Picture this.

You arrive at work raring to go. There’s a lot on your plate, and you’re feeling motivated to do it. Today is going to be a productive day. You even planned out your workday last night, as you’ve been doing lately. You start working right on time, but your first task takes longer than you’d planned. The workday has just begun, you note with some frustration, and you’re already behind. You press on. Then, mid-morning, a minor office crisis bubbles up, and you’ve got to drop everything to pitch in. You’re now two hours behind, according to the schedule you made last night. You are not a happy camper.

What now?

The answer is simple, but it involves a fundamental departure from how most people think about a schedule.

What is a schedule?

Most folks see a schedule as a promise, a vow, a commitment.

Ever hear the expression, “don’t make a promise you can’t keep?” That’s the problem here—a day’s schedule often turns out to be a promise that can’t be kept. Life is largely outside our control, and we can’t always predict how our day will unfold.

Plus, we human beings are not great at estimating how long things will take (although this skill improves significantly with daily use). If failing to stick to a pre-determined schedule means we’ve failed, well, we’re setting ourselves up to fail about every other day. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every other day to go down as a failure.

A better way

Instead, realize that a schedule is a plan, not a promise. The goal is not to follow your schedule perfectly. The goal is to follow your schedule as far as it will lead, and to create a new one when it breaks down.

When the boss drops something on your lap or the big project you’re working on takes an extra hour of your morning, simply take 5 minutes to revise your schedule for the rest of the day. Do it without guilt and without anger (okay, minor frustration is allowed). Make a new plan, Stan.

Disruptions and unpredictability are part of life, and honestly, would we want it any other way? A life with no surprises is no life at all. When one comes your way, pause, revise the day’s schedule, and forge ahead.