Rebuilding when the system breaks

Last week, I put together a system based on blocking off time for specific activities, from when everyone has left the house in the morning up until people arrive home. That’s roughly 7:30 to 5, although my son actually gets home about 3. Then I threw it out the window to devote all of my time to finishing up an overdue project (including time devoted to sleep, as you might have gathered from my post earlier this week). That’s actually pretty easy to deal with — get enough sleep, get up in the morning, and start following the prompts of iCal reminders to tell me what I’m supposed to work on in each time period.


Any time you get behind, you’ve got to balance catching up with moving ahead. So while I happily devoted the morning paying work block to the copyediting job I have right now, I also had three days of e-mail to catch up on, plus a couple of blogs I wanted to read. Still haven’t fit in the morning writing block (I slept through it this morning), and the afternoon exercise block is getting taken up by picking up my daughter from daycare today.

That’s the thing about getting off track — it doesn’t have to be a major event, like my indexing binge. It can be something as simple as a call from your kids’ school, an extra meeting your boss calls (assuming you have a job where such things happen), the server of an Internet site going down, a power outage — basically, life.

It can even be something fun. Go on vacation for a week or two, and then you come back and sit down at your desk and say, “Now where was I?”

All of these things can pop up and derail your plans, leaving you further behind.

And the further behind you get, the less appeal your schedule has for you because you don’t see how it can help. Or you blame it for you getting into this situation in the first place. Or you figure once you get through this patch, you’ll just drop right back in.

Truth is, you probably have to ease yourself back into it. Sure, spend some time on catch-up, or on putting out fires. You’ll probably need to do triage, decide what doesn’t really need to be done (Do I really have to see what went on on all of my editing-related mailing lists while I was gone on vacation? Probably not.) But try to keep to one or two items that are on your list — whether it’s an absolute “Eat dinner as a family even if I have to go back to work afterward” or “Spend 15 minutes on writing.” It’s especially nice if you can feel something is moving ahead, that you’re not simply treading water trying to catch up.

Steven Pressfield just had a blog post on Thinking in Blocks of Time. Not like daily blocks — like Week One, Month One, By the End of the Year. He made some good points about the rationale of easing yourself back into work.

The other thing to do is up your motivation. Give yourself treats and rewards — not just at the end of what you’re doing, but as a way to get going on doing something. Marissa Bracke, in a guest post for Productive Flourishing, talks about the Mary Poppins method — using that spoonful of sugar to jump-start your motivation and get you working. That inertia of getting going is often the hardest part to overcome.

Along those lines, also check out the 10/15 rule post on the same site — it talks about when the best time is to plan your day, and how to go about doing it.


  • Triage. Figure out what has to get done — and maybe what commitments should be changed. (See next week’s post for more on tweaking the system.)
  • Fit planning into your day.
  • Ease yourself into your schedule.
  • Breathe. You’ll get through this, and the schedule will help you move forward from here.

Any insights or techniques that have helped you when you’ve gotten off track? Share in the comments!

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  1. Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious post!

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