It was one more of those very frustrating days as a school principal. I had carefully planned my day hour by hour to ensure an effective use of my time. I made sure to slot time for things important to me, such as visiting classrooms, meeting with teachers, talking with students and reaching out to selected parents. Each and every minute was judiciously budgeted. But then I got to school. (I don’t know why principals aren’t given the equipment that firefighters use, as it seems we’re always putting out fires. They’re probably afraid of what we might do with the axe!). Suffice it to say that by the end of the day half the classsrooms had not been visited, the teacher meetings had been shortened and the parents would have to be called later that night.
The above paragraph is not surprising to most educators. What is interesting is the conversation I had with a colleague upon venting my frustrations to him. Instead of soothing my frazzled nerves, he challenged me and asked, “Well, what did you plan on doing?” I grabbed my daily planner and showed him, and told him how all the interruptions had scuttled my plans. At which point he asked, “Is this the first time your plans have been interrupted?” “No”, I answered, “It happens almost every day”. His reply surprised me. “Well”, he said “then I repeat my first question. What did you plan on doing with your interruptions?”
I had always thought that interruptions by definition are things that you do not plan for. How, after all, do you expect the unexpected? I belatedly realized that is not the case. If the unexpected happens often enough it should become expected, and therefore planned for.
One of my favorite quotes in the long list of Murphy’s laws states as follows:
For every task that seeks completion, there is an interrupting force that impedes the completion of the task. However, some tasks are completed, as the interrupting force is itself attempting to complete a task, and is, therefore, subject to interference.
Planning for the unexpected is basically seeking to impede the impeding force. It tells us that if we plan on accomplishing important things, we must have a strategy that expects the unexpected and plans accordingly.
Reflecting on my conversation with my colleague made me cognizant of the fact that we do not spend enough time teaching this to our students. We rarely teach students how to plan, and we almost never teach them how to plan for the expected interruptions to their plans. For example, we give a homework assignment. How many times do we walk them through the stages of planning required to complete the homework? And, do we ever talk strategies of dealing with the inevitable interruptions? Many may answer that students should be able to figure this out for themselves. To which I retort: It was one more of those very frustrating days as a school principal ….
Educators and students alike would benefit by taking expected interruptions into account when planning for task completion.