One of the main pitfalls I seem to fall into over and over again is failing to go beyond planning and actually getting my work done. I plan, plan some more, add planning to my to-do list, do even more planning, finish planning, get back to planning, re-plan and so on. It seems that planning – for me – is an end unto itself: I plan for the sake of planning.
To resolve this problem, it’s important to recognize the dual role of planning: planning as a process and as part of a process.
Planning isn’t simply done to pave the way for the actions that need to be carried out. Planning helps us resolve our own confusion and to manage our own thoughts. We put pen to paper, or mindmap on our computers or use any number of planning methods so we can clarify our own thinking about the project we intend to undertake.
In this respect, planning alone (without doing anything beyond the planning) remains a useful process to go through. It brings us clarity and relief. It helps us make sense of our projects. It helps us manage our own thoughts.
This is when planning can be considered as an end unto itself. We don’t need to do anything else to experience the relief planning, alone, can bring.
But to actually get things done, we need to see planning as part of a greater process.
Part of a Process
Most projects we undertake have a level of complexity that needs to be simplified – or understood – in order to manage the work associated with it, so we can get the desired results.
Planning is an essential step to take in order to bring clarity to any project and to define the action steps to take. The outcome of planning isn’t clarity and mental relief. As part of a process, planning must have a tangible output that gets fed into the next phase of the project. Planning is part of the “Thinking” phase of a project that defines how the project is to be carried out. The next phase would be the “Doing” phase, where the results of planning are put into practice.
What connects the two phases is The Plan.
While planning, your intention should be to come up with an outcome that can be used to get work done. This is The Plan. While this may seem obvious, but if you default to seeing planning as a process (and not part of a process), an outcome beside mental relief is unnecessary. In fact, I’ve planned many, many times and simply forgot – or even threw away – my planning papers because I achieved the relief that I desired.
But to make planning effective, it must have a Plan as an output. A plan defines, clearly, what you intend to do in the “Doing” phase. Once you draw up a plan, the planning phase is completed and you can move on to undertake the tasks required.
Without a plan, planning can go on forever (and it usually does). There is always information to take in and alternatives to consider. But once a plan is drawn up, you can conclude the planning phase and actually get things done.