Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Adapting to the Unexpected

I love being proactive. There's nothing more comfortable than having a plan, and few things feel better than to have that same plan work. However, things rarely go according to plan, so one of the most important qualities a person can develop is the ability to anticipate and react to the unexpected.

Only thing constant is change
I have no idea who coined this phrase, but it's used all the time in the media business. Change is the only constant. One thing about change: Changes are very hard to predict, which is why so many people are resistant to change--even when the changes make perfect sense.

The main reason most people resist change is that they have a plan or a way of doing something that has worked in the past. From an early age, we are taught to learn from our mistakes and do things the right way. Doing things the right way usually means following instructions. Changing the instructions is a big no-no (as in NO-NO).

So, how does a person adapt to change? Or better yet, use change as an opportunity to do things better than ever before?

Don't fight change
The best way to accept change is to accept that it's going to happen.

Example #1
As an editor, I've assigned several articles over the years. Not all of them have been completed on time; not all of them have been completed well; and not all of them have been completed. (Note: I've been very pleased with most of my freelancers, so these are the exceptions.) I get around this potential problem by building in a little wiggle room for deadlines and assigning pieces to several freelancers.

The deadline buffer helps with late pieces and pieces that need re-written. By assigning pieces to multiple freelancers, I minimize the impact that any one freelancer can have on the overall success of a project if he or she fails to complete the assignment.

While I want and expect everything to be turned in on time, these strategies help me deal with the very real possibility of the unexpected.

Let go of plans
In that example, I'm not fighting change, though I've still got a plan to follow that anticipates the very real possibility that the unexpected can happen. What about when plans are completely crushed? In these cases, you just have to let go of the plan immediately and make a new plan--or better yet, wing it.

Example #2
As a parent, I've had many plans ruined by weather. In fact, I never commit to any outdoor activity too far in advance with the boys until I have a pretty good idea what the weather is going to be like. This is dealing with the situation in the same way as Example #1. However, there are times when the unexpected happens at the last minute. For instance, someone gets sick (or injured); there's a pop-up thunderstorm; or, well, anything unexpected. What to do?

In these cases, I just abandon the original plan. Going to the science museum? Now, we can look up endangered species online and draw pictures of weird animals. Going to the pool? Break out the board games. The movies? We have a DVD player, and there's always popcorn hiding somewhere in our house. It's natural to expect a little kick back from the boys when we don't follow the original plan, but if I let go of the plan, they're bound to follow suit--eventually.

Here's the main thing to keep in mind with the unexpected:

Don't worry about why
If there is a simple solution to getting things back on track, then yes, knowing the why can help immediately. Also, it can prove useful (eventually) in avoiding making the same mistakes repeatedly. But often, people get stuck on worrying about why things aren't going according to plan to the point that it significantly stalls a project (or ruins a day). In these cases, don't worry about why? Instead, focus on what next?

Often, the best way to move forward is to move forward. If you keep your sights focused on what's next instead of stressing out about how to stick to your plan, your bound to find more professional and personal success--and you'll have a better time doing it.


Are you a telecommuting parent? I'd love to hear from you. Contact me via e-mail (robertleebrewer@gmail.com) with the subject line: I'm a Telecommuting Parent. Maybe we can set up an interview or a guest post. If nothing else, we can talk shop.

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