Ever have a day like this? You stumble out of bed—early—and gulp a cup of coffee on your way to your desk. You are determined to get a jump on the day, because you have a LOT to accomplish. You finalized your to-do list last night, blocked out time on the calendar, and gathered all the supplies you’ll need. You’re feeling a teensy bit smug because the sun isn’t even up yet and you’re ready to dive into your first big task of the day.

And then…

The phone rings. Amid frantic ramblings and tears, you deduce a semi-serious crisis involving your (pick one or more) parents/children/neighbors/dog which needs your immediate attention. You stumble into clothes and out the door.

Three hours later, you pull into your driveway, wondering what just happened.

You drink more coffee, debate whether your hair can go another day without a wash, and lunge back into “work” mode. Surely, you can make up the lost time. Fingers on the keyboard, you gather your thoughts.

Wait. What’s that noise? It’s your phone’s reminder chirp. Doctor appointment? Now? Oiy. And off you go.

If you’ve had days, weeks, months like this, you’ve been attacked by the ‘schedule hijackers,’ as my son calls them. These are the people, appliances, and obligations that storm our schedule and grab control of our carefully laid plans.

We can’t completely eliminate these scoundrels–nor would we want to, especially if they’re dearly loved–but here’s how to keep them from snatching control of your life.

Be realistic. I’m a die-hard list-maker. My husband says my daily to-do list would keep a team of four busy for a week. When I finally plugged all those to-do items into time slots on a calendar, I realized (gasp) he was right. I had to re-think what’s reasonable.

Be flexible. Interruptions, also called “life,” happen to all of us. In his July e-zine, author Randy Ingermanson suggested writing a weekly plan first, then a daily one, so we can more readily adapt to the inevitable interruptions. Even if a few days go awry, at the end of the week, we’ll still have accomplished the most important things.

Be ruthless, sort of. I screen calls during the day, keep the garage door shut so it looks like I’m not home, and hide in my office. Sometimes, I hide at the library, too. Whatever it takes to carve out the time I need to get words on paper.

Be smart. I have learned to schedule all appointments as late in the day as possible. That gives me a deadline, which forces me to dive into my to-do list early and efficiently. And if the appointment runs late (don’t they always?), I won’t get as frustrated, since I already tackled my most important work.

Be firm. Learn to say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I just can’t add another thing to my schedule right now.”

We’ll never completely eliminate interruptions or live out our ideal schedule every day, but hopefully, these tools will help you stay on course.

I’d love to hear your strategies. How do you handle the ‘schedule hijackers’ in your life?