Planning is a chore worthy of your time
Are we a little too obsessed with planning? If I do what I like and live in the present, won't things organically arrive to where they should be? Why should I plan for a moment in time that is circumstantial and ever-changing? Seems boring and soul-less.
Then motherhood happened.
"You're not crazy. You're human." -Indra Nooyi, ex-CEO PepsiCo
It wasn't until I became a mother I started to fully appreciate the power of planning. It is not only fundamental to productivity, it is also important in basic fulfillment.
I learned to give myself the time to think about how I wanted to live my minutes, days, weeks, and the rest of my life. My first instinct was to plan out all the chores and stuff I needed to get done in order to manage a decent work-life split.
I found myself completing many tasks at high efficiency but was simultaneously burning out. I had to rethink what it even was that I was supposed to plan.
The essence of all content in the productivity genre you will come across centers around one core concept: our values dictate our lives.
Productivity is not busyness. It is getting all the things done that pertain to your specific values, allowing you to reach your potential and obtain fulfillment.
I had to teach myself that I am not planning tasks, but my values. I am planning things so I can do more living and less dying.
I thought about what really mattered. For me it is spending more time with my family, learning, and experiencing transcendence.
I also thought that fun was about spontaneity. In fact, leisure time is actually 30% more fun when it is planned ahead of time.
Absolutely none of these things were going to happen by default. So my next question was how am I going to plan?
One of the best “planning” books I’ve come across is Greg McKeown's Essentialism. An essentialist is always considering if the task is worth her time. Every task must be tied into very strong values.
“Essentialism requires living purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials, and not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well.” -Greg McKeown, Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less
While goal setting is still hard for me, the concept of value-based goals has allowed me to become more of an essentialist. Value-based goals are broad and somewhat intangible.
a meaningful family life
a peaceful life
a life with no limits
Once a broad vision is identified, trimming fat off the to-do list is easier.
In fact, the existence of long to-do list may suggest you are off track. Isaiah Hankel, in The Science of Intelligent Achievement, argues that a long to-do list is the result of the inability to say no. In my own self-help discovery, I struggle with saying yes versus saying no.
I typically say yes to things that resonate with my values. The conventional wisdom from the likes of Warren Buffet is to say no to most things. Partly because of my conditioning as a woman, I found myself saying yes only to please people and be nice.
How much time should you spend planning? It depends. But according to The 5 Choices, aiming for 30 minutes a week and 10 minutes a day is one benchmark.
While systems are fetishized in the world of productivity, and some have decent merit, it doesn't make sense that one system or framework would be best for everyone. More than a concrete system for planning, I prefer to think in terms of personal styles and risk.
Based on Carson Tate's Work Simply, there are four kinds of people when it comes to productivity personality types. One of them happens to be the planner. She is overindexed on structure and can miss opportunities in more broad-based problem solving.
If we leverage the positives of this archetype, then the personal style of a satisfied planner is to be orderly, both internally and externally. There is a certain cognitive process on planning out stuff you like. You tend to also live in a home that has pretty strong external order.
You can gain internal order either through analog or digital tools:
Maintaining some order in your home environment also lends itself to optimal execution of your plans. Gretchen Rubin in Outer Order, Inner Calm discusses the need for our homes to be structured in a way to be self-serving.
The planner is also very good at assessing risk. She is not going to plan anything that is too hard to get done or that costs her too much (in time, money, effort, or sanity). She is iterating on her planning on weekly basis (which seems like the optimal turn around time based on David Allen's iconic Getting Things Done).
By making sure I made risk-adjusted decisions in a fairly structured way and in my structured home environment (note: structured does not mean perfect), I started to find planning tolerable and gainful.
One of the most annoying things about planning is that you must plan to plan. If you are like me, then planning can be very draining. Your energy after all is a finite resource.
If after reading to this point you are convinced that planning is non-negotiable, then try to plan when you are in a medium energy state. According to David Rock's Your Brain at Work, this would be at a point where are not too alert but also not too spent. Figuring out what Daniel Pink terms as your chronotype will also help you approximate the right timing.
One of the most annoying things about planning is that you must plan to plan.
In figuring out your chronotype you will understand what parts of the day you are most energized, and you can fit in planning in and around those times deliberately.
There are lots of resources for planning on paper, digitally, and through different frameworks and processes. It doesn't matter how you do it. It just matters that you start.
The very first step is understanding your values.