Avoiding Hassles with the Look-Ahead

Life is full of surprises, true, but there are plenty of things that we get stressed out about which we could have predicted and made less painful if we'd only planned a little bit. You can dramatically reduce your craptastic moments by following this simple practice:

  • Look at what's coming up on your calendar and to-do list.
  • Think about what you'll need to make it go right and about what could go wrong.
  • Look at the equivalent past period of time and think about what was less than optimal.
  • Think about how you could avoid or reduce hassles.
  • Implement as many of those positive changes as possible.
  • Confirm that any preparatory to-do's are properly noted on your list, especially anything that requires an errand.

It's so simple, but we all see people failing to do this. That guy at the DMV having a hissy fit because he's been waiting in a line and didn't bring anything with him which would allow him to turn that into productive or enjoyable time? Don't be that guy. That gal running all over town on her lunch break trying to find a present for a birthday party she's attending right after work tonight? Don't be that gal.

It's really not hard to steer yourself clear of a lot of pain.

Once a month have everyone in your household sit down together with their calendars and quickly go over the next six weeks and the past six to make sure everything that impacts any other people is known and what works well gets learned. Everyone should know when there are houseguests coming, when they need to give someone else a ride or otherwise be available for assistance, or similar significant features in the domestic landscape.

Once a week do the same look-ahead for yourself with your work and personal calendars for the next and past month.

At the end of each day, do a look-ahead for the next morning, noting commitments and writing down any loose threads from now that you want to pick up again then.

Set yourself up for happy calm, it won't always work, but it's always worth it when it does.

Author: dinahsanders

Author. Discardian. Defender of life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. she/her

6 thoughts on “Avoiding Hassles with the Look-Ahead”

  1. Two problems here:
    1. A major reason I lost my job was that I kept wanting us to learn from each event and be better prepared for the next time. This was seen as *not being able to go with the flow.* I see it as no sin to make a mistake, but a serious sin not to LEARN from that mistake.
    2. At least half of the STUFF in my apartment is based on *that will likely come in handy someday.* and indeed some of it might. Major difficulty is that it is difficult to predict which items and when *someday* will arrive. Except to say that usually shortly after discarding something it would indeed have come in handy.
    Clearly I am not suited to live in today’s world. Sigh.

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  2. Two important things to watch out for: over- or under-sized conclusions and cognitive bias.
    1. Consider the scale of your conclusions about things. In this case you seem to be drawing a larger conclusion – “I am not suited to live in today’s world” – than the situation warrants. I’d recommend instead “To be successful, I need to be part of a company culture that fits more in the middle or to the planned side of the over-planned vs. winging-it continuum” as a lesson which you can act on in future job decisions. It certainly gives you a good answer to the old “Do you have any questions about us?” question in job interviews!
    The opposite pattern is worth watching out for too. Folks who are over-hard on themselves will often discount their own efforts in achieving a particular situation, saying “I just got lucky.” instead of “That worked out great! I should approach similar problems like that again and see if it helps.”
    2. There is a world of difference between “that might come in handy someday” and “I should carry a book and writing tools with me when I am doing errands where I might get stuck waiting”. Keep what you have a plan for, limit your number of active plans, and limit the storage you allocate to inactive ones. Allocate your resources primarily entirely to your current goals.
    In my experience, the payoff for being rid of 100% of the stuff you don’t have a plan for and don’t wildly love is still worth it even when you turn out to come up with a use for a small percentage of it later. Getting that 90% unneeded out of your way creates opportunity and energy which makes dealing with the occasional 10% you need to get again easier.
    Look out for that old cognitive bias about what you notice; would it stand out in your memory that you never needed something you got rid of? No; in fact you might forget you ever had it in the first place. That 90% can fall from your awareness without a trace leaving the rare exceptions to stand out. I highly recommend the book How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
    as a great way to gain insight into some of the silly patterns of perception which can have us working against our own best interest.

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  3. You know, I was just thinking about this, and trying to come to some conclusion that made sense about how much to look ahead and how much to look behind.
    From time to time I remind myself of Supermemo
    http://vielmetti.typepad.com/vacuum/2008/04/supermemo-and-m.html
    which spells out a reminder pattern optimized (so it says) to get things into long term memory and long term planning. It gives this pattern
    4 days, 7 days, 12 days, 20 days, 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, 5 months, 9 months, 16 months, 2 years, 4 years, 6 years, 11 years, 18 years
    with ever-increasing spacing for what you would need to do to remember important things that you had learned, or to plan ahead for things coming up.
    What I have wanted (and haven’t found) is a calendar printed on logarithmic paper, so that today is bigger than tomorrow and this week is bigger than next week, so that this is all evident from inspection and doesn’t require thinking. Far-off important dates would start out small and get bigger and then recede into the distance.

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  4. Oo, love that logarithmic calendar idea. Think I may need to make something like that. Stay tuned.
    The impact of different lengths of focus makes sense to me – I really do get a little burst of energy from switching from the one horizon to the other – though I am dubious that there’s anything magic about their particular ones.

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  5. I don’t know if those particular time intervals are magic, but they do follow a logarithmic sequence, so they are at least approximately right, at least relative to each other.
    I’d stretch the schedule though so that there was a time horizon at just short of a year, so that you would have a natural place to remember birthdays, annual festivals, and other events that you don’t want to be reminded of 380 days after their previous appearance.

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