Plan A versus Plan B words typed on a vintage typewriter

Two Reasons to Create a Plan B

Yesterday afternoon I waited (with everyone) for Perseverance to touch down on the surface of Mars. I have a long fascination with NASA missions, I had a literal front row seat to the small TV monitor in my first-grade classroom that fateful morning of 28 January 1986. I am very thankful this was a successful touchdown, and I gave a cheer as the first image came through.

There is another image that was more significant to my eyes — tearing up the contingency plan (via Twitter). Yes, there was a plan, an actual physical document available. It wasn’t a theoretical discussion of what if something went wrong. While I haven’t seen this document, I doubt it was blank paper! (For reference, please see these two NASA PDFs – Agency Contingency Plans for Space Flight Operations (pdf) and ITS-SOP-0040 (pdf).)

I believe that the existence of this type of plan and document is important for any business regardless of size, including solo or micro business. If we keep all the plans and methods in our heads without writing them somewhere, then they often remain theoretical. The exercise of transforming it from thoughts in one’s head to sketches or words helps to organize the thought process.

Reason One – Resilience

A contingency plan will help you be more resilient as you face the unknown. We can’t anticipate the future, but by regularly asking “what about x” for specific scenarios can help you prepare as much as possible. Over the years I’ve helped to create disaster planning for various scenarios from natural disasters to being unable to reach key personnel. While this past year is proof that this sort of planning often has huge gaps — I know I never anticipated a long-term business closure type scenario or Texas freezing! Routinely thinking through different scenarios and writing it down can help when you’re faced with something completely novel.

Reason Two – Catharsis

The second reason is much simpler. It’s cathartic to tear up a contingency plan and celebrate something going right!


Five minutes for a Workspace Plan B

This is a short exercise which should only take about five minutes. It will help you craft a plan for what you would do today if you were unable to work at your current workspace. I recognize the past year has been one very long unending exercise in finding a new way (and place) to work. I also know that I haven’t taken much thought as to how I would alter things if I had to work differently today. While I’ve worked from home for a long time, I haven’t updated my own contingency plans to reflect the new reality.

Look around your workspace and answer the following questions:

  1. What would you do if you were unable to use your keyboard or mouse? Either because it has stopped working or you have to change how you can interact with the device?

PSG answers: I work to learn keyboard shortcuts because I often need to work around a cat who likes to nap on top of the mouse. However, I changed my email application a few months ago and still haven’t learned several of the different combinations to do it all from the keyboard. If I couldn’t access the keyboard, I’d use the on-screen keyboard, I had to use that when there a software conflict prevented the ~/` key from working. If it completely stopped, there are spare keyboards and mice in the boiler room.

  1. There’s no internet. The company says it will be out for the entire day. What would you do?

PSG answers: Eek. I used to go sit in a coffee shop or at the library! I could probably drive and sit in their parking lot, but that’s a very last-resort solution. I can reply to email on my phone. If there was an urgent deadline, I’d tether my cellphone to a laptop, but it would be very slow. A neighbor with a different provider has offered to let me access their wifi in the past, I’d ask to see if they were still offering.

  1. There is no power for the next 6 hours.

PSG answers: While we have solar panels, our agreement with the utility company means that if there’s no mains power means we can’t access our solar either. We don’t have a generator though we’re preparing the wiring for one in the future. I try to keep all devices and vehicles to at least 50% power/fuel capacity during adverse weather events. We know how to layer with wool, have some wood for the fireplace, and two cats who would snuggle at night. The stove is gas so I can cook and boil water for tea.
I need to confirm my active client list is up to date. I’d use my phone to send a quick mass Bcc’d email stating that I’d be unable to meet any deadline commitments for the at least the next 24 hours. While I can work on the writing I need to do for this business in a notebook, I’d probably shift my focus to my other business. It’s projects often don’t require any electricity.


Ways to help Texans:

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Plan A versus Plan B words typed on a vintage typewriter