How To Get Back On Track When One Thing Derails Your Day.

By:Deb Knobelman, PhD
Photo by Austin Smart on Unsplash

Managing frustration and overwhelm when the unexpected happens.

The bus that drives my 8 year old to school didn’t show up the other morning.


By the time we realized it wasn’t coming, I was in full panic mode. I knew it meant that at least one of my kids would be late to school. (They go to different schools).

Even worse, it meant I was going to be late to a meeting that I had booked. A first meeting. For what could be a big business transaction.

Double crap.

I was freaking out. I was shaking. As I threw my kids in the car, my mind was racing.

What if I ruined my chances at this deal? I had no idea what this guy would think if I tell him that I am running late. But I assumed it would be negative.

Plus, my perfectly planned day is now ruined.

You see, I’m a big planner. I plan out my days to keep my anxiety and overwhelm from, well, overwhelming me.

This Is How To Plan A Day.
Banish anxiety and overwhelm on busy

But sometimes, life has other plans.

It used to be that something like this would derail my whole day. I’d chew and chew on what went wrong. On what could have happened. On what should have happened. My frustrations would keep me captive for hours.

So my mind would race. And I’d find myself an hour later, scrolling Instagram and still replaying what went wrong. Instead of doing what I had planned to do.

But I am learning some tools to bring my mind back. To get my head back in the game. Because the unexpected always happens. Its our reaction to it that matters the most.

So here is what I do to get back on track:

Take a Metric Of Exactly How Far Off Course You Have Gone

This is not to shame yourself.

But often, what feels like a major delay or problem is actually small. I looked at my clock when I finished dropping off my kids. My son was 10 minutes late to school. I was starting my day only 15 minutes later than I would have been if the bus had arrived for pickup.

15 minutes.

It felt like my whole day was ruined.

But, it was only 8:45am.

If I could get my head back in the right place, my day would not go off track.

But What Do You Do Now?

This is the next question I ask myself when my mind wants to focus on what went wrong.

Yes, something did not go according to plan.

But, what do I do now?

Its true, the bus should have come.

But what do I do now?

I realized that I was only 15 minutes off schedule.

So, I sent a message to the guy I was meeting. I was honest. I said that the school bus did not show up. Could we move our meeting out by 15 minutes?

He responded immediately. He happened to be coming from dropping off his elementary aged kids at school as well. He understood. We’d have to shorten our meeting. But at least we’d get a chance to connect.

With the meeting pushed out, I took a few minutes to see what else on my schedule needed to be re-jiggered. It was only one other thing.

Tell Me Why This Is NOT A Problem?

I recently started reading The Worry Cure by Robert Leahy. It’s not a new book, but I hadn’t heard of it until recently. I’m kind of obsessed with it.

One of the tools he uses to challenge worried thinking is this question.

When I first tried it, it was hard. I wanted to focus on all the crap that screwed up. But, it made a lot of sense.

Why is it NOT a problem that the bus came late?

Well, the meeting will still take place. And the person I am meeting told me he’d be coming from dropping his kids off at a local elementary school. His understanding seemed legitimate.

And I will never know what he is actually thinking anyway. Maybe he’s always late and is empathetic. Maybe he’s relieved because it will give him time to use the bathroom before we sit down. Just because I believe he will have negative thoughts about me does not mean he will. I have no clue what goes on in a strangers’ mind. I have to accept that uncertainty.

Bottom line, he agreed to meet me at a later time. I had to accept that this was the new time for the meeting and let go of the rest. The missed school bus did not cause the meeting to get canceled. It is still possible that this deal could happen. Nothing has gone wrong here.

When You Can’t Do A Lot, Do A Little

I still got to meet the guy. The meeting was shorter. But it went well. We have plans to meet again, with two other relevant people, to go through more of the details.

It wasn’t perfect, of course. But it was something.

And this applies to lots of circumstances. If I had planned a block of working time that got shortened. I might not have had time to finish a big project. I might have had to move things around in my schedule. But I could still find plenty of smaller items on my schedule that would fit into a shortened time slot.

A change in schedule does not mean the whole day is ruined.

The whole day would only have been ruined if I let it.

It is hard to redirect our minds when something does not go as we expect. The uncertainty and the frustration can take us even farther off course. But if we focus on what to do now, think about why it isn’t a problem, and do as much as we can. It can set the day back on track. Even if it isn’t perfect.

Because the perfect plan for the day is the one where we keep going.