How to plan (when you hate to plan)

When you dislike this photo courtesy flickr user grafixtek

(MoneyWatch) I'm a rather regimented sort. It brings me great comfort to know that I'm supposed to be working on Project X between 8-9:30 a.m., and Project Y from 9:30-10:15. That way I know ahead of time that my morning will feature time on both X and Y, and I can mentally prepare myself to be in the mindset required for either X or Y at the appropriate time.

Other people do not like to work this way. If these people wake up in the morning and feel like working on Project Z, they do that. Of course, the problem is that Projects X and Y may be due on Wednesday, whereas Z isn't due until three weeks from now. After a day spent indulging in Project Z, and maybe some time spent wandering around on the internet because the Project Z dilettante feels like doing that, this more spontaneous person may be working until midnight on Tuesday piecing together the wreckage of X and Y.

Planning is a vital part of work success. Yet some people don't do well with planning. They rebel against it, and take great pleasure out of planning as little as possible. These people are often quite creative, and in many cases highly productive in their own way. They just crash into the reality of the rest of the world at some point, and the result isn't always pretty.

Is there some way to get the benefit of planning without losing the joy of spontaneity?

I dealt with this question last week on my personal blog while discussing the schedule of a project manager at an IT company. This man liked following where the winds led him. But he also had projects to manage, and people who were counting on him to manage them. What was the right balance?

The solution we came up with was to designate one major task per day as The Thing That Must Be Done. He could sit down on Sunday to plan these five tasks per week. He could choose them carefully to be ones that really mattered, and choose a day for each. Come Monday morning, he had to tackle Monday morning's task.

But then? The day was his! He could work on whatever X, Y or Z project he desired. By running to -- rather than away from -- the major task, he could sometimes knock it out by mid-morning. That left nearly a whole workday for spontaneity and for catching up on whatever projects seemed most pressing or interesting at the time. One thing is feasible. One thing doesn't feel like a huge imposition. One thing -- sooner, rather than later -- gets done.

The result? More productivity -- without losing the creative benefits that come from working on what you feel like working on. Most of the time at least.

Photo courtesy flickr user grafixtek

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