About the non-productivity of (excessive) planning

This article has been originally written for the http://www.milkround.com website.
You can find the original link here.

 

Planning is one of the top skills employers seek. It is something we are encouraged and expected to do. Lecturers constantly remind us to create essay plans and write multiple essay drafts, organise study periods, plan our revision before exams etc. At work, we plan our tasks of the day/week and carry them out accordingly. It is a common knowledge that planning helps to organise our time effectively and makes us more productive. It is a rewarding and fulfilling feeling when we complete the set tasks and finish the projects or assignments we dreaded for a long period of time. Plans help us to structure our actions and coordinate our tasks; we are able to prioritize and get more things done. Planning is at the core of all of our actions and decisions.

Internet is abundant with ‘planning tools’ which include task lists, schedule planners, planner apps etc. that help us to plan our time. These tools attract us with the promise of productivity and efficiency and while they are useful, they can help us to procrastinate. Planning and preparation are supposed to bring us closer to our goals but sometimes it distracts us from doing actual work. We get obsessed with planning, effective time management, preparation but that only makes us feel better about not doing any work.

Researching, planning, discussing, writing are great ways to feel like you are working on your tasks and goals but in reality your efforts are not productive, for example it is beneficial to spend hours and hours making essay plans, reading and discussing the material with your friends, but if you never sit down to write the assessment, what good does it do? Planning before acting may be a good advice but too much planning and preparation can lead to inactivity. Sometimes, planning process can be used instead of procrastination and no work is done either way.

Over-planning is procrastination in disguise. We know we have assignments to finish, exams to prepare for, tasks to do so we tell ourselves that in order to be efficient and successful, we need to plan; and the excessive time spent planning is the time not working. Instead, we should plan accordingly to the task and not spend too much time during the planning stage. In life, there are too many variables for us to ever be in control of our lives; not everything has to be planned and plans are susceptible to change. We should never micro-manage every aspect of our lives; every hour and every minute should never be ‘booked’ and we should always expect the things to come up at the last minute.

Our plans should be guidelines not rules and should not be followed line for line. We should pursue the general route and expect the circumstances of our path to change. It is impossible to predict all the details because life does not follow a structured and coherent path. We will never prepare for all the possible outcomes that could happen in our lives and how they might impact our plans. It is important to plan but plans are alive, fluctuating, changing beings that will not be restrained. Also, plans are not be-all and end-all; a wrong plan made too early or too poorly can have negative and harmful consequences. Planning can lock you in a certain direction and, if the direction is unclear, may cause more damage.

Instead, we should focus less on meticulous, extensive and ‘pretty’ planning and care more about actual (hard) work. Sometimes we overlook the similarities between procrastination and (over)planning; we convince ourselves that planning is necessary and crucial to excuse our lethargy. Excessive planning stalls our progress and takes procrastination to whole new levels.

Moreover, it’s not bad to figure it out as we go. It’s okay not to have a plan or a strategy as long as we are working and doing something. Perhaps we are made to be obsessed with planning and having all the answers; perhaps planning helps us to feel productive by putting off actual work for later. We don’t need a plan for everything and a general idea of our end goals or directions is acceptable. Honestly, how many of us have made (good) plans in our lives so far? All those essay plans/drafts we never did, all the career planning we don’t do and just apply for various positions, all the tasks we planned in advance but end up doing them in the last minute etc. And we are still here, functioning as proper adults, carrying on with our lives.

We don’t need sparkly and fancy organizers, big white boards, walls covered in post-it notes to be productive. What we need is a will to act. The planning gadgets should not be chased after if we are not willing to work and we should become minimalistic and simple in our planning and organization. The message here is – plan, but plan efficiently and quickly. Do not stockpile your work space with sheets of notes, scribbles and to-do lists; do not fill your phone’s memory with various planning apps that you don’t use. Confine your planning to a single sheet of paper or a small folder – but that is for you to decide. Divide your (daily, weekly) time into certain chunks where you work on a specific task or goal and you’ll see better results than doing precise and rigid planning of each hour that allows no flexibility. Fill the calendar (e.g. Google Calendar) with the lectures, work, training sessions etc. and then plan other tasks in the free time that you have, but do so realistically and quickly.

Planning is important but excessive planning is equivalent to procrastination. It is difficult and boring to work and to commit; it is tedious as it is challenging. If we prioritize properly and are willing to work, we will achieve good efficiency even with the least amount of planning. So, don’t get caught up with perfect planners or efficient time management – a will to work and a desire to commit is all we need.

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One thought on “About the non-productivity of (excessive) planning

  1. Strongly agree. In many cases, exhaustive planning can be replaced by, ‘Just DO it!’ As a case in point, I have been praised for writing meticulously-plotted novels. Yet they are actually ‘flown by the seat of my pants’.

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