How to better manage the unexpected in your day

We all have plans and expectations about how our day “should” turn out. We expect our schedule to go exactly as our calendar outlines, but life often doesn’t go as planned. An important meeting may pop up in an already packed schedule. A supplier may be late making a delivery, and crucial inventory runs low. A physician can demand a certain medical device that lies outside normal orders. Unexpected circumstances can blindside and overwhelm us, causing stress and negativity.

We can’t always control the unexpected events and crises in our day, but we can learn how to manage the stress that comes with it in more constructive, positive ways. Consider the following options to help you when unforeseen events wreak havoc on those best-laid plans.

Use Commuting Time for Personal Development

The average person spends about 30 minutes commuting to and from work each day. In five years, that’s the equivalent of 1,300 hours. Those hours can easily be turned into productive, even inspirational, time. Beginning your day with positivity will help you face the chaos that might hit you when you walk through your office door.

Download TED Talks to your smartphone. TED Talks are brief, educational messages from some of the world’s best speakers. Need help choosing one? Try Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” or Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”

Search for informative books on tape and podcasts on iTunes. Try books such as Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Outliers: The Story of Success. Or choose from hundreds of podcasts, with topics ranging from entertainment, business and healthcare to, yes, even supply chain management.

Listen to satellite radio in your car. Turn off the negative talk radio shows and explore dozens of different kinds of music or comedy channels, available nonstop on satellite radio.

Focus on the Solution

Shifting your focus from the problem to the solution is an important step. It’s easy to look at a problem and only see the magnitude of it, but that point of view just makes the problem more overwhelming. Name the problem—out loud or in writing—and quickly move past that to focus on a solution. Often, it’s not the external, unexpected circumstances that hinder us, but our internal view of those circumstances.

Ask yourself: What can be fixed immediately? What is the top priority?

When you’re looking at the big picture, it’s hard to see what needs to be fixed first. Start your to-do list triage by finding a simple task to kick off the process. Whether it’s making a phone call, delegating a task, canceling an appointment in your calendar or scheduling a meeting, boost your confidence by checking just one thing off the list.

Ask yourself: Is there anyone else who can help with this problem?

Many employees feel as if they have to fix every problem on their own. And while it’s good to be self-sufficient, it’s also important to realize that it’s OK to ask for help. Oftentimes, your colleagues will offer a fresh perspective toward solving the problem.

Ask yourself: How can I anticipate a future challenge?

This crisis might have pointed you to potential holes and inconsistencies in certain systems, or you might have found just how different protocols can be between siloed departments. If you stumbled because you weren’t aware of a policy, determine whether communication was absent or ineffective, and how to involve others on making any global course corrections.

Conduct a Post-mortem Meeting

One of the most important things you can do after solving a crisis is to hold a post-mortem meeting to discuss it. If the problem affected only you, carve out some time in your schedule to sit down and go over all the details. If the problem affected several of your colleagues, schedule a meeting to dissect and analyze the issue you just faced. Here are some pointers on what to discuss:

Why the problem happened. Educate other team members as to why the problem occurred. Was there a miscommunication with a supplier? Was something recorded wrong in the data entry process? Did someone double-book a calendar? Were there competing priorities and no leadership in setting goals? Don’t point fingers or cast blame, but have an honest discussion. Determine whether protocols need to be changed or updated, and outline steps to communicate the changes to everyone.

How the problem was solved. Whether by yourself or with colleagues, walk through the entire problem-solving process one more time. Does anything need to change? What worked and what didn’t work? What would you try if you had to do it all over again?

Alternative strategies. If working with a team, ask your colleagues to suggest any alternative approaches to implement should you face a similar problem again. Or find opportunities to network with colleagues in other healthcare facilities to see how they address certain common challenges.

By putting steps in place to reduce stress and create solutions to crises, you’ll have a better shot at combating any inconvenience, whether large or small.

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Dale Smith Thomas

Dale Smith Thomas

Dale Smith Thomas, an international professional speaker and author, is the president and founder of Winners by Choice, Inc. She can be reached through her website, More Articles by This Author »