Introduction: Organizing Chaos: Managing the Perfect Storm of a Busy Calendar

Sometimes, even the best, most organized planners, have a perfect storm of appointments and tasks come together on the calendar in a way that is clearly going to be challenging. Looking too far into the future of a busy schedule, though, is a guaranteed way to become overwhelmed with it

In my experience, I've found the best way forward is just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one task at a time, to do what you can with the time and resources available to you. Things won't get done by worrying about them, so start by prioritizing and then move forward from there.

Step 1: Make a Realistic List

Recently, I had three big things, with a looming fourth, all come together on the calendar over a period of three days. I usually try to plan so these things don't happen, but sometimes they do anyway. So I sat down to examine the tasks at hand, and see how I could prioritize them efficiently to get through a weekend that was obviously going to be long. I also had to be realistic.

The event we were planning Sunday afternoon was originally planned to be a cookout. There was no way we would have the energy to grill for 30 people after Friday and Saturday. So we decided to bring in some BBQ and fill in with everyone's potluck contributions. So that made that easier. Then I looked at how I could best combine some outings, and what I could do to make the rest of the weekend a little more manageable.

Starting on Friday, the first thing I had to do was the first thing I had to do: an 8am meeting

Then I thought about what I could do after that meeting to help make things a little easier for the next things coming up, and decided I could do some prep shopping for the Saturday event, as well some research, while I was out, on some Instructables I had been thinking about.

Then home to pack up the car for the big all day event on Saturday morning.

Because I would be gone all day Saturday, I also had to prep for some of the things coming up Sunday, like some survey results we were using for the Sunday morning youth group event. And because it was unlikely I'd be able to do an Instructables on Saturday,and probably very few on Sunday, I had to stage those out a bit as well by putting some ideas in draft, to do as able after everything else was done.

So the final list looked kind of like this:

Friday:

  • 8am Meeting -
  • 10am Prep shopping for Sat. event, and Instructables research
  • 3pm - Load car for Sunday
  • 4pm - Pick up event programs
  • Instructables as able

Saturday:

  • All day event

Sunday:

  • 10am - church event & picnic
  • 2pm - FIRST team potluck
  • Instructables as able

Now that's pretty simplistic. The above list doesn't detail the exact nature of the shopping Friday, and leaves off the rigorous work it took to produce the Saturday event from set up to break down, dinner afterwards with the event crew and a late return home. And it doesn't really give any insight into the nature of all the ongoing interactions on Sunday between two groups of people at two different events, or about how late you may stay up finishing some things during the busy period.

But it is pretty straightforward and, in the end, that's the only way to approach doing a lot of necessary things, or at least doing the things you feel you need or want to do - directly, systematically and practically.

Step 2: Pace Yourself

There's no such thing as multitasking - you can only really do one thing (well) at a time, despite illusions to the contrary. As a matter of fact, some studies show that multitasking decreases your productivity by as much as 40% Do one thing on your list, and then when you're done with that, do the next.

Step 3: Pay Attention

Haste makes waste - rushing through stuff will more than likely cause you to have to do it twice (see Step 2 again) and, worse, could hurt someone. We were in the red car in this photo when the driver of the other car, by his own admission, "just checked my cell phone for a second."

That's all it took for him to turn right into us causing an accident that was bad but could have been worse. Especially when you're on the road, nothing is more important than being safe on the road.

On a less dramatic level, a busy schedule necessitates greater attention to detail - paying attention to what you're signing, what you're saying and what you're doing will help you do all those things better and hopefully only once.

Step 4: Be Where You Are

There's an old quote from Lewis Carrol: "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

It's true. If you're busy or running late, rushing typically won't get you there any faster, it'll just make you frustrated, for as sure as you need to get a million things done, or be somewhere at a certain time, as surely will you encounter traffic,wrong turns, delays in service, mistakes in orders, unavailability of people or products and so forth.

So chill! Be where you are instead of where you want to be.

If you're stuck in traffic, listen to some music, or an audio book, enjoy the view out the window - even traffic can be interesting if you decide to be interested in it. The folks in the 2nd photo decided to use their traffic jam time for some

Slow check out line? Read one of the magazines. Inefficient service? Smile and help folks help you so you can move forward.

Step 5: Be Nice

Don't take your busyness out on everyone else. There's no need to push or shove, be boorish or rude, or demanding; there's no need to cut in front of people in lines, weave through traffic lanes (that rarely works anyway), or endanger others lives (see Step 3)

For the most part, folks are doing the best they can with what they have. Not everyone is, of course, but being a busy bully isn't the solution. It's also important to remember that other people have busy schedules too, and more than likely, what's on your agenda isn't really any more important or urgent than anyone else's.

Even if it is, being anything less than a decent person won't help your cause.

Step 6: Keep It in Perspective

So maybe you did all those other things, and the traffic didn't move, and nothing was as ordered, and people cancelled or were no shows or whatever you were doing, working on, planning, or executing just totally didn't work. With very few exceptions: So what?

We're not talking major surgery here - being the surgeon or the operated upon; or some critical all or nothing financial decision, or some life or death situation. We're talking about your basic run of the mill, garden variety work-life schedule.

Even big events - like our Maker Festival or TEDx event - that have glitches, no shows or cancellations of some kind or another, don't go into a death spiral because of those challenges. You work with what you have to do what you can and, ultimately, the show goes on and life goes on and even your biggest failures often just become footnotes in your history and barely a blip on the lives and memories of others.

So keep it in perspective and don't have a melt down if things don't work out. Approach your busy schedule calmly and with an open mind, with respect to outcomes, and then no matter what the outcome, you'll be in the right frame of mind to handle things.

Step 7: All the Things Will Pass

Doing one thing at a time, one step at a time, with focus and perspective will get you through it all. Don't worry about how, just do the now and all the things will come to pass. Be present and aware, and enjoy the fruits of your labor, knowing you were kind and reasonable every step of the way.

All the things on my list came to pass quite well, and I totally enjoyed each and everyone of them, as well as have the satisfaction that as overwhelming as it all might have seemed three days ago, it was all manageable by a practical measured approach.

Step 8: Pay It Forward

Then pay it forward! On those days when you encounter rushed and harried people, be patient, give 'em a hand, or a kind word. And when you're at an event or a program or a meeting others organized that may not go according to play, cut them some slack. We all have those perfect calendar storms sometimes.

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