, and year.
Stick to your habits
Another good way to keep your head clear and stay calm is to stick to your common routine. Your rituals and daily habits are the basement of your life, they are the pillars your discipline, stamina, and healthy psyche rest on.
Keep living as you used to: go to the gym, do yoga and jogging in the mornings, see friends on Friday’s night, etc. It takes a lot of systematic work to build these habits, but when you’re anxious and upset it’s easy to skip on them and unnoticeably slip into a haphazard lifestyle.
When the will leaves you, stick to your habits.
But no kind words will help you remain true to your habits and usual schedule. There’re always too many things out there that try to seduce our mind’s attention or hinder you from continuing with your habits. Let's imagine a situation that could have happened in real life (and I'm willing to bet it did).
We have Antonio who does jogging in the park every morning. But two weeks ago his dog passed away, and he doesn’t feel like doing sports anymore. Actually it’s even worse: he used to jog with his dog, and now the idea of doing it alone breaks Antonios’ heart.
The thing is that Antonio had a great habit, and it was closely related to his pet. Now he has to rebuild this habit from the ground. It’s not easy, but doable. Here’s a few options Antonio could start with.
Invite his friend or a life partner to join him for jogging. Commitment to other people makes it harder to skip on your habits. The presence of a friend may help overcome sorrow of loss, too. It’s much better than jogging alone.
Find some elderly neighbors and offer them to run with their dog. It will not replace his old pal, but might do the magic for the first time. I’m not a psychologist, but that’s what I’d do in this situation.
Get all the necessary equipment prepared in advance. For instance, put running shoes, shorts, a fresh t-shirt and a bottle of drinking water at the front door in the evening. It’ll save some time in the morning and make it harder to skip.
Create a new ritual after jogging. For instance, having lunch with his friend, having his morning coffee, or meditating may work. Anything he likes will do!
Even though it's a made-up situation, and it’s easier to be said than done, you got the idea. Life may be hard on you, but there’s always a way out if you keep looking for it. Try to see new opportunities instead of lamenting over the old life you had.
Declare to-do list bankruptcy
All of the above sounds good. But there are times when we are so hammered we can’t even look at the list of our tasks, I’m not talking about doing them. Sometimes it’s just too much, and it makes more sense just to get rid of everything and start from scratch.
People call this method a to-do list bankruptcy or an email bankruptcy, depending on what you’re dealing with. It means that instead of clearing up the email clutter, a person simply deletes or archives all emails without reading them. The same can be done with a list of tasks and ideas that cannot be dealt with.
All you have to do is to declare bankruptcy and then delete all the undone tasks, unread emails, and unreached goals you have. Sounds easy, but might be scary. But you might ask, “What if I’d like to return to them someday? What if I lose some important and genius idea of mine?” These questions start slipping through the mind when we talk about resetting any lists.
Don't be afraid of losing information. The really important ideas always stay with us. Sometimes it's more expensive to clean up a mess than to get rid of emails and an endless list of links.
If you don’t feel like deleting what you've accumulated, you can send your tasks or list to the archive. Many apps have this feature. That way you save the opportunity to go back to old goals, rethink them, and restore them on occasion.
Recently I completely cleaned up my list of pending videos on YouTube. Some of them were added a couple of years ago, but I never watched them. The chance of me ever getting to them was negligible. Bankruptcy was the perfect solution. After going bankrupt I only had 13 videos left on my "Watch Later" list, but at least those were the ones I really wanted to watch.
Declare a to-do list bankruptcy and archive or delete all the undone tasks. If you have tasks on your list that you didn’t return to in 30 days, you may easily delete them. There’s a small chance these things will ever be done.
What hinders you to be more productive?
Tell me about situations, fears, and obstacles that cloud your mind and stop you from reaching goals. Send your questions and thoughts about productivity and time management to email@example.com. I’ll cover them in one of the following emails.
Have a great week!
Evgeny, editor at Timestripe
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This newsletter was created in collaboration Evgeny Lepekhin, an author of “Russian Rules”. If you liked this piece of writing, subscribe to his personal newsletter about how writing and critical thinking can improve your management and leadership skills.
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