What good is a plan if it is never executed? I find myself regularly pondering this question, as I, a chronic planner, often fail to execute. I love making a plan. I’m good at making a plan and doing the research and getting all my proverbial ducks in a row. I have so many ideas, lists and spreadsheets and notebooks full of them, all laid out and ready for action. But the action seldom comes. And once inaction has taken hold, it gets more and more difficult to switch back to action mode. It’s a tricky spiral to get out of.
Looking Past Perfection
One of the biggest roadblocks that keeps planners like me from actually doing is the idea of perfection. Perfectionism is not a positive trait when it comes to wanting to get things done. So much time is spent planning and thinking that when it’s time to actually do, there’s either no energy left or the thought of it not going according to plan is too scary. Perfectionism often leads to a failure to do something because by not doing you are still in control of the outcome. Presenting your work, whether school work, a personal project, or work you get paid for, can be scarier than doing nothing (and failing) because you can’t control the outcome. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more times than I’d even like admit to myself.
Sometimes your plan isn’t the right plan, either. If you put together goals that can’t be achieved or timelines and tasks that are too specific to be successfully completed, you are setting yourself up for failure just as if you weren’t doing anything at all. While you may at least be getting some things done this way, it can be really demotivating to constantly miss targets and deadlines, even self-imposed ones. In my experience, demotivation most often leads right back to inaction.
Tools for Doing
The ultimate goal of a bullet journal or planner or [insert organizer of choice] is to help you get things done. But as I’ve mentioned, planning to do something doesn’t mean you’ll actually get it done. You can have all the tools in the world to help you prepare, but it won’t matter if you always fall short of actually completing what you plan. I’ve come to find that the tools for doing are quite different from the tools for planning.
One thing that has worked for me is using the Pomodoro Technique. The basics of the Pomodoro Technique include picking a task, setting a time limit, and doing nothing but that task for that amount of time. Once the time is up, you take a break and refocus. It forces you to both keep going, even if you are struggling, but also forces you to take a break rather than get burned out.
I bought myself a really nice timer that happens to fit with my decor but also is completely silent. No ticking to distract me and give weight to the passing of time. The timer I use is specifically designed to be used with the Pomodoro Technique and specifically counts only 5, 15, 30, and 60 minutes intervals.
There are so many other options for timers, including your phone, various apps, and other physical timers. If you choose to try this route, my biggest suggestion is to use something that won’t, in and of itself, become a distraction. I, for example, know that picking my phone up to use as a timing device is going to result in a greater chance of my focus being lost and wasting time instead. Something separate and silent works best for me. Others do really well with apps designed to reward you for leaving your phone alone.
Timeboxing is another option that works well for some. The basics of Timeboxing include setting set time frames and deadlines for projects and tasks and only working on those items during that time frame. You are essentially adding all your tasks to your calendar with actual appointments attached to them. These time frames can be set on various scales, from hourly for managing what you want to accomplish within a day, to weekly or monthly for longer timeline projects.
This system is one that worked really well for me in the workplace, but has never been too successful for me on a personal project level. When I’m trying to self-motivate, missing a time-slot I had scheduled to complete something will often derail me for the rest of the day. It ties in to over planning and setting yourself up for failure rather than success. It’s why the Pomodoro Technique works better for me, as it’s more about starting and not stopping than meeting a deadline.
Planning is still important!
Now, while I’ve mentioned several times in this post about how planning can sometimes be a roadblock in actually getting things done, I do want to be clear that I still find it one of my most important tools for doing as well. Without the process of organizing my thoughts, I wouldn’t have a jumping point for getting the things I want to do done. The important thing is to plan effectively and not overdo it. If detailed timelines don’t help, get rid of them. If giant task lists overwhelm, combine like tasks into larger, overarching ones. Keep working at it until your system works for you, but don’t work on it so much that you never get anything done!
Ultimately, there are so many techniques and tools to help you be successful, but it has to come from you first and foremost. I’m still struggling to get over my perfectionism keeping me from doing things, and my internalized shame for not doing them. I’m readjusting my methods to help me produce rather than plan and to reset my goals rather than always setting them too far out of my realistic reach.
Have you struggled with over-planning and underachieving? Do you have a method that helps you get things done? Let me know in the comments!