What’s your Plan B? Being productive when things go awry

How to make use of those moments that don't go according to plan (so that no time is ever lost or wasted).

Spiderman reading in between his adventures - plan b

“Hey! Are we still meeting?”

“Just checking in. Are we still on for today?”

“Since I haven’t heard from you, I’m assuming we’re not meeting anymore…”

It happens to all of us. You make plans with someone, you confirm ahead of time, and yet they still don’t show up. Frustrated, you have two options. You can either let it ruin your day or you can see it as an hour saved.

Most people choose the former.

The common response

When plans fall through, the majority default to anger.

They feel rejected and annoyed at the person who failed them. But there is a better way to do things. Instead of letting frustration ruin your day, see their lack of attendance as a good thing!

Now you have time to do whatever it is that you have been meaning to do. That could be an email response you’ve been putting off, a book you’ve been wanting to start, or an up-and-extra for your business.

You have an entire hour free to spend however you so choose.


This actually happened to me not too long ago. I had a video chat scheduled with someone and they forgot about it, missing the meeting altogether. Instead of being upset though, I was relieved.

My inbox had been slowly growing the entire day and I wasn’t sure when I’d ever be able to address it. And then, suddenly, with the cancellation of that meeting, I had the time to get through it all. I didn’t let the change of plans discourage me. I saw the opportunity and took full advantage of it.

Something that I encourage you to do as well.

A Bored List

In David Allen‘s book Getting Things Done, he mentions having a list of things to do while going through menial tasks. For instance, while on hold with a phone company, you could work through your email, clean off your desk, or fold some laundry.

Since reading his book, I’ve started a similar list for myself.

Deemed my Bored List, I always have at least two things on it. Then, when I find myself in a boring situation — like waiting in a doctor’s office — I pull up my list and work through whatever’s there.

You can apply this concept to your life as well. When your flight’s delayed, or you’re waiting for a client to join a Zoom call, or you’re standing by for a store to open, you can pull up your Bored List and use that time productively.

Refuse to wallow

One issue that you’ll likely encounter when things do go awry is wanting to complain or wallow. But that just wastes time. Instead, you’re better off recovering from the change as quickly as you can.

Reevaluate your time and decide what you can do with those newfound minutes.

Don’t hesitate. Choose what you will do and then take action. That’s a critical factor in making this time work for you. If you let it derail you, it will do so gladly. But instead, if you see it as an opportunity to take advantage of, you will be able to do so with maximum productivity.

Be prepared

The most crucial aspect of using your time productively, especially when plans go awry, is being prepared. It’s having that Plan B thought-out and ready to go before it’s needed. Not scrambling to figure it out in the moment, but knowing that you have options ready to go.

In the case of my video chat cancellation, I knew that I had email to respond to.

So when the meeting didn’t happen, I took immediate action. I didn’t delay. I knew what I needed to do and I got right to it.

The reason for a backup

That’s where having something like a Bored List becomes so handy. You never know when you’ll need it, but you’ll be happy you have it when you do.

You don’t necessarily need a list like this to be productive when plans change, you just need to be prepared. That could mean keeping a book downloaded to your phone. It could be letting a few emails stack up.

Or it could be simply reaching out to three or four people that you haven’t spoken to in a while. The Plan B doesn’t matter so long as you have one.

Plan A, B, C

Your Plan B may have different levels to it as well.

For instance, in my case, I generally don’t opt for my Bored List until I’ve already exhausted my other options. Meaning that before I go through that list, I’m sure to respond to any texts, emails, or Slack notifications first.

So really, Communication is my Plan B. My Bored List is my Plan C.

As you can see though, regardless of the situation, I have options. I don’t let my time be squandered. When I have a minute, I use it as productively as I can.

A little story to serve as example

You get to the restaurant five minutes early. You check-in, sit down, and order a drink. The potential client should be arriving any second now.

Ten minutes go by though and she still hasn’t arrived. You check your phone. There’s a text waiting for you: Running a few minutes late! Sorry! Order without me. I’ll be there soon. You sigh. I hate when people are late.

You feel irritated. Then, suddenly, you remember: I’m behind on my book club book!

Happy she was late

Immediately, you pull your phone back out and start reading. Wow, I forgot just how far behind I was! Now, instead of fuming, you’re relaxed and, actually, quite grateful that the client is running late. You finally have a chance to catch up on reading.

The client eventually arrives. Apologetic, she’s surprised to find you in good spirits. She figured you’d be mad.

“Why would I be mad?” you say. “I haven’t been able to read this much in weeks!”

Your two options

When things don’t go according to plan, you have two options:

  • Wallow and complain
  • Use your time productively

Most people do the former. But you’re not most people. Instead of letting unexpected events ruin your day, you can take advantage of them. Refusing to let circumstance damage your mood, you can utilise your time and ultimately be happy that things worked out the way they did.

Moving forward with a backup

There is always a chance that things will go awry.

Don’t be surprised when it happens, because it will. Instead, be prepared for it. Keep a book on-hand, have a Bored List ready, be aware of a few people that you haven’t talked to in a while and can reach out to.

Have your Plan B and possibly even Plan C within reach. That way, you’ll be happy when things go according to plan and when they don’t.

You’ll be ready either way.

PS: Wondering what’s on my Bored List? As of this writing, it contains just two things:

  • Clean out all of the files in my Google Drive
  • Clean out all of the apps on my phone

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!


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