Planning The Unpredictable

5min • 01 July 2024
100% human-written

Imagine this: You're standing in line at the grocery store and it takes way longer than usual. Maybe the cash register or the payment system isn't working. You check your phone - no new notifications. You keep waiting and eventually pull out your phone again. Still nothing new. You unlock it anyway, click on your favorite social media app and start scrolling.
After a couple of minutes, you put it back in your pocket and check your surroundings. The machine is still broken and people are getting impatient around you. You check your phone again - already 10 minutes. Urgh. A short swipe and a single click later, you find yourself scrolling social media again.
All of sudden, the line starts moving forwards. Looks like the device got fixed and you're finally able to take your products and go home.

Life Is Unpredictable

If that sounds familiar, don't worry - you're not alone!
In our fast-paced lives, these brief moments of waiting are way more common than we realise. Whether it's waiting for your morning coffee, sitting in the doctor's office, or anticipating a friend's arrival for dinner.

They all have one things in common: they are unpredictable. Even worse, not only can't we predict when it happens, but we also do not know how long it will take.

In those moments, we are not only "wasting" precious time, but we're also especially vulnerable to "bad" habits. We reach for simple distractions to bridge the waiting time and end up mindlessly scrolling social media or smoking one cigarette after another.


I mentioned wasting time and bad habits before and there's a reason why I put it in quotation marks. I don't like the term "bad habit", because it indicates that every activity or habit is either universally good or universally bad. However, in my opinion, it all comes down to how you feel about it and whether you consider it a good use of your time.

That said, most people would agree that while, for example, doom scrolling can be very satisfying in the short-term (looking at you, dopamine), it generally does not add a lot of value in the long run.

I can only speak for myself, but for me, it's not even about what I do in those moments and rather about what I don't. Instead of feeling bad for scrolling social media, I think about what I could have done if I didn't have to wait in the first place.

The question is, what can we even do about it? After all, no matter how disciplined we are, we cannot plan the unpredictable.

Atomic Habits

When talking about time management and productivity, we mostly focus on the predictable parts and completely ignore the unpredictable.
While it's true that we're not be able to predict and plan every minute of our day, that doesn't mean we can't prepare for those situations at all.

The key here is to find low-effort habits that suit the situation. They shouldn't require a lot of context to get started and, most importantly, be doable in a short and/or variable amount of time. We're talking about simple things such as:

  • Reading a book or an article
  • Listening to a podcast or audiobook
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • Doing a quick exercise or stretch
  • Learning a new word or phrase in a foreign language

There really are plenty of simple habits and I'm sure you'll find at least a handful of things that you enjoy and also get value from.

Important: This is not at all about optimising your day or maximising your productivity. Don't stress yourself! The sole goal is to feel good regardless of what life throws at us. Maybe, next time you have to wait somewhere, close your eyes for a moment and take a couple of deep breaths. Trust me, it does wonders!

Further Reading: If you're interested in the topic of atomic habits, I can only recommend you to read Atomic Habits (new tab) by James Clear (new tab).
It offers insights into habit formation and how small changes can lead to significant results.

Be Prepared

Once we've chosen our habits, we need to make sure that we're always prepared and that they're easy to reach for. Luckily, that evil smartphone can also be a great companion.

There are plenty of great apps on the app store that can help. Duolingo (new tab) for language learning, Pocket (new tab) for reading articles offline or Headspace (new tab) for short meditations, just to name a few. Be creative and try out different things!

For example, I always carry a small book with me that I pull out every time I unexpectedly have to wait. Even if I only get to read half a page, it adds up over time. That way, I've already finished two books this year.


Life may be unpredictable, but that doesn't mean we are helpless in its face.
By consciously deciding how to use these small windows of time, we can turn them into opportunities for growth, learning, and even relaxation.

Finds habits that work for you, make sure they're easy to do and always at hand and you'll eventually transform those unpredictable situations into meaningful breaks in today's busy world.

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