Planning can be the most advanced form of procrastination.
The problem is that it always feels smart.
We’re told things like:
- “Planning is important!”
- “Smart people plan!”
- “If you don’t have a plan, you’re planning to fail!”
And the truth is there is some really great utility in planning. So, no, I’m not writing this to launch some holy war against planning. Planning is a useful, harmless activity yielded in the right way.
This is not a post for people that use planning as a way of getting more done.
This is a post for people that revert to planning when they feel resistance to getting shit done.
Planning, in this case, is a most dangerous and tricky shapeshifter — it is resistance, disguised as your Friendly Captain of Smart Decision Making!
So, how do we know when planning is a good thing or an elite form of complacency? How do we know the difference between being smart about what we’re doing vs. trying throw up roadblocks to walking the path?
Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful to stop endless, masturbatory planning and start actually getting shit done.
Because at the end of the day, I’ll choose momentum over a great plan every time.
Step 1: Go on a Planning Diet
Too much planning easily becomes toxic, and has the tendency to dull our senses to the aliveness of what’s going on around us. If we obsess about sticking with the plan we’re taken away from the moment. Connecting with what our gut is telling us to do becomes difficult.
The solution is to go on a planning diet, to dramatically limit the amount of time you allow yourself to plan. This will help you get better at planning without getting paralyzed in analyzing pretend scenarios. You’ll learn how to sketch out a plan that helps you get directed, rather than getting mired in the details.
Action: Limit your daily planning to 15 min and your weekly planning to one hour
Step 2: Eat tiny actions for breakfast
The way you want to feel often follows you taking some form of action. If you want to be happy, smile. If you want to feel confident, stand taller, etc.
The best way to counter resistance is through the form of action in spite of it. But where most people get caught up is trying to bite off too much. It’s more than they can digest in one setting and what happens? Action constipation.
Don’t try to take on the whole project, or even a chunk of it. Make your intention clera, then do a ridiculously small amount of action. Use a timer and just commit to staying focused until it’s up.
Action: For the first 5 minutes of your day, work on a high-leverage activity.
Step 3: Make faster decisions
A lot of what stalls us with gaining traction on our passion projects is that we are trapped in a vortex of indecision around certain aspects of it.
We can’t land on a name for our empire. We can’t decide what kind of business model we really want. We can’t figure out what our brand should look and feel like.
The list goes on and on. Sooner or later, we just need to make the best decision possible, and iterate later if need be.
If I’ve been seesawing back and forth on a decision for more than a month with a major project, or more then a few minutes with a minor one, then I know it’s time to just make the best decision possible and move forward.
Action: Set a timer for decisions you need to make around a project. If you can’t figure it out in 10 minutes, switch tasks to something you already have clarity around.
Step 4: Use the Proud of One Thing Rule
Many times we get seduced into planning mode because we’re overwhelmed with all the things going on that need our attention.
Planning feels like a good way to prioritize and get clear on what needs to be done, but it can often just lead to more organized overwhelm. It doesn’t alleviate the feeling you’re still standing still.
Instead, use the Proud of One Thing Rule.
The Proud of One Thing Rule is the heuristic (a fancy word for problem solving technique) for figuring out what is most important.
Simply ask yourself “If I only got one thing done on this list today, what would I be most proud of having accomplished?”
Action: Any time you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you just need more planning, use the Proud of One Thing Rule to snap out of it and get focused.
Step 5: Consider the next unimaginably small step
In step two I suggested that you use micro time blocks to start overcoming resistance and build momentum. This is a slightly different take on that, wherein here you’re going to focus on the tiniest next step, rather than a time period.
So, instead of going out for a run (daunting and resistance creating), can you simply commit to putting on your shoes (very easy and doable)?
If not, can you commit to putting on one shoe?
Whenever you feel resistance, challenge yourself to just take the tiniest next step imaginable. Sometimes what we’re really wrestling with is not the task itself, but a questioning of ourselves to see if we’ll really follow through. Taking even the most miniscule step demonstrates to yourself that you are willing to make an effort.
Action: Figure out the next, smallest step you can imagine on your project. Can you commit to just doing that?
Step 6: If in doubt, go in the direction of excitement
Sometimes planning isn’t about avoiding doing what we’re afraid of. Sometimes it’s about avoiding doing things our hearts are not called to do.
Of course there are times when we just have to get it done. In those instances, we need to lock ourselves in a room with a cup of coffee, some Rage Against the Machine and just power through.
But other times we’re using planning as a way of avoiding things we’ve decided to do, but aren’t really that passionate about in the first place.
Ask yourself, is this really something I care about and can get behind?
Action: Evaluate your projects and see how many of them you’re doing because you just think it’s “a good idea” vs. those you’re legitimately excited about doing.
Sometimes action creates more clarity than a clever plan
As someone that’s working on planning less and doing more, I’ve found that sometimes that lure of planning is that you think it will give you more clarity on what you need to do.
That works for a while, but at some point you hit a wall. No further clarity can be found until action is taken.
- You can’t know what the first product you should make will be until you talk to more people.
- You don’t know what the brand should feel like until you’ve created more content and found your voice.
- You won’t feel truly confident until you get out there and share your gifts.
If you’ve been struggling with getting momentum on your projects, I get it. It’s hard when you feel like an imposter or you see everyone doing more epic shit than you are.
Wherever you’re at, I encourage you to go on a planning diet, fortify yourself with action and see what new clarity it brings you.
Actions might bring you a better plan than you could have ever dreamed up in your head.
Over to you: What do you do to snap out of it and get some momentum going with your passion projects?
PS: Want to get my bestselling course on making your first $1k from your passion?
Kimberly Houston says
Man, ain’t it the truth? Planning as an advanced from of procrastination . . . yep, that’s certainly been true for me over the years.
I LOVE the “Proud of One Thing” rule; that is brilliant, and very clarifying. I recently made a list of 5 or 6 things I want to accomplish before the end of 2015; all these things are already (at least slightly) in progress. But when I took a hard, cold look at the list a few days after creating it, all I could feel was . . . defeated. It won’t be possible to complete everything on that list unless I, say, give up sleeping and use those hours to create instead. Which hardly seems wise. :)
But, hallelujah! Going back and reviewing the list from a “Proud of One Thing” framework will instantly help me figure out which thing I would really love to have completed by the end of the year, and what to leave until 2016. I feel a sense of calm wash over me now just thinking about it.
Thanks a million for the mindset shift. :)
This is brilliant Jonathan, thanks. Just what I needed to read. I seem to plan myself into a corner and psyche myself out with all the plans I make. It makes me nauseous to think about how much time I’ve wasted making plans and doing nothing with them.
These are some fantastic steps I can take to move forward instead of procrastinating.
I love the Proud of One Thing Rule. I’m going to start doing this every day so I get something important done every day and feel good about it.
My “one thing”I use to snap out of it and get stuff done is deadlines. I had to write a couple of fiction stories recently and got them both done in 5 days, a record for me. I left myself no time to waste procrastinating by setting the deadline and it worked.
Hello Jonathan. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes because this hit so close to home today. I do feel like an imposter and I do see other people doing more epic shit than me. I plan to the point of paralysis because of the fear that any action I take I will fall flat on my face or people won’t want/don’t care what I have to offer. I struggle with this procrastination planning and it’s a complete nightmare. Thank you for this post and allowing me to “out” myself so I can make the necessary changes to propel my business and my life forward. Keep up the epic work, I really appreciate it.
Frank King says
You hit the nail on the head! Sometimes its important for me to do something, anything at all that moves things in a positive direction. Breaks me free of the chains of indecision, over planning and procrastination and results in me DOING something which often jump starts me to do another thing, then another etc. I may need a simple to do list (non-prioritised) and then just start doing those things in any order and often by the end of the day I am able to cross off most if not all of the items on my list. ACTION!
Thank you, as always! Personally I’ve entered heavy planning for the first time during the last months, following moving to a new continent, working at a new place and at the same time finding myself with some money and free time. During this period I heard about the elephant bug for breakfast and the 5′ rule, and they -unexpectedly- gave new breath to my work and hobbies respectively.
That being said, I fall in the category of seduced into planning because of overwhelm. I can’t wait to implement your tips into my pla… ehm, to implement your tips. :p
Great post, I love the way you spelled out a great idea in a analogy; banana gun!
Sabine Konrath says
Jonathan, I a guilty, too….thank you for this post.
Yesterday I thought about getting a new calendar to plan…and I find myself planning a lot. You hit the nail on the head, it’s resistance in a very clever disguise.
And I, too, love the “One Thing to be proud of” rule…tis gets me going .
Small and doable actions – and getting started.
Thanks for the great post Jonathan!
I recently read something similar to this on man vs debt.
He pretty much said planning is easy, doing things is hard.
It’s really spot on. I can write as much as I want, but it’s fucking hard to carry things out.