Everyone loves a backup plan – Plan B to your Plan A, and maybe a Plan C to your Plan B – especially if you’re a believer in Murphy’s Law (or a little bit paranoid). Recognizing the need for accommodating contingencies, this is the wisdom of “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Granted, some situations are tricky to manage. In particular, anything involving interpersonal relationships is far from predictable – all those hidden agendas and preconceived notions that we each bring into the picture when we’re hanging with, working with, or playing with other people.
Are You a Planner or Spontaneous?
Planning tendencies also seem to come more easily to some of us than others. I’m a planner, which in my case, may go hand in hand with being a worrier and a perfectionist – not with everything, mind you – or I’d drive myself (and everyone around me) crazy.
But I am motivated by experience that has taught me that bad things happen to good people. I am motivated by experience that demonstrates how many forces are random. I am motivated by understanding that a small amount of thinking ahead becomes a competitive advantage – and that knowledge is also the gift of experience.
Besides, don’t many of us plan ahead for certain events – months for weddings, seasonally for hurricanes or winter storms, years as we penny pinch to save for a house?
The Value of Planning Ahead
Is this about living in the moment versus looking to the future? Is planning – or not planning – more emotional than we realize? Do we plan if it hedges against fear? Do we avoid planning if it touches on fear?
I’m guessing your answers to those questions will not necessarily match up to mine, but here are a few ways I reduce anxiety by planning ahead.
- During stormy seasons, I stock up – on food, on water, on batteries and emergency items.
- During periods of gremlins on the Internet, I’m doubly attentive to making files I need available offline, and planning for “field trips” to locales with wifi.
- If I’m due for public speaking or to teach a class, if possible, I check out the space beforehand to check out the equipment, the acoustics, and understand the overall setup.
- When I was involved in online dating, I preferred first meetings in coffee shops adjoining a book store – great options for conversation (if things were going well), and easy escape if not. Talk about contingency planning!
Planning and preparation put me at ease. They reduce unknowns, and that reduces anxiety.
The Psychology of the Planner Personality
Just because we’re more comfortable with planning, that doesn’t mean we can or will plan for every eventuality in life. We may enjoy structure in our work lives and go-with-the-flow when it comes to recreation. I like Fast Company’s take on planning personality types and the careers that suit them in this article on planners as Laura Vadkerkam writes:
Planners have an advantage over spontaneous sorts in the workplace, where you have to meet at certain times, and big projects involve meeting multiple intermediate deadlines. Spontaneous types can do well in startups where “they wear a lot of different hats at once and jobs are very flexible,” says Schofield, but even if you’re working in a friend’s garage, “there has to be some planning and some scheduling,” she says…
For a hybrid (like myself), perhaps I’m in exactly the sort of “business” I need – planning and creative spontaneity – quiet morning time for pure writing and research, afternoons for meetings and other interactions, and switching to more solitary work again in the evening. (Now and then, I plan for a little “me” time, or at least imagine it, complete with Man and Beach.)
Through it all, I admit, I’m churning my Plan A, my Plan B, and naturellement, my Plan C.
I also recognize that those of us who are planners by nature can get stuck in planning overdrive. We may complicate our lives without realizing, not unlike the inertia in analysis paralysis. This is true professionally, true in terms of family, and for some of us, true in envisioning our relationships – the perfect guy, the perfect girl, the perfect home, the perfect kids. Ah, the perfect life.
And speaking of perfect, what if he, she and “it” don’t materialize? What happens when he or she turns out to be human and flawed?
When it comes to relationships, it the rose-colored glasses are firmly affixed to the face, we’re convinced that our romances will not hit snags, our marriages will not fall into a rut or a dark corner, and we would never argue over the movie we choose online or the dishes still soaking in the sink, much less the more significant issues that couples fight over.
But because we don’t plan for these eventualities, we’re shocked when they occur. All the more reason that some of us take a more laissez-faire or serendipitous approach to meeting and greeting, and a more realistic approach to our partners and their failings, as we come to accept that those we love are not superhuman – and the same goes for us.
Snafus WILL Happen
Still – life being what it is, especially when you’ve got too many balls in the air – it’s handy to have a nice helping of Plan A through the daily maze, and Plan B in the offing “just in case.” Maybe you even want that Plan C on the top shelf if everything else falls through or those weirder happenings come to pass – the boss dumps a project on you just as you’re leaving for vacation, or the sitter runs off to Caracas (or worse, the husband runs off with the sitter).
And here’s to hoping these snafus will transform into creative problem-solving opportunities, or, that alternate arrangements abound (by way of backups like bucks and great friendships).
Our Cultural Propensity for Planning: Gone With the Wind?
We note what we need to prepare during storm season; we note how we can save if we stock up on during back to school sales; we note what we need if a member of the team on a project gets sick or goes on vacation. Wait. What? Oh right. We used to do that. Now we just barrel ahead with no long-term view, no contingency plan. It’s crisis management instead!
I am often under the impression that our society has tossed its common sense along with its concept of long-term planning. Whether we’re talking about climate change, transportation systems, the economy, or the who-knows-when-it-will-burst education bubble. As for business life, what was once a “long-term strategic plan” has been replaced with our fixation on the next two or three quarters.
There are many reasons of course, and so we do what we can as individuals, attempting to hedge our bets and reduce risk where we can – spinning a Plan B and a Plan C, hoping for resourcefulness and resilience. We know what they say about the best laid plans – not to mention the need to roll with the punches.
Are you a planner? In everything, or selectively? A planner in business and in your personal life – anything but?
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