warning: planning is a waste of time
3 steps to overcome paralysis by analysis
A few weeks ago, I wrote about paralysis by analysis, and how sometimes having too many choices prevents you from doing any one thing.
This concept goes by a few different terms, including decision fatigue, the paradox of choice, and over-thinking. There is some pretty solid evidence that having too many choices in a situation causes anxiety, indecision, and dissatisfaction.
You’ve been there, right? Staring into a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear, a full fridge with no food, a full to-do list that you can’t even start, thousands of Netflix movies but nothing sounds good. It’s not just me, right!?
To make matters worse, kids can even be affected by this paradox. The fewer choices of toys or activities children have, the longer and deeper they will play with what they have. This situation of sensory overwhelm results in increased stress in kids.
So, keeping with the theme of this space, let’s simplify. If not for yourself, then for your kids!
This one is hard for me as I am a natural planner. I take joy in making lists, crossing them off, writing things in calendars (color coded), and doodling in my cute planner. I even have a bullet journal (though I have been neglecting it lately) that I used to track my habits and goals and reading list and weight loss progress and glasses of water I drank, etc. As you can see, I plan out everything.
Let’s say I wanted to start running (confession: it’s probably one of goals/dreams I’ve had for most of my life)–
My instinctual process goes a little something like this:
- Research blogs posts about running
- Download apps for cough-to-5k programs
- Research accountability clubs in the area for beginning runners
- Google “how to be a runner” a million times
- Analyze my calendar for the days when I could actually run
- Write a mock schedule of how life would look like on running days
- Research races to set as running goals
- Create a pin board with running-related pins
- Research running related hashtags on Instagram and follow influencers
Are you kidding me? You know what I actually need to do? Go running. I could have probably run 27 marathons in all the time I’ve spent researching how to be a runner. But have I actually done any running? No.
To some extent, I have to believe that planning (specifically over-planning) is a form of procrastination, which by nature is non-productive. I cannot decide where to start in my “running plan,” so as a result I just haven’t started. And how do I feel about it? Disappointed, dissatisfied, and discouraged that I am still not a runner.
Solution: Simplify Your Process
The simple answer the problem above is ironically sponsored by Nike–just do it! Taking too much time to plan detracts from productivity. But how can we still have an effective and efficient process? There has to be some planning involved, right?
1–Prioritize & Essentialize
First, you must decide what actually has to be done. You know, the non-negotiables. For my running analogy, there are a few essential planning things. I need clothing and shoes to wear, someone to watch my kids, and a place to run.
When you’re dealing with a task list of seemingly unrelated things, this is the time to go through the list with a fine toothed comb. What is time-sensitive? Have you determined what requires your skill set and what can you delegate? What is considered an actual necessary and essential task that is worth your time? Do you really need to fold all those baby onesies before putting them in the drawer, or can you simply lay them flat on one another (and save yourself 30 minutes per week)?
You will find that when you scrutinize your tasks, you will suddenly find clarity in what is necessary to your success/happiness/productivity.
2–Focus on Just One Thing
As tempting as it is to multitask, don’t do it. Time and time again, multitasking has been proven ineffective in comparison to single-tasking.
I talked about this earlier when discussing how to get started decluttering when you don’t know where to start. The thought is that deciding on a designated period of time to focus on just one task or project results in increased intensity, efficiency, and productivity. This concept is applicable to so many aspects of your life, especially when it comes to cleaning, homemaking, writing, work projects, etc.
One of the best ways to approach single-tasking is by time blocking, which is the purposeful planning of a large chunk of time for a particular project. If you have a large amount of time to work, breaking it down into blocks can help you focus on one project or task at a time.
Right now, I am writing this from the comfort of Panera, headphones in, sipping on a cappuccino. I am using the Pomodoro Technique, which is a productivity timer that breaks down your project time in 25-minute increments with 5 or 15-minute breaks. I came here today with three main projects to work on: a freelance writing research paper, work projects, and blog writing. Before I got started, I decided how much time I wanted to designate on each project, and now I’m using a timer to break up my time within those time blocks.
As a result? I’ve been super productive. I’ve written more than 700 words towards my 16,000-word research paper (insert stunned emoji) and finished my work tasks within the 25-minute block. During each block, I’ve been extra focused and haven’t been distracted by time-suckers (social media). It helps to be motivated by a break. (15 seconds until my next one! 10…5…be back in 5 minutes!)
3–Reevaluate Your Process and Habitualize
I love planning so much that I will re-plan things I’ve previously planned–just for the sake of planning. Also, I forget to reflect on things that went well and make my life easier as a result! I mean, isn’t one of the benefits of finding a productive solution for something the fact that you can then apply that solution repeatedly, thus saving time and effort?
As much as I have a love-hate relationship with technology, this is a good example of how technology can work in our favor. You can set recurring calendar appointments for tasks. There’s an app where you can save your recurring grocery list. You can pay a virtual personal assistant to remind you to get your oil changed every few months and make the appointment for you. You can study your usage habits of items such as diapers and subscribe to recurring deliveries.
I am a total proponent of taking advantage of these things, especially when it saves time (and money)!
Recently, I started using a program called Trello that is totally revolutionizing how I plan and accomplish tasks. I’ll probably save my love note to Trello for another post, but needless to say, it is saving me tons of time and dramatically adding to my productivity. And did I mention it’s FREE?
Over planning can be a form of procrastination that leads to nothing actually getting done. Paralysis by analysis is when we have so many options to consider that we can’t do anything at all. In order to optimize productivity
- Prioritize what actually needs to get done. Delegate or put off everything else
- Focus on one thing at a time. Block your time and approach your task with focused intensity.
Re-evaluate your process and utilize technology to automate and save time in the long run!
Okay, well, I’m going to cut myself off here. Since this is technically a post about planning how not to plan, I don’t want to be a hypocrite and make this too complicated! Now, go forth and be productive! Oh, and if anyone wants to be my personal running coach, give me a shout!