How to Use a Planner to Survive the Chaos of a Natural Disaster | Giftie Etcetera: How to Use a Planner to Survive the Chaos of a Natural Disaster

Monday, August 29, 2016

How to Use a Planner to Survive the Chaos of a Natural Disaster

If you aren't familiar with this blog, I mostly write about day planners. In fact, Giftie Etcetera has a pretty active Facebook group where we discuss getting and keeping our lives in order. 

When my hometown in Louisiana flooded in a massive, 3-day rainstorm, the group kept talking about planners and order in general. 

That is, they did until one member said that her house flooded and she was stuck. Her planner wasn't good enough for the to-do list that grows so long and massive after your home is completely ruined. 

Louisiana Flood, Louisiana Flood 2016, survival, planner, plan for survival

If you don't know about what happened in Louisiana this week, I've written about the flood.

In its aftermath, h
er planner wasn't big enough or strong enough to calm the stress of balancing work, parenting, and being suddenly homeless.

She asked for advice. Another member of our on-line planning group lost a husband and mentioned that the 5-part plan I had shared applied to her, too. A friend had a house fire. She needed to hear this as well.

So I've decided to share this 5-part plan more publicly, as a blog post.

If you are struggling about how to approach the time right after a life-changing disaster or death, take the time to read this post (even if your current "planner" consists of reminders on your phone or a pile of papers on the counter). 

If you know someone struggling in the aftermath of a tragedy, please share this link with that individual. It's my hope that this helps those in Louisiana who have lost their homes and all disaster victims hereafter.


When disasters happen, the aftermath means constant action. At first, that means getting food, shelter, and water. Perhaps you need to plan a funeral or find clean clothing.

Eventually, the tasks start piling on. Insurance claims. Cleaning out debris. Getting a loan. Finding a contractor. Paying bills.

Stop at sunset each day. Literally. Do what you can during the day, but have an endpoint. 

Drink wine, pray, sleep, have sex, chase your kid around. Whatever your things are that make you human, do those things. Do normal stuff even when - especially when - things aren't normal.

Your list after a disaster or death is too long.

I acknowledge with absolute understanding that it is a real list that must eventually be done within a reasonable - and maybe even unreasonable - time period.

That's okay. You have about three good months of "I flooded" or "he died" before more than basic tasks are expected of you. Rely on that!

Otherwise, you will be exhausted and cry in a corner anyway, but it won't be a quick, necessary cry. Instead, you'll relive the nightmare that you are experiencing over and over again in your mind.

So build in a daily break for yourself to rest and relax. Sunset is a nice time to do that.


Normally, I say have one calendar - whether Google calendar or a monthly calendar in your planner - for tracking appointments in deadlines.

That's bad advice in this post-disaster situation.

Create a new, separate deadline calendar. ONLY DEADLINES go on this calendar. As you receive, read, or think of a true deadline, put it on the calendar. This is NOT planning. This is simply noting the HAVE TOs.

This deadline calendar is not for "want to do" items. This is for "have to do" items.

Things that might go on this calendar include:

*Make an insurance claim by x date. 

*Find out the deadline for an insurance claim by x date. 

*Unpack and triple wash/disinfect school clothes by Sept. 9. 

*Arrange transportation to school by Sept. 9.

I don't normally recommend a separate deadline calendar, but this is not normal action mode. The deadline calendar will also help you with the next recommendation.


Make a future task list. Put those tasks that are NOT DUE during the next three months on that lists (with a due date, if applicable).

Now, stop working on the items on that list. You don't have time right now.

Either something is a deadline in the next three months and goes on the deadline calendar OR it is a future task.

For example, if the disaster happens in August, start the future task list on December 1.

As anything you want to do but don't HAVE to do in the next three months occurs to you, write it on the future task list.

Want to buy and install trim? You can live without it for 3 months. Write it there.

Want to make the yard pretty again? Write it there.

If it's not a deadline (and, if you are wondering, it's only a deadline because of SERIOUS REASONS like mold risk or legal needs or something like that), it goes on the future list.

It's sort of a brain dump, but different, because you are pledging to yourself that you are not dealing with it yet.

You are giving yourself the gift of time and grace.


Other than a deadline calendar and a future task list (to deal with in three or four months), use your planning system (whether a planner or Outlook or just crossing your fingers and hoping you remember) as you normally would.

Know your schedule, note conversations with insurance adjusters, and jot daily task lists.

But stick only to must-dos for now.

Should-dos still go on the future lists.

Deadlines go in the normal plan, but also on that special calendar so that you NEVER miss one because you check the deadline calendar every day.

Set an alarm to check the deadline calendar every day.


You don't need to remember and write down every single thing that needs doing. In other words, it's okay if you are not emotionally ready to braindump yet!

Instead, consider writing down a task or deadline as you get 
a trigger that causes you to think of the new item for your deadline calendar or task list. 

Feel free to braindump all at once (my usual recommendation) or simply write down one thing at a time (a recommendation filled with grace and time to recover - something you might need to give yourself permission to accept).

Ask yourself...must do?


Don't do it or, if you feel attached to it (like house trim), write it on that future list.


What is the deadline? If there isn't really one, it goes on the future list.

If it needs to be done in the next two weeks, give yourself a two-week deadline on the deadline calendar. Then plan it like normal.

Use these five steps to ensure that you are giving yourself TIME and GRACE to be human:

1. relaxing at sunset

2. deadline calendaring

3. creation of a deferred "future task" list

4. normal use of your planner system

5. no stress over brain dumping

Giving yourself permission to slow down is so important. You need time and grace to recover and heal.

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Mary Wimbley said...

This is one of your best posts! This advice is great for anyone going through any kind of crisis--even an emotional crisis that has nothing to do with a natural disaster. I know I will definitely be using these tips! Thank you again for being you! 😊

PS--hope everything is going well for you and your family. Don't forget to take care of yourself as well! 😊

Anonymous said...

This list is BS. All you are doing is creating more work for yourself with all your lists in a time where there is more work than anyone can handle.

Mary Wimbley said...

Anonymous is missing the point. You're not creating more work for yourself; you're figuring out what's most important and taking care of those things first. That can be extremely hard to do when you're under such a huge amount of stress, emotions are out of control, and you feel overwhelmed by everything. Taking these steps allows you to step back, breathe, and gain a little bit of focus to help you get through whatever you may be facing. It's not a cure-all solution, just a way to cope with the situation. The most important thing to remember is that we're all human and there is no "perfect" solution to anything.

Giftie Etcetera said...

Anonymous is likely not a regular reader of a planner blog. :) But my Loyal Readers know that I never recommend taking the parts of my advice that don't apply to you or help you, and I want to reiterate that! If the only part that works for you is the sunset rule, or the deadline calendar, or whatever, just use those parts.

Anna said...

I agree that there are so many good things in this post. I haven't had a huge crisis or disaster like those mentioned, but I can see how the same tips can be helpful in a smaller crisis or stressful time. With our current team of workers (expats in Mali), we have 19 adults, and all but two are in transition points right now. We've only been here 4 1/2 months and are about to move across town right at the time I'm starting a new homeschool year, and right after a week long travel to a neighboring country. I had seen the tips you posted on FB, and I've been using those on a smaller level. I'm still using my normal planner, but I had a separate paper for deadlines over the next few weeks- does this need to be done today, this week, or can I let it slide a couple of weeks.

I really appreciate your last few sentences about giving yourself permission and time to heal. That's so important!

Shah said...

I like it

Shah said...

Making the list for preventing the forecasting disaster over the whole country, should be appropriate so that the people can improve the qulity of the life.Thee re many ways to learn more things what they should do in the betterment of the post match event! The is helping the environment where the people can reach their target goals and their aims for more clear understanding their life.

Anonymous said...

I love this post. The clearest evocation of how to avoid overwhelm that I've read. Thank you very much.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for this quick post. It is important to keep up with daily task. I hope you and your family has gotten back on track.


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