Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Planning for procrastination

There is a Japanese proverb revering the importance of planning: Measure twice, cut once.  

Planning helps ensure you take the best action in the interests of meeting an objective.  For a large project, spontaneously making decisions while things are in motion will inevitably lead to mistakes.  Planning automates the implementation process as each action is pre-determined, and this in turn facilitates smooth execution.

Many things though do not need planning.  Using project management principles in your personal life is not always wise.  In an age where we are encouraged to write everything down, people want to plan and strategize even the smallest of things before getting down to doing them.  And it's not always the small things: certain larger undertakings like getting fit do not really require a plan either.  To get fit you need to put your cross trainers on and start running.  Run enough and there's little chance you won't become fit.  No planning needed, just do.  If you want to subsequently start including other exercises and a specific diet into your regimen then fine, a simple plan can be drawn up, but start with running then add on the extras afterward.  There's no need to sit at a drawing board before starting.

While planning is often wise, it means nothing without physical action.  And by insisting on a plan for every small thing you:

• Make a task more convoluted and harder than it has to be by breaking everything down into unnecessary detail.  To go to the convenience store you would get into your car and drive there.  Putting this into a plan can make the same process look a lot more difficult: Walk to car, open door, place key in ignition, start car, reverse out of driveway, drive to store, park car, enter store...it already sounds tiring just reading it, much less doing it.  A tedious sounding plan can mislead you to over-estimate the difficulty of a task .  

• Create an additional barrier to be overcome before action can be taken.  The absence of a plan is often unconsciously used as a stalling tactic.  "I haven't started yet, admittedly.  I need to draw up a plan with actionable steps," I've heard people say.  They may sound determined, but they're essentially saying: I have already delayed, but let me delay some more by deciding to sit down after this conversation and draft a plan that will detail the action I will take some time in the future.

As mentioned above, a plan facilitates smooth implementation, but it is not implementation itself.  Physically speaking you have made zero progress after drawing up a plan.  Progress begins when action starts.

Many see a plan as a statement of intent that both encourages and tracks progress, but planning is a task in itself that can in fact hinder rather than encourage action.  Before planning, decide first if a plan is needed at all.

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