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The Perils of Overplanning

The Perils of Overplanning
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    Often the most effective productivity comes not from thorough planning, but from a distinct lack of planning (or at least less planning.) This flies in the face of traditional best practices regarding productivity and an organization. It seems counter-intuitive on the face of it, but in many instances, planning can actually be damaging. We need to be clear that we are really talking about unnecessary planning or excessive planning.

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    There are many times when at least a modicum of planning is extremely necessary and highly beneficial. In addition, there are many situations where planning is required, demanded, mandated as in any business or career settings. However, as with everything, when taken to excess a good thing crosses the line into harmful, or at least wasteful.

    Planning perils

    Out of proportion planning: Sometimes we take longer to strategize and map out a plan than the actual time the project or task actually requires to complete. I suppose there are certain situations where this makes sense, as in the adage, “measure twice, cut once.” So if you’re a member of the bomb squad and your job is to defuse ticking time bombs, please take the time to plan even if the action only takes 30 seconds. However, for the vast majority of us who do not face such dire consequences, we have to determine, based on the importance, difficulty, or link of the project, how much planning is actually required or if planning is actually advisable at all.

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    Time wasting planning: We need to consider the overall picture of our available time. When we engage in excessive planning, we are using precious time that could possibly be used in a more valuable manner. Determine what time opportunity is lost and whether time spent planning is worth the trade off in the long run. Many times the answer is yes, because of effective planning can prevent more work or complications later on. However, at other times the answer is no, but the habit of planning has simply become part of our routine process.

    Procrastination planning: Occasionally, perhaps even frequently planning or over-planning can actually be a form of procrastination. We certainly appear to be responsible and organized, and efficient, but that’s a facade. In actuality, what we’re really doing is using planning as a way to justify deferring a task, by spending unnecessary time planning how to do the task instead of actually doing it. This is just sneaky procrastination disguised as prudence.

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    When planning is justified

    • When undertaking a project or task that hasn’t been done before planning may be necessary to determine the correct actions.
    • When the project is of a collaborative nature, planning is necessary for clarity of roles and accountability.
    • When the consequences of a misstep could be disastrous, planning is certainly justified.
    • When a project is extremely complex or is comprised of many steps or phases, effective planning can help ensure that each step or phase is completed in the appropriate order and according to its timetable.

    Effective and efficient planning is absolutely crucial to maximize productivity, organization, goal achievement, and success. The danger is in not being clear in regards to the amount of time and effort you should be spending on planning. Use your time and energy wisely and efficiently by being honest and realistic about how much planning is actually necessary.

    Exceptionally organized individuals need to be extremely wary of automatically clinging to their default habit of detailed planning. Planning can actually be an addiction for the naturally productive and organized among us. The best way to avoid falling into the over-planning trap is to determine the minimum amount of planning required, way the use of planning time against other available activities and then stop planning and start doing.

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    (Photo credit: Round Table Planning via Shutterstock)

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    Royale Scuderi

    A creative strategist, consultant and writer who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment.

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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