When the World is Against You … Give In

Life doesn’t always go smoothly. You might have tons of energy for tackling your work and having a great productive month, but the world has suddenly conspired against you.


  • You get ill, or injury yourself.
  • Your child or spouse or sibling is ill and needs you.
  • You’re moving house.
  • Travel plans are derailed by an ash cloud.
  • Financial problems mean moving back in with your parents.

… or almost any number of events.

Whatever the exact cause(s), the result is that you’re suddenly lacking in the time, the energy and possibly the physical set-up to easily get on with your work. Some productivity gurus would have you power on despite obstacles: no excuses, work harder if you have to, get it done.

I’m not sure that’s the best way forwards. Sometimes, instead of spending a lot of energy struggling against the flow of events in your life, it’s better to just accept that you’re not going to get as much done as you’d like.

Here’s how to give in when life is beating you.

Planning Ahead

If you know you’ve got a busy period coming up, don’t adopt a head-in-the-sand approach. If you’re going to be travelling for a couple of weeks, get ahead. Yes, this is obvious advice … but are you actually following it?

Planning ahead also means figuring out what work you can and can’t continue with. Perhaps you need your studio in order to draw and paint, but you can keep on top of emails and administrative work from any internet cafe. Maybe you’re not going to be able to focus on writing your book while you’re travelling, but you can dash off some articles for your newsletter.

Allowing Some Slack in Your Schedule

In general, schedules need slack. There’ll always be times when you have to deal with an unexpected interruption. Build in a few extra days, especially when you’re giving a completion date to clients: and make this buffer even bigger when you know that life might be about to get hectic.

You don’t want to be panicking about that report which you’ve got due today, if you’re also rushing to make a flight. You don’t want to be blazing through work at the last minute when you should be packing. You don’t want to struggle on with your work when you’re sick, delaying a full recovery.

There’s an emphasis in our culture about doing more, faster. Resist the temptation to overpack your schedule. Those extra three days which you’re sure you won’t need just might be the days which let you complete a project successfully, without too much stress.

Make Use of Down Time

Often, the difficult patches of life involve some sort of enforced down time. This might be because we’re ill, or we’re travelling, or because we don’t have our usual work tools with us. We might be looking after small children, or taking care of elderly or poorly relatives.

If you’re going through a period of down time, don’t beat yourself up about not being “productive”. It’s not something to be anxious or guilty about. Instead, see this as a chance to catch up with some other areas of your life.

Perhaps you’re going to take care of yourself with more sleep and exercise than usual, and healthier food. Maybe you can spend some time finally reading those books or going through those training materials which you bought months ago. You might not be able to get on with the bulk of your work, but you could spend some time blitzing your inbox. You might simply find a few quiet hours to sit with a notebook (the old-fashioned kind) and a pen, and make some plans for the future.

And you may just find that by giving in and going with the flow of your life, you find yourself refreshed, calmer, and full of new ideas and enthusiasm.

Got tips to add? Or a specific situation to discuss? The comments are open…

(Image from Flickr by Let Ideas Compete)

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3 Responses to “ When the World is Against You … Give In ”

  1. Indeed, in a strange productivity twist, if you set very low expectations for yourself, you may find yourself doing more. When I’ve had new babies in the house, I would only try to do 3 things beyond life maintenance in any given day. But with such a low number, they’d generally get done. And I’d feel pretty good about it. And if you keep doing 3 things a day, day after day, you may get pretty far along anyway.

    • Ali says:

      Great point! I often find that setting a really low, simple target (“write for ten minutes”) leads to me getting more done and feeling good about doing “extra” work rather than feeling guilty about not reaching the end of a ridiculous to-do list!

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