Do you write all of your appointments in pencil. Is your calendar in a constant state of flux? If so, welcome to the real world. In all of my years of keeping a calendar, rarely have I made it through a week without someone canceling an appointment, changing an appointment or some other surprise appears to make me use up the eraser on my pencil faster than the lead. But I have developed a strategic tool over the years which minimizes the shuffling and maximizes my control

I call it my "fill-in" list.

When someone cancels an appointment or reschedules, you are often left with a surprise gap of free time. Trying to fill this gap of free time with projects which are already allocated for different times and dates in the future in your schedule may seem like a great way to get ahead. This is true, in some respect, but we are creatures who like order and control. The more order and control we can claim during times of change, the more anchored we feel. Trying to work ahead on a project and move everything forward often times creates a domino effect and a gap in time later. Or it creates earlier deadlines on some aspects of the project which may add unnecessary pressure.

For example, suppose you had an appointment cancelled on Monday and you decided to start on a project that was originally planned for a week later. Does that mean you have to work all weekend to prepare to start the project? Will moving the project into the Monday slot create a gap of downtime later while you wait on parts of the project to catch up to the new earlier schedule?

As an alternative, keep a "fill-in" list of tasks that are necessary, but not urgent. This is your list of things to do when you have a few minutes at the end of the day. Well, now you have several hours. By going to this list, you get things accomplished that you didn't plan for the week. It really feels like a surprise gift. You also don't disrupt the flow of your other work (God bless PERT charts) or cause any unforeseen backups or gaps. Some of the things on my "fill-in" list are tasks like: write the intro to my book, read an article on aging in the LGBT community that a friend sent me, fill out a brainstorming sheet on video presentations. These are items that I would like to do someday, but there really is no deadline on them. You may want to write an estimated time on the tasks. This really helps on choosing what items might fit a specific gap of time.

"But, Errol", you say, "don't you feel guilty doing these non-essentials when you have that major workshop to create for May?" The workshop preparation day has been on my calendar for April 10 for two months now. I put it there because I have all day to work on it and it still gives me plenty of time to run it with test groups over the weeks between preparation and actual presentation. This has a great deal of thought behind it before I placed it on my calendar. This new gap of available time really doesn't change where that workshop prep needs to happen. In fact, trying to do part of it during a smaller gap of time, as opposed to devoting a day to it, is actually counterproductive. The key word here is control. I am in complete control by "filling in" random later tasks - much more than shifting my entire life ahead by 4 hours.

This may not work for everyone, but I find it is an effective way to minimize change and maximize control. I actually embrace change with a positive attitude because I get to move a few things off of my "want to do, but they really have no deadline" list.

Try it. You might like it.