Planning things ahead can be a real pain. It makes a lot of sense to come prepared when you’re going somewhere you don’t know or doing something that requires a long list of procedures. There’s a limit to how spontaneous you can be when you don’t really know what you’re doing and how things work, and anyone in their right mind will at least try plan ahead in situations which require, well, planning. But sitting down and drafting an entire week’s or project’s worth of ideas can really take the wind out of one’s sails, and I find myself avoiding it more often than not.
This is one of my biggest existence core problems. You know, those How to Adult problems many of us have. It happens to me with everything from writing to planning my trips. Two years ago I was on a trip to Japan with some friends, and I missed some of the things I really wanted to see, like the Genji Monogatari museum and some of the most iconic spots in Kyoto. I can proudly say I’ve been to Kyoto, got lost in a store that sold porn DVDs (with little screens at the end of each isle showcasing some of the popular titles!) because I couldn’t find the escalator down and got stuck going up to the even weirder floors, but never got to visit Kinkakuji. It happened because I let my partner and a friend of ours plan the whole trip, and they’ve never heard of the museum and have already been to the biggest shrines and temples and Kyoto, so they planned a route that avoided most of them. I spent a considerable amount of time being really mad at them for not including the things I wanted to see.
Not that it was their fault. I avoided planning at all cost, and thought I’ll wing a visit to each of the places I wanted to go to because we were in town anyway. It didn’t work. So on one hand I want to kick back and have things planned for me, but then sometimes it comes at the cost of doing things I don’t really want to do, which can be a really bummer and have a very negative impact my interpersonal relationships with the people involved.
Same goes for writing: when I have an idea in my mind I can scribble it down no problem. When I have to write something as an ongoing project, I get stuck. My mental reserves for the particular subject I was dealing with go empty as soon as I take a break or start doing something else. I work in writing sprees, and when I’m out of fuel it’s really difficult for me to go to what I started working on. While this may have something to do with the fact that reading something you’ve written over and over again can surface your greatest insecurities and fears, I believe it mostly has to do with how mentally draining planning can be.
When I say planning, I mean drafting, writing an outline, deciding on the things I’m going to focus on, perhaps reading some information on the relevant subject matter and then changing, editing and even scraping entire parts and rewriting the whole thing. This is a very challenging and tedious process for some people, especially those for whom producing something half-assed is a no go. Some people just prefer not doing the thing to doing it not as well as they think it should be done, regardless of their time limitations, actual abilities and the real world in general. No peace to the wicked and no mercy for the perfectionist.
So if you’re both an impulsive doer and a perfectionist, here are two solutions that worked for me and might work for you too. Do bear in mind that the author is not a brain scientist.
It’s not always necessary. If you can pull an all-nighter of just writing and editing on that particular thing, you should probably do it. Just make sure it’s something realistically doable in a considerably short period of time. It’ll probably take you longer than it would have had you planned ahead, but if planning is your nemesis, you won’t even feel it. You will most likely feel like Mr. Productive for spending 8 hours on writing that paper, pat yourself on the shoulder and go to sleep without a care in the world. But again, this only works with short projects. If you know that your project is more complex than a ten page analysis of a novel, you should probably…
OK, you’re right, it’s a lot easier said than done. But when you have something that can’t be done in one coffee-fueled night you have to face the fact that you will either have to plan it, not do it at all or spend years working on it in small pieces when your deadline is a few weeks away. Sit your ass down and plan as much of it as you can. It doesn’t always work for me, and I end up not doing many things because of that. I’ve been meaning to open a YouTube channel for ages, but it never worked because videos require both planning and doing three separate things for the same end: writing, filming and editing. My brain still cannot compute this process, so I’ll be avoiding it for the time being.
It did work on some things I worked on in the past, like writing lesson plans for uni and doing some of my school work. But there was another component that’s always been there when planning actually worked for me: people. Whenever people relied on me to do my part, whenever it was up to me to instruct others (including, the irony, on how to plan your writing), whenever it could harm someone else’s efforts. When it was just me risking getting kicked out of school and ruining my life, it wasn’t that bad. Whenever it was personal projects I wanted to do for my own interest, I gave up 99% of the time without even making it halfway through. However when the scenario involved the fate of other people, I would sit down, cry a little, plan, cry some more and do the thing like an adult. It got better with time and experience, but it’s not easy.
So what’s the moral of today’s blog?
Planning doesn’t work for everyone always. It’s good to be organized and come prepared, but don’t let your current identity as a non-planner stop you from doing the things you want. It may take you longer than it takes people who know how to plan, but if planning is a hindrance, skip it and try doing it your way. It may not always work, but sometimes you’ll be able to create other methods, methods that actually work better for you, along the way.
Further, when you feel ready to sit down and plan, try to find the fuel that helps you do it. Be it people, small goals or prizes you award yourself when you successfully plan something or the thought of all the time you’re going to save if you do it properly and how sometimes planning can make thing a lot more simple and declutter the mess you have in your head when you approach something. Again, might not work, but never say die. Fight planning, use planning, don’t let planning control and ruin your life!