Planning vs. Doing

Written by Team Edgar

On December 8, 2015

It’s a pretty good idea to have a plan. Whether you want to prepare a 10-course dinner or to blow up the Death Star, you ought to have some idea of what you’re getting into.

Death Star explosion

Sometimes, though, all that planning you do is actually a bad thing.

Sometimes, planning is the enemy.

Here’s what we’re talking about.

Since long before Edgar existed, we’ve been helping entrepreneurs answer questions about their businesses. And a lot of those questions tend to be the same – questions like:

  • What should my profile picture look like?
  • How often should I post on social media?
  • What should my newsletter be called?
  • What are some of the best things to post?

Now, these are questions worth asking. (Some of them might even have answers.)

But they’re also the kinds of questions that can paralyze you, trapping you in the planning stage forever.

When you get sucked into a black hole of planning, you can obsess, agonize, and second-guess yourself over and over in the pursuit of perfection – and that’s when planning gets dangerous.

When planning becomes procrastinating

Over-planning doesn’t feel like a bad thing when you’re doing it – in fact, it feels pretty good! You’re creating a believable illusion of productivity, while assuming none of the risk that actually acting on your plans would entail.

If you get so caught up in your plans that you’re constantly putting off action, though, you’re really just procrastinating. Unless you actually launch that blog, self-publish that book, or order those business cards, you may as well be cruising celebrity gossip sites or binging your way through Netflix – your business won’t know the difference either way.

Watching TV

Here’s a famous example of the perils of over-planning.

A ceramics instructor divides his class in two, and gives each half different criteria for their grades.

Half the class will be graded on the quantity of pots they turn in – the more, the better.

The other half will be graded on quality – and they only have to turn in a single pot, but it has to be perfect.

Turns out, the group that creates the best work is the group that’s creating more work. Instead of sitting around trying to plan how to create that one ideal pot, they’re actively practicing, creating, and perfecting, so that their work continually improves. The group that obsesses over creating the ideal right off the bat? It has nothing to show for itself.

Obsessing over what you want to do won’t take you far. (And it might not take you anywhere.) The trick is to just get started – even if what you’re doing isn’t perfect or “ready” right at the beginning.

Nothing you do exists in a vacuum

Another reason it’s easy to get addicted to planning is that it creates an illusion of control – subconsciously, we figure that if we plan enough for the future, it won’t be as scary.

No matter how much you plan for the future, though, you can’t predict it. (And the only way to find out what’s actually going to happen is to stop planning and start doing.)

If you’ve ever played chess, you already know all about this.

Because chess is all about strategic planning – thinking several steps ahead, and making a move based both on what you think will happen afterward and what you can then do in response.

The only reason this works? The clock!

Chess Clock

Competitive chess players have to race against the clock – they have only a certain amount of time to make their moves. It puts the pressure on them, so they aren’t allowed to just sit around endlessly fretting over which decision is the best!

No matter how thorough your plan or how good you may be at making educated guesses, you can’t know what’s going to happen. Should you have an idea of what you’re going to do? Of course. But once you have that idea, put the pressure on yourself to actually start – because you won’t find out what other moves you need to make until you do.

That’s why this next thing is so important:

Adaptability > Planning

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting something to be as well-prepared as possible before you release it into the wild – like your sales page, or your juvenile peregrine falcon – it’s even more valuable to make adjustments after.

Which might sound ridiculous at first. Once something is out in the world, it’s done, right? Final draft, signed, sealed, and delivered?

Not really.

Look at it this way: when the first iPhone came out back in 2007, it was pretty revolutionary. That hasn’t stopped Apple from releasing at least one new model per year ever since.

Colbert iPhone

Nothing is ever done – even after you think it should be.

Even if you don’t revisit something until long after it’s out there – even if that something is just your business plan – there’s no expiration date on when you can improve it.

Managing your business is a matter of making improvements as you go, not having everything planned out perfectly from the start. It’s like furnishing a new house – you figure it out piece by piece as you go, rather than placing every last knick-knack before you ever move in.

Think of your business – and every project you take on – as a work in progress instead of something with a concrete end date. (Because really, most things in life are!)

A trick to remember

Plans aren’t a bad thing at all – it’s just easy to accidentally obsess over perfecting those plans, and to never actually act on them.

One of our favorite tricks? Have a goal in mind, but instead of asking yourself what you’re going to do to achieve it, ask what you can try to achieve it.

Just like the chess game, there are plenty of ways you can get from Point A to Point B – and you won’t know what works until you start making moves. Know what you want to try, but be prepared to tweak, reprioritize, or even abandon your strategy as you go – that kind of open-minded adaptability will take you a lot further than looking for the perfect solution while sitting still.

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