How To Plan for the Unexpected During Your Workweek

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It seems like no matter how well you plan your week out, you get derailed at some point.

You’ve taken a look at your daily schedule, revisited your lists, and learned how to set boundaries. Still, something always seems to pop up and throw your workweek off-kilter.

The reality is that whether you work remotely or not, you have to manage the unexpected during your workweek. But the good news is that a few scheduling adjustments can help you work around them.

For most of us, once we’ve been balancing work and personal schedules for a while, we recognize the value in building a routine and mastering time management.

But we don’t always recognize that we need a cushion to avoid getting derailed and frustrated when faced with the unexpected.

There’s a lot that’s outside of your control, so consider some ways you can add some structured flexibility to your workweek to overcome unexpected obstacles with ease.

1. Expect the Unexpected

Mother working from home on laptop
Dragana Gordic /

A typical planning error is assuming you only need to make time for what’s on your to-do list. But new tasks of which you aren’t yet aware may present themselves despite your best-laid plans.

When you approach each workday expecting interruptions — from technical glitches to household emergencies — you’ll be less thrown off when they happen.

It might sound oversimplified, but plan to be surprised daily. You’ll preempt the panic.

Consider the role of an ER nurse. They have routine tasks, but they know that at any moment something vital could pop up that takes priority. While your surprises likely aren’t life-and-death scenarios, you can use the same philosophy.

Anticipating unexpected tasks and events throughout your day can help you regain a feeling of control.

2. Build a Cushion

Happy man working from home
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Practically speaking, you can take that anticipation a step further. It helps to do more than just expect to be surprised.

When you make specific accommodations for inevitable monkey wrenches, you’ll give yourself the time you need for both your expected and unexpected deliverables.

To do this, block out unscheduled time daily. That way, you’ll have the time to handle life’s little curveballs already built into your schedule.

3. Add a Buffer

Young remote worker happy about his time saved commuting

In addition to your cushion of extra time, which you can use as a catchall to catch up when you fall behind, it also helps to be proactive on the front end.

Schedule more time than you think you’ll need to complete each of your tasks. Play around with how much extra time to add so you don’t feel like you’re continually scrambling.

For example, if you need to write a report, create a realistic estimate — maybe two hours is what you anticipate. Then, schedule three hours for that project on your calendar.

That way, you’ll have ample time to complete it, and perhaps extra time in the end.

4. Have a Running To-Do List

Man filing his taxes
Ground Picture /

That’s not to say you should start underperforming. But instead of cramming your schedule, make a realistic plan of what you can accomplish with your buffers built in.

Then, create a running to-do list with rotating priorities.

If you finish your tasks and have free time during those shorter periods, start knocking out the next item on your list.

Suddenly, you’ll go from not getting anything done to doing more than you had hoped. This change in mindset can be incredibly impactful for you.

5. Create Office Hours

Young man working remotely on a laptop
merzzie /

If you share a space with others, they will inevitably want to talk with you throughout the day.

While you need to build boundaries that facilitate your ability to work, consider if there’s a way to move your schedule around so you have time for others to come in and chat each day.

For example, if you have kids, can you schedule less intensive tasks in the afternoon after they get home from school? Maybe they want to sit with you and do their homework or color quietly.

If you’ve completed your heavy-focus tasks earlier in the day, can you let them know your office is open for peaceful companionship for an hour each afternoon?

One of the best things about working remotely is that you can often find a way to make your own work-life rules.

6. Schedule Time for Schedule Management

A young woman working from home on her laptop
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Are you intentionally scheduling time to get organized? If not, you might always be playing catch-up because you don’t have a solid plan.

Ensure that you start your workday with a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished.

Rather than sitting down and getting straight to work, set aside five to 10 minutes each morning to create your list.

7. Work With Your Rhythms

Woman working from home on computer and phone
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Schedule the tasks that require the most attention during your most productive times.

If you need help determining where your energy is derailing, take a week to audit your time. Set a reminder on your phone to log your plan each hour.

Note the task you’re tackling and how long you think it will take. Then, after the hour is up, check to see if you were on target with your predictions.

You can see where your planning and tasking are misaligned when your task isn’t completed during the anticipated time frame.

Then, you can set yourself up for success by setting aside time to create a more realistic daily plan.

Rather than choosing the most enjoyable tasks, you can schedule tasks that require more energy during your peak energy periods.

Expecting the Unexpected During Your Workweek

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No matter how well you plan, there will always be events you didn’t anticipate. The water heater starts leaking, or the internet goes out.

But having a buffer of time built in and a running to-do list can help you quickly get back on track instead of being completely knocked off course.

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