The Gap Plan; How to Avoid Catastrophe When the Sh!t Hits the Fan

Would your household fall apart if you had to take a week off? A gap plan is a great way to plan in advance for the inevitable lows of life, and to put support systems in place for your friends & family.

Tara Thomas & Kia Handley talk about what needs to go into a gap plan, and some of the pitfalls of putting it in place.

[Full transcript below]



    You can listen to the show live on Monday mornings from 9:30 am on ABC Newcastle at 1233AM or stream live here.

    Kia Handley is the presenter of ABC Newcastle and NSW Mornings show. When she's not talking your ear off, she can be found getting around on roller skates, listening to podcasts, and drinking too much coffee.

    You can also find the incredibly talented Kia Handley on ABC  Newcastle Mornings here, Twitter @kiahandley  FB kiahandleyjourno TikTok @kiahandley IG @kiahandley

    Episode Transcript:

    Introduction to The Gap Plan

    Journal with Emergency Plan on the cover next to a small plant and a cup of coffee on a table.
    Image from Canva.

    Kia Handley:

    In a perfect world every day. You'd be a 10 out of 10 thriving, nailing everything life has to throw at you, but <laugh>, but I think you and I both know that is not always what happens.

    Maybe you didn't get enough sleep or you're not feeling great, or you have a bit of a stressful day at work. So many things can take that 10 outta 10 and make it an 8 or a 7 or a 2.

    But is there a way for the people around us to make it up to 10? Enter the idea of a gap plan, not a gap year, not a gap payment. What is it all about to tell you more about it?

    Relationship, Coach Tara Thomas is here. Good morning.

    Tara Thomas:

    Good morning. Kia.

    Kia Handley:

    How are you? I mean, what's your score out of 10 today? Or is that too personal? Do we not ask that question today?

    Tara Thomas:

    Today? I reckon so far... I'm an 8.

    Kia Handley:

    Well, excellent.

    Tara Thomas:

    Which is fantastic. It's a nice way to start the week.

    Kia Handley:

    A beautiful way to start the week. So if you are an 8, do I only need to bring 2?

    Tara Thomas:

    Well, ideally my darling, you would bring an 8 as well. That would be fabulous because then we would just be sparkling...effortless and easy, but I mean, I'll ask you in return.

    Where are you today on your sliding scale?

    Kia Handley:

    Look, I haven't had much sleep, but I seem to be thriving anyway. So I would say I'm a solid 7.

    Tara Thomas:

    Yeah, bring it. We're ON this morning. So we'll, we'll check in again about three pm though, right?

    Kia Handley:

    Oh, I'll be sleeping. Yeah. I'll have eaten dinner at two 30 and I'll be in bed. <laugh> all right.

    What is this idea of a gap plan?

    What is a Gap Plan?

    Tara Thomas:

    So the idea of a gap plan fits in exactly what you're saying, where identifying for each individual in a household, or even for yourself in your day to day life, how much time and energy and attention do I have to bring to the things that need to get done.

    And in this broader context of living in a pandemic at the moment, we're all experiencing the same pandemic, but we're not all having the same experience in the pandemic. It depends on your, your social and financial and emotional and physical and mental resources…

    But as well, outside of pandemic times, it's just natural for humans to live through cycles of highs and lows. We're not always going to feel good every day. And there are always going to be different factors that mean maybe you have a lower energy level.

    I mean, maybe you are someone who has chronic pain or chronic illness and you are never more than a five out of 10.

    So the gap plan is about saying we acknowledge and appreciate and honor the fact that we are not always going to feel great and that having a plan in place with your, with the people in your life.

    So we all know what we need to do to take care of each other when that happens, it means that when it does happen, it's not quite so stressful. You know, you feel supported, we all know what we need to do.

    And then perhaps that two out of 10 or five out of 10, only last a few days, instead of you having to push through that, you know, that low energy and exhaustion by yourself where it might last a lot longer.

    How Has COVID-19 Influenced Our Awareness of Capacity?

    Kia Handley:

    I'm curious if you think that the last two years in the pandemic has made us more aware of it and more aware of our feelings and maybe a little bit better at communicating that a bit, like, as you said, this was, but perhaps we're better at, at being like, oh, I'm at capacity.

    Tara Thomas:

    Yeah, I think definitely.

    And, you know, we have a physical expression of that. I think which, which often makes it easier as an illustration and the physical expression of that is when someone in your household is a close contact or has a, a positive COVID result and they now need to isolate in a room.

    So it's not just, you know, that perhaps they're a 2/10 with their energy, they're out of the family execution of whatever needs to happen.

    So we are seeing this really clear illustration of what it means when there are people in our lives.... You know, we're seeing it in a broader community context as well when people aren't able to contribute at their normal level because they're physically unable to do their jobs. We're seeing that on a much broader scale and much more concretely,


    Who Should Be Included in a Gap Plan?

    Journal with Emergency Plan on the cover next to a small plant and a cup of coffee on a table.
    Image from Canva.

    Kia Handley:

    All right, let's go through the basics. Who can we do this gap plan with?

    Tara Thomas:

    So I'd like to think that there's a number of different levels you can have a gap plan.

    'm someone who has had chronic fatigue for a long time. And so I have a gap plan on an individual level, but I don't call it my gap plan. I call it my rainy day plan. And I think the nice thing about that is that metaphorically, I can see, okay, it's a rainy day today, but then maybe it will be sunny tomorrow. You know, we just expect these highs and lows.

    1. So you can do this gap plan as an individual.
    2. You can do a gap plan with your main person, whether that's your partner or a friend, whoever your key support person is,
    3. You can have a gap plan within your household.
    4. You can have one with your friends and family
    5. And then you can have a gap plan with the broader community or professionals around you.

    So it's those concentric circles of degrees of relationships that you see, beginning from the middle with the people closest to you, then moving out into people who you know less and rely on less, and even further out into people you don't know but who may be able to provide support.

    Beginning with your individual gap plan and within your household is where I'd suggest you start.

    Does the Gap Plan Depend on the Type of Relationship?

    Kia Handley:

    I guess it's going to be different as well, based on, you know, the relationship...

    Like Laurise and I, as a team of two will definitely have a gap plan. You know, when one, person's maybe not firing on all cylinders as the other, but that's going to look different than say me and my household.

    Tara Thomas:

    Sure. And then also...

    Kia Handley:

    My dog doesn't bring much to the gap plan <laugh>. But if I, if I had other people in my household...

    Tara Thomas:

    That's right. And also if there are people you don't know as well, maybe your colleagues or, you know, your employer, maybe you're not.... maybe it's not safe or appropriate for you to say to them, Hey, I'm a two outta 10. I can't pull my weight and can someone else do my job for me. <laugh> um, I, that would be amazing if we lived in the kind of world where that was, you know, the norm. Um, but it's not always.

    So there are people who you, you won't be saying, "Hey, I'm not bringing my A-game today". And what that means is that you're gonna have less energy for other areas of your life.

    So when you're looking at the people who you are working with and sharing this gap plan with, ideally they're people who you can be really super honest and open with, where you can say my mental health, isn't great today, my physical or health isn't great today, or I just had a big night last night could be that simple,

    What Should Go Into a Gap Plan?

    Kia Handley:

    Let's run through what, what should be included in the gap plan, how it might work.

    Tara Thomas:

    1. So the first and probably the most important thing is how do you know when you need to initiate the gap plan? You know, often when we get tired or depleted, we're not that good at, at realizing that we're not functioning very well. And sometimes it takes a gentle reminder from a partner or a friend "Hey, you seem like you are, you know, maybe a bit extra tired today. Is there something else I can do?" And, and they can ask at that point "do we need to run the gap plan?" Knowing yourself, firstly, what you are on the scale... And I like that scale of one to 10 or some people do like a green, orange, red mm-hmm <affirmative>, you know, um, red is gap plan. Green is I'm good.
    2. And then you wanna just check in like, how are we going to initiate it? Is it just a matter of when we see each other, just doing a super fast check in, what are you out of 10? I'm a three, I'm a, I'm a seven. Okay. We can, you know, we can manage this between us today.
    3. And then you wanna look at what's the most important goals of the gap plan. And, and I would invite you to consider that the most important goal is that you enable each other to rest and reset your nervous system. So when the gap plan is running, you're not gonna be doing extra activities. That's the time when you might be canceling social occasions, you might might not watch Johnny's basketball practice. You know, you're just gonna be reducing the amount of things that you need to do. Yep. And making sure you're taking care of yourself. And, and so yeah, you, you're gonna have a, as much detail in there as you can.

    Gap Plan CheckList

    1. Who is this gap plan for? Is it for an individual, a household, a partnership, a team, a support team?
    2. How do we know when to intiate the plan? Do we check in daily with a number system or traffic light? That is, ask "what number are you out of ten?" or "are you red, orange or green?"
    3. What are the signs for you that you are less than a 5/10? What do you feel in your body? What are you saying to yourself? How are you behaving?
    4. How do I take care of myself? What kinds of things help me to rest & reset my nervous system? For example; sleep 8 hours a night, have a nap, have a bath, do some non-linear movement practice, practice emotional first aid, spend time outside in the fresh air, read some fiction, connect with friends. Whatever it is that for YOU helps you to feel calmer, more rested, and replenishes your battery.
    5. How do we take care of each other? What kinds of things can I do to help you rest & reset your nervous system? Perhaps a massage, run you a bath, make you a nourishing meal, take care of one or some of your chores, read to you, listen to you, comfort you in a specific way.
    6. What do we do when we are both needing support? What are the things that we can let go of doing until we have capacity again? What chores don't need to be done? What social commitments can we reschedule or cancel? Which activities energise us? and which deplete us?
    7. What can we prepare in advance? For example, cooking some meals and freezing them, prearranging child-care for an emergency, build up good will in car pool for kids so you can call on someone else, agree on a healthy take-away food option,
    8. Who can we ask for support? Talk to the folk in your life in advance, and discuss tangible and specific ways they can help you when you initiate your gap plan. For example, you could drop some soup around for me, you could take the kids for a night, you could drop/pick up kids on that day, you could come over and walk my dog, you could clean up my kitchen or do some laundry, you could sit quietly next to me and watch TV.
    9. When do we need to escalate? The gap plan is not designed for long term, who do you need to ask for support or help? For example, your GP, a naturopath, a psychologist, a counsellor, a helpline, your employer, your family or friends.

    Make sure that you have this all documented in a list that is easily accessible so that when you need it, it is easy to find.

    How Important are Systems for a Gap Plan?

    Tara Thomas:

    I like to think of, you know, you can go and have a look at the emergency plan structures for bush fires and floods and evacuations, things like that... like your COVID plan, the more detail you have in there, the easier it is to, to run it.

    There's a habits coach called James Clear, who I think is fantastic. And he says"You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." So if you have systems in place, you're not gonna completely crash out

    Kia Handley:

    That also allows us to be a bit flexible as well, because not every 4/10 day is going to be for the same reason or for the same thing. And every day we have different, you know, requests from us as well in life and society.

    Tara Thomas:

    Yeah, that's exactly right. And you just need to be a little bit responsive, you know, you're not gonna be super rigid every time.

    Sometimes it's just, you had a bad night's sleep. You don't really need the gap plan. You just make sure you have an early night, so you'll go home and you'll say to the person in your household, or you'll go to work and say to someone on your team, you know, didn't have a great night's sleep. I'm gonna have an early night.

    But it just depends on what's happening in the day. You need to check in, you know, do I need to tag out of cooking dinner, maybe in the gap plan you're going to have some preparation. So you might have a frozen meal or you might have an agreement that, uh, on a, on a day where the gap plan kicks in that an appropriate take away food is, you know, um, my all time, favorite The Junction Chicken Shop <laugh>... Because they do, you know, beautiful salads.

    So the idea is when you're feeling a bit low, maybe you're gonna be craving that caffeine and, and sugar and fat and all those things that don't actually help reset. So like what's an appropriate thing that you can do just so you all, um, that makes things a bit easier...what are we gonna do about childcare...some pre planning.

    What are Some of the Common Pitfalls?

    Kia Handley:

    This all sounds amazing in theory, but I feel like, you know, as humans putting this together, it can be challenging. So where are some of the pitfalls? Where are some of the things we need to watch out for as we're having these conversations and putting this gap plan in place?

    Tara Thomas:

    Yeah. I think some of the pitfalls are really around our perception of what it means when all the things aren't getting done.

    There's this idea that if there's a gap in what's being done and I'm already maxed out at my capacity, then that means that you are not doing enough. And, and I think a lot of the time we have this, a idea that we should be able to do all of the things all of the time.

    So, some of the pitfalls are really around, like, what do we make it mean about ourselves and about the other people in our life when they're not able to fulfill what you saw as their commitments and, and do those regular things in the house. Like, what do we make it mean about someone when we go to their house and they haven't done the dishes for a week, or what do we make it mean about our partner when we come home and they haven't cooked dinner, even though they said they would.

    So it's really around that generosity and understanding that, you know, our value in relationships is not connected to the productivity of us in the house. It's not related to how many chores we do or how much money we make. It's really about taking care of each other.

    And some of the red flags for that are, if you see either shame or blame. So shame is like, oh, I'm not doing enough. I'm, you know, I'm lazy or I'm a bad person. Or, you know, I just need to get my, you know, crap together or perhaps blame when you're starting to look at your partner and say, you are not doing enough. So shame and blame are really the red flags.

    I think in this context, that something isn't going right, that your attitude to the way that things are happening, maybe needs to be reconsidered. But also having said that, you know, if you are regularly needing to use your gap plan, like every week or every, every day, maybe there's too much on your plate, maybe you think you need to do too much...

    Does a Relationship Need Equal Input?

    Kia Handley:

    It's gotta be even right as well. You can't constantly be the two. Sometimes you've gotta be the eight.

    Tara Thomas:

    I guess that depends on the arrangement you have in the relationship, because some people do always have less capacity, and that doesn't make them less valuable as partners or friends.

    That just means they have less capacity, but it's about really negotiating, you know, what does that mean for us as, as partners or, and, and when I say partners, not just intimate partners, what does that mean for us in a relationship and how are we gonna manage that?

    And I guess then, you know, beyond that, like, is this a relationship that, that I can stay in, perhaps if, if Kia between you and I, like, I'm always a 2 and you always an 8, one of the ways you could balance that is you can go and find someone else who's, mostly an 8to pick you up when you've had to, uh, help care for me. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so it's about them broadening that support network so that we can say, I love you. You're really important to me. Your capacity is often lower than mine. And so then I need to bring in more help.

    Kia Handley:

    Yeah. Which is so important that one person can't fulfill all our needs anyway. And that's a whole other conversation,

    Tara Thomas:

    <laugh> it is a whole other conversation. And you're absolutely right. But I mean, then, you know, you could have someone who just is lazy and is choosing not to contribute. And that too is a whole 'nother conversation.

    Kia Handley:

    Yeah I mean, let's not go there.

    Let's, let's focus on the positive and put together our Gap Plans. My, my dear eight out of 10. Thank you so much for telling us about this. I think it's super helpful. Especially as we go into a new year at school and families are, you know, getting back into their regular routine.

    So it's a, a good thing to try to implement maybe in 2022.

    Tara Thomas:

    Yeah. Get the kids involved too, you know, like on a day when you come home tired, get them, get them working, put them to work. <laugh> love it.

    Kia Handley:

    What's the point. If you can't get them to do a job, Tara. That's right. <laugh> always great to catch up. Thank you.

    Tara Thomas:

    Pleasure. Talk soon.


    Where Do We Go From Here?

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    The Gap Plan episode was inspired by a podcast by Brene Brown on this topic, you can listen to that here.

    I also have lots of Practical Relationship Advice that can help you work through some of the related topics to this theme.

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    A moment of your time has deep & long lasting effects on my capacity to keep creating this kind of content.

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