3 things to do when planning in uncertainty

Planning in uncertainty is a challenge I don’t enjoy facing. There are things I’ve learned to do to help me create a path forward when faced with multiple unknowns. Here is what I do to help me from feeling overwhelmed as I try to think beyond the immediate moment.

These actions all take about an hour in total, each step requiring about twenty minutes. I like to set aside the hour to do them all at once, though each twenty-minute block can be spread out across a day.

To Do – Brain Dump

I spend my first twenty minutes scribbling everything that’s cluttering my brain. It doesn’t have to be a neat list! I like to write mine in a composition book because it’s inexpensive paper, and the size isn’t as daunting as a standard sheet.

I worked on the list shown here while I was drafting this post. It’s a mix of business things and personal. That’s ok.

Why do I do this when I have a different system that manages my tasks? Isn’t this repetitive? It is, but the process of writing (not typing) these things helps my brain begin to process what it needs to do. These aren’t necessarily next action tasks; they can be a mix of tasks and projects.

black cat napping on person's hand & keyboard with a composition book open to a page of a brain dump list.

To Do – Take a Break

Now that I’ve written down all the clutter, I step away and try to create some calm in my brain. I believe strongly that this is the most essential part. If I’m feeling extra overwhelmed, I do this before the brain dump as well!

Step away from the desk, electronic devices, and as much as possible, other people.

If you like to meditate, go for it. Remember, you only need twenty minutes! Various things I often do include: a short walk, read a book, stretch, clean my desk, or crochet a block for a blanket.

To do – Reorganize & Prioritize

Now that I’ve had a go at emptying all the things that are in my head, I work on reorganizing and begin to prioritize.

First, I rewrite the list by sorting only into the general type of task/project it is. I try not to get bogged down by if what I wrote is a task or project. Is it work, personal, or something I need to do around the house?

Then I begin to organize everything into projects. I like to use a mix of index cards and sticky notes. Each project gets its own card.

index card with project listed at top, some task items and small post it with additional task to contemplate, shown on top of notebook open to brain dump.

After all that is completed, I work on prioritization. I can lay out the cards and see everything, set aside the less important projects, and create a plan that works for me. It’s flexible and set up in a way that can embrace change.


I hope that these three twenty-minute suggestions help reduce your feelings of being overwhelmed and help you with planning in uncertainty.