Any personal finance guru will tell you there’s no such thing as a “normal” month.

We have every intention of setting aside savings, but then life happens — we need to buy paint for the shed, or school uniforms for the kiddos, or Hamilton tickets — and then rationalize the extra spending by telling ourselves “Oh, that’s not a fixed expense, so next month will be different.”

Except next month isn’t different — it’s the holidays, or the cat needs to go the emergency vet, or our tax bill is higher than we predicted — and we still don’t get ahead. We’re always left feeling like it’s just one thing after another.

This can take a while to sink in and to apply to other areas of our lives. The same goes for budgeting time, for example, as it does for money: There’s no such thing as a normal month (or week, or day for that matter), and >we make things harder on ourselves when we don’t budget for surprises.

No such thing as normal

Most days, things get thrown at us that we weren’t anticipating at the outset. A “quick” meeting turns into a list of to-dos assigned to you and due by the end of the week. The website goes down and it’s your job to get it up and running again, or to field the rush of inquiries from anxious customers.

It’s always something. And it’s always legit.

But this isn’t how we wanted to spend our time. We were all caught up and planning on diving into that big project. Now we’re putting out fires because, well, things are on fire, and what are we going to do, watch everything burn?

Roadblocks are a given

I used to get so frustrated by it: How am I supposed to get ahead when I always have tasks that need to get done right now? Or, bigger picture: How is my team supposed to get ahead when this one big project is dominating all our time?

The answer (as is the case, oh, 90 percent of the time) was an attitude adjustment. Rather than bemoan or resent these roadblocks, I started viewing them as inevitable.

What this means is my daily to-do lists aren’t as ambitious. I used to feel guilty when I didn’t get seven or eight items checked off in a day; now I list only three or four at the start of the day so I have room for whatever surprises crop up. My “done” list looks just as impressive, without the guilt.

As my teammate Dave advised in How to Work a 40-Hour Week:

Dave Martin

“If something comes up while you’re working on a task, punt it to your list and re-prioritize. If the new task needs to take precedent over whatever it is you’re working on, stop what you’re working on, move it back to the list, and start working on the thing that came in.”

I also quit thinking in terms of We’ll be able to xyz once we hire that new team member/once the holidays are over/once … whatever it is. If “xyz” is important enough to deserve your attention, you’ll figure out how to work it in.

Roadblocks are a given. That won’t change. There’s never going to be a normal month, a normal week, a normal day. Unexpected tasks will always be thrown at us, and there will always be valid reasons to address them. Teammates will get sick, or move on, or go on vacation (as well they should).

So let’s stop beating ourselves up because we “fell short” — instead, let’s create room in our schedules for the unexpected. When we learn to anticipate surprises, we get realistic about what we can accomplish, and stop robbing ourselves of a sense of accomplishment.

Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz

Emily is the Head of Content at Loom and a Help Scout alum. You can find her on Twitter.