No Surprises

woman in gray tank top

… unless it’s a cheesecake, of course… and you happen to like cheesecake.

Day to day, I’m not someone who enjoys surprises. I like to know what’s going on, what’s coming up, and to plan ahead. A surprise cheesecake never hurt, though, so there is definitely an important definition here of “surprise”.

I define a “surprise” in this context as “something which happens and which I wasn’t aware of or didn’t plan for”. Coupled with choosing to respond rather than to react to circumstances, I’ve found taking the approach of “no surprises” to be helpful both in and outside of work.

This approach has been particularly helpful in change management and decision making scenarios. Taking the approach of planning ahead, communicating what is happening early and often, and involving those affected in the processing of the change or decision have been proven approaches to making the changes and decisions as smooth and friction-free as possible.

In the day to day running of my life, adopting a calendar-first approach to my daily planning has been revolutionary. I am working on removing my to do list entirely, in favour of a calendar-based scheduling system. If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t get done. Similar to Paolo’s experience, a calendar-first approach enables sizing up a task. On your to do list, every task looks the same. In your calendar, it’s clear to see when a task will take 15-30 minutes, and when it will take 2 hours. Also, the task now has a date and time attached to exactly when it will get done. No surprises!

Of course, surprises will come up from time to time. This is absolutely okay, and should be expected, thus making them not actually a surprise. Instead of “oh my goodness, this thing happened which I didn’t expect!”, the response becomes something like “okay, something happened which I hadn’t considered. I expected that this might happen”.

There are likely many other small yet impactful ways in which a “no surprises” approach can be adopted. The key, I’d say, is to adopt the approach as a philosophy, apply it to your life in ways which work for you, and to eat the cheesecake when it arrives (that is again, if you like cheesecake).


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