Once upon a time, in a land far far away – we were all able to schedule our days perfectly and know exactly what was going to happen. We also knew, down to the very minute details, the content and timing of these happenings.
Doesn’t this sound like the start of a fairy tale to you?
Every time I try to write about scheduling, productivity, and organization, I end up coming back to the one key factor in everyone’s daily routine: stochastic events. A stochastic system “is one whose state is non-deterministic (i.e., “random”) so that the subsequent state of the system is determined probabilistically” (Wikipedia article). Unless you’re fortuitously hidden under a rock for most of your life, it is likely that you will have variables (e.g. kids, mortgage, career) that will interact to unexpectedly throw your neat little day planner off balance at the most unexpected times.
However, whenever an established, rigid system is disrupted by an external shock, a resilient system will adapt and reorganize while a resistant system will collapse entirely. Although on a small scale, one’s daily schedule can be seen as a panarchy (here used with reference to the pivotal work of C. S. Holling on the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems). A panarchy can refer to the system that is able to test and invent new modes of existing in the face of multiple, interacting stressors (Holling, 2001).
So when your days regularly erupt into massive, concussive explosions of confusion and stress, you play around with new modes of being until it all works out. Sometimes, it simply won’t work out – so you just ‘wing it’ and move on, while trying to disassociate the confusion of uncertainty with an embarrassing, upsetting, or generally negative event. Uncertainty in your day should be taken for granted.
For example, I have a list of my daily to-do’s (with time allotments, priority, etc.) tacked up on the wall next to my desk – I think I adhere to this schedule, on average, 3 out of 5 days of the working week. The other two days account for complete pandemonium. Now I’ve heard that scheduling every hour of your day leads to great success (for example, Adam Grant was tenured before he was 30 years of age with Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania due to his time-tracking skills). People who achieve this harmonious level of perfection must be sages, or Omnipotent Beings. They are truly super human.
We have a multitude of soothing platitudes that we use to describe this phenomenon, but I think that at a very simple level, Holling’s analysis of complex systems is applicable. Every day has layers, and within those layers, variables interact to create stressors, which we must respond to creatively and responsively. Stochastic events are a certainty in our days, but nothing else is. Good luck, everyone!