Resilience when the schedule changes.
December 2, 2011 11:51 AM   Subscribe

How do I bounce back more quickly when plans go awry?

I've got anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and I'm on meds for all of it. They're working at various levels, and I'm still tweaking them. I'm a PhD in the last year of coursework for a social science/music/education degree.

That out of the way, here's where I find myself. In the past year, I've finally realized that I need a schedule. I live and die by a schedule, and when the schedule is in place, I can have a life that looks very much like something normal. My wife's been instrumental in helping keep me on the rails with my schedules (without being a mother figure, thank God). With her help, medication, and some therapy, I can now usually make schedules, follow them, and do what I need to do.

It's not perfect, but it keeps me on a path.

And then something goes wrong.

Today, I was supposed to get up and start pulling articles for a literature review due next week. However, my internet was down. Instead of regrouping, thinking, "Ok, call to let the cable company know, then off to Starbucks," I got stuck on making the internet work. Like, without that, nothing else could go on. It was a block that I couldn't get around to save my life. By the time that got fixed (2 hours later), I was back to my old ways, playing Sporcle quizzes, Minecraft, blogs, and wasting time instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing.

That one little thing screwed up my schedule, and 5 hours later, I'm still not back on it. In fact, I've had to cancel other things I was supposed to do today because I feel so overwhelmed.

Part of this is end of the semester stress; I realize that. Part of it, though, is something I've always had trouble with. By learning to become more tied to schedules and lists for survival, I find that any unplanned deviation can really fuck with me. I can go on vacations without schedules and wander around, no problem. With my school/work schedules, though, things completely explode if something changes.

How do you get around this? From a completely messed up life with no schedule or plan to a more regimented life, how do I learn the adaptation ability? Where's the middle ground?
posted by SNWidget to Human Relations (9 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I say this with as much good vibes as I can... Feeling your pain.

If you can't fight the goofing off, you're going to find your academic life hard. Once coursework is done, you'll have no schedule. Just you and your comps/diss.

You're going to have to do whatever possible to make this work for you. (Maybe scheduling time to write or whatever). Otherwise the self-propelled academic life isn't for you.
posted by k8t at 12:03 PM on December 2, 2011

Hmm. I wonder if maybe taking the extra step of SCHEDULING an "official Plan B" may help you stay on track? You know, just have it in your mind that "I am going to do [foo] today, but if I am for whatever reason unable to, I will do [baz] and that's that". Of course, the Plan B shouldn't be something that is as time-sensitive, because then you end up stuck in the "oh no Plan A worked out after all and now I didn't do [baz]" problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:07 PM on December 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yes, official plan b. You don't need a schedule. You need a flow chart. You can out some of life's annoying tasks (ironing? Tax prep? Reorganizing iTunes?) in boxes as last-ditch so that no matter what happens, you have something to attend to.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:14 PM on December 2, 2011

Response by poster: (Maybe scheduling time to write or whatever).

I had scheduled time to write - I can do that part generally. This is about when that time gets zapped because of some crazy outside circumstance, and I can't re-engage.
posted by SNWidget at 12:15 PM on December 2, 2011

Or, rather than having an Official Plan B for every day, I try to sit down at a computer (I think better when typing, especially when anxious, ymmv) and create a resiliency plan After the disruption. It could be just a few paragraphs, usually with some journaling thrown in, about how my plan was to do [A], but I couldn't because of [B] (and that makes me feel stressed in these ways). So now that I have [blank] time left, how will I reschedule my day?

You've already done some of that here - you realized you could've called the cable company and gone off to Starbucks. Instead of telling US that retroactively, sit down and figure out how to structure the Rest of your day so as to get to either the low-hanging fruit (often all that can be done on those stressful days where the structure goes awry) OR your highest priority. Keep it simple so as to soothe the overwhelmed self.

Also, give the overwhelmed self some kind of soothing that won't distract you the rest of the day: a warm drink or a quick walk or something that will help you feel more... whelmed, and ready to tackle the rest of your day.

Congrats on all of the progress you've made!
posted by ldthomps at 12:29 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep a running list of tasks that don't have explicit deadlines, but it would be useful to have done. When you're actively prevented from working on your main goal, do whatever you can on that list.

Now that you've run into this particular scenario (no internet), and identified a Plan B (call ISP, go to Starbucks), go ahead and figure out some basic "Plans B" for similar situations where there's something actively preventing you from getting your work on. Power outage, roadblock making you late to a meeting, whatever. Knowing you have basic coping mechanisms if bad stuff happens will help you relax when stuff like this comes up.

If you can figure out a personal ritual for re-orienting and re-focusing yourself, that will help too. Even counting backwards from 10 can work wonders. Just something to signal to your brain "okay, the time for freaking out/being overwhelmed is over, time to start focusing".
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 12:37 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can figure out a personal ritual for re-orienting and re-focusing yourself, that will help too. Even counting backwards from 10 can work wonders. Just something to signal to your brain "okay, the time for freaking out/being overwhelmed is over, time to start focusing".

This. This will help a long way in overcoming your blocks. It will break you out of your "gotta get the internet working" kind of mindset and allow you to focus on any "plan B" you have set up for overwhelming situations.
posted by patheral at 1:07 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

First of all: literature reviews suck. Having to do one pulls on every procrastination tactic I've got.
But one way I've found to still be productive even if my plans for the day get jumbled, is that my ongoing to-do list has the place and minutes allocated next to the tasks. Ex:
-buy espresso maker (mall, 30 mins)
-call student loans (phone, 20 mins)
-print off forms (computer, 5 mins)

That way, when I find myself thinking that since my plans got screwed up I might as well just lay in bed and watch Parks and Rec, instead I think "ok, I've got 5 mins, what can I do from my list?"

But oh how I feel your pain.
posted by whalebreath at 9:20 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great advice - I'll try to keep track of more of the little things so I can change gears more easily. In fact, right now, I'm going to plug up my time with 5 minutes of something that's not mission critical at the moment ,but will help me in the long run.
posted by SNWidget at 4:05 PM on December 4, 2011

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