“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson.

That now-famous quote by Mike Tyson came before his fight with Evander Holyfield when asked about Evander’s fight plan. The plan? Bully the bully and push him back. Fight dirty and stay on top of Tyson. Mike Tyson, despite disrupting Holyfield’s plan by punching Holyfield repeatedly, lost that fight in an 11th round TKO.

Iron Mike uttered variations of the quote before many of his fights. The earliest rendition of his quote, with a slight variation, is from 1987 against Tyrell Biggs – “Everyone has plans until they get hit for the first time.” Tyson ultimately won that fight, despite Biggs’ plan to use his reach and jab to keep Tyson at bay.

Two fighters, two plans, two outcomes against the same fighter. So, what’s the difference? Some would say Tyson was a stronger, better fighter in the 1987 Biggs fight versus 1996 and 1997 against Holyfield. Others say Holyfield had a better plan than Biggs. I would disagree with both. I don’t think it was Holyfield’s plan against Mike Tyson. I would argue it was his ADJUSTMENT to his original game plan that won him the fight.

Both Biggs and Holyfield absorbed big punches from arguably the heaviest hitter in boxing. Biggs, as Mike Tyson continued to reign heavy lefts and rights to his head and body, stuck to the plan. Try to duck and move, and throw the left jab to keep some distance. But Tyson continued to come and eventually found a way around the jab to knock Biggs out in the seventh round.

Holyfield took heavy hits from Tyson in the first few rounds, and I’m sure those stung. Would you like getting punched in the face by Mike Tyson? Didn’t think so. However, in the aftermath of the fight, Holyfield described his adjustments other fighters had failed to make. He noticed Tyson would duck to the left, then come up throwing a left or right hook, trying to land one big punch. As long as he could dodge this first punch, he could go back to his game plan of bullying Tyson by throwing multiple counter-punches.

Two fighters, two plans, two outcomes, one adjustment.

As design professionals, what lessons can we take from these different fighters as we plan our projects and deadlines for the week. Like Holyfield and Biggs, we all want to approach our work with a game plan. How do we schedule projects? How do we staff our teams? What are our deadlines and how are we completing them for the week?

But as in boxing, business will throw a Iron Mike Uppercut right to your jaw when you least expect it. Everyone knows the “emergency” phone call that happens daily. So, how do you adjust?

First, you have to remember to take a moment to assess the situation. That moment could be seconds, minutes, or hours depending on the weight of that uppercut, but you still must assess the punch.

Next, adjust on the fly. But adjustments should be minor. Don’t drop the entire plan because of one punch to the face. Make the adjustment equivalent to “dodging the first punch.” Maybe it’s adjusting your staff from one project to another because of the shortened deadline. Or working a few hours of overtime that day. However, keep the overarching plan in place.

It can be easy at times to feel like a hero when that “emergency” phone call comes in. You drop everything and put all of your resources on that one thing to get it done. But then the next call, and the next call, and the next call comes in, and before you know it your entire plan for the week is out the window. Worse yet, you overpromise and underdeliver by telling the emergency client you can get something done without actually referring back to your plan. And, when those emergencies stack into days, weeks, months, and the year, you find yourself and your team burned out and disengaged.

Instead, find a way to adjust the plan to work the “emergency” into your plan. Can you plan for this time by adding emergency time into your day? Can you take some time from a project with a future deadline and work that time back in next week? Can you ask for help from other team members? There are various ways to “dodge the first punch” without actually dodging the work. And if you are honest with your client and give them realistic deadlines, they will appreciate you working the emergency into your schedule and you can truly be the hero for the emergency and non-emergency clients.