The Planning Paradox – And 4 Tips to Deal With It

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

If you would ask me whether I am a planner or not, I’d give you very different answers depending on when in my planning cycle you were asking this question. Planning is one of my most persistent issues (and if you’ve read my blog at all, you know there are plenty of issues to compete with).

The thing is, I know I need to plan in order to be the best version of myself, to be productive. Time is pretty elusive in my experience. I tend to get the idea that there’s a lot of it left, interspersed by bouts of panic in which I realise there’s far too little. I now know much of that can be attributed to Attention Deficit Disorder, but of course, I already noticed this problem long before I had a name for it.

This weird relation to time often leads to chaos in my life. I believe I have time to clean up, so it’s difficult to get motivated. Other stuff comes up and gets in the way. In the end, I’m often putting out (figurative) fires here and there and never get round to stuff that’s important but not urgent.

So, at several times in my life, I’ve picked up paper and pen, or screen and keyboard, to make a detailed planning of my day. And often that yields really good results… for a day or two.

The problem with plans is that they get interrupted. Last week I wanted to plan out my days but ended up with sick kids for 4 of the 5 school days. I don’t plan for the time when my kids are home because it’s a recipe for stress and disappointment: my son has needs that won’t be postponed, and he has many of them, such as having someone engage with him about 95% of the time (he’s sitting on my lap as I write this trying to push computer buttons). He also has intense mood swings that are very unpredictable, not really plan-proof, and also mentally exhausting leaving little mental space to plan in.

Planning and having those plans fall through is incredibly frustrating. But having a plan and feeling like I ‘have to’ stick to it, can also be a cause for frustration and rebellion. Often I will plan my day and then start by doing the first thing on the list, take a bit longer completing it, postpone the second, move the third around, and skip lunch because I’m getting stressed about being behind on schedule. By 8 PM I’ve had it with the whole planning thing.

As much as I know I need to plan, I also resent having to plan and having a plan to follow. It’s quite a conundrum.

As I was looking into some videos on how to cope with ADHD (The channel ‘How to ADHD’ on Youtube is both informative and entertaining!), I saw this need to plan and resistance to planning echoed a lot, and I also picked up some useful tips on how to make it more sustainable.

  1. Plan in your transition time
    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit how much of an eye-opener this was to me since it really speaks for itself: transitioning between activities takes time. For one, you need time to set up and clean up after an activity, and you need mental space to transition (plus time to grab a coffee, use the bathroom, put the laundry in the drier, etc.) In future, I’ll try to leave 5-10 minutes in between activities to allow for this transition time.
  2. Work in short bursts
    My focus is best if I know the time I have to focus on something is limited. It’s also much easier to get started on things I don’t really want to do when I know I only have to do it for about 25 minutes. So planning according to the Pomodoro Technique will be next on my list.
  3. Plan in time to relax
    I keep making the mistake again and again of planning my day full of tasks that I would like to see done (there is always soooooo much to do!), and then overdoing it. It also doesn’t make it attractive in the long run to keep a schedule. When I’m not on a schedule, I go into denial about how much there is to do much more often, so I end up doing relaxing things first and then stress about the time I’ve wasted later (but at least I’ve seen the latest episode of Bridgerton, right?)
  4. Make it attractive
    I like beautiful things, and I’m more likely to use them. My most efficient planner is Google Calendar because I can bring it anywhere and add appointments to it the moment I make them, but it helps if I use different colours for different types of activities. It makes the schedule look more diverse and less demanding. I also like to plan on paper and use a bullet journal to do that because it is extremely flexible (if I don’t use it for 2 months I can just pick up where I left off). In the BuJo I get to draw a bit here and there, add what systems I need and make lots of mistakes. I rely on the online calendar, I motivate myself with paper.

I’ll probably always tend to prefer organic organisation, where things just come as they come, but I also know that if I want to function with less stress, that just won’t work all the time. Making a ‘light’ planning could be the in-between system that works best in the long run. Fingers crossed!

What works best for you planning wise? Do you plan full days or weeks ahead? What do you always plan and never plan?

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