Day: May 29, 2020

Why We Plan (or Not)

The other day, I visited a blog I only occasionally read. It’s written by a lovely person whose approach to organizing time is very different from mine, someone who relies on structure and detailed, elaborate plans. The piece I read was an essay in which the blogger reflected upon the reasons behind planning. The blogger started with the death of a loved one who had lived a life full of “social engagements, travel, art, entertaining, and time with family,” then revealed that their devotion to planning was fueled by a desire to not waste time, to ensure that each small precious moment is spent on things that matter and serve a purpose.

This blogger seems like a really nice person, so I want it to be understood that I absolutely do not wish to throw any shade here. However, this essay, like many of the blogger’s posts, gave me metaphorical hives, because the blogger and I are so, SO different. Everything  described above strikes me as an extrovert’s definition of a satisfying life. An existence this full of social engagements, travel, and family sounds downright exhausting. There are so many people, nonstop people and nonstop movement in this story. There is also the assumption that one is able to perform whatever one planned to when one planned to do it. There is no room for procrastination and no room for pushing back (referred to as “bad attitude”).

Look, I agree that we should be grateful for the time we have. But I feel that focusing on never having a wasted moment is (for the likes of me, at least) just crazy-making. It’s a bit like this: If you ever had a baby, you probably remember the enormous pressure to take advantage of the nap times, all the things you wanted to squeeze into these tiny slots,  which often resulted in accomplishing nothing and feeling like a failure because you wanted to do too much, because the baby slept too little, because the baby slept too long and you reeeeeally should’ve taken advantage of THAT even though you had no crystal ball, because you couldn’t fall asleep yourself, because you couldn’t focus on work… Because, because, because. Detailed planning with the purpose on avoiding time waste gives me anxiety similar to trying (and failing) to make the most of a baby’s nap.

Please, please don’t let anyone tell you that sitting still and being comfortable in your head means you are wasting your life.

To me, unnecessary structure is stifling. Sure, I know there are meetings I have to attend and classes, office hours, and activities with the kids; I know there are deadlines and timeframes for various goals, but, other than that, I feel that a great many things do not, in fact, have to be scheduled, or at least not too rigidly. When it comes to raising kids,  I feel there are no big manufactured moments, just moments. Sure, kids like vacations and adventures, but, to me, the most meaningful, heartwarming moments come from goofing around in the kitchen, chatting in the car on our way back from sports, impromptu silliness while shopping together. Just being around the kids, feeding them and talking to them and doing homework with them and organizing playdates, the stuff of daily life — I am positive that’s what gets built into the kids’ psyche and makes it strong. Elaborate vacations are nice, but not critical. Sure, they make for great pictures, but to me vacations are terribly stressful precisely because so much hinges on not wasting every (expensive) moment.

My biggest priorities are spontaneity and free time in which anything can happen, and I prefer to spend most of this time by myself, inside my head. I have a lot of interests, many of them creative ones, which require solitude. I feel that the focus on people-centric activities and planning misses much of the creative work and the people who engage in it. I can do relatively mindless, superficial work in 15-min chunks between chores; God knows there’s plenty of that type of work to go around. But anything deep, science or art, requires focus and doesn’t always work on demand regardless of how upset with myself and my own bad attitude I might get.

In order to have my time best aligned with the things that I find meaningful — which include spontaneous moments of deep connection with my kids and a small number of adults who kinda sorta get me, as well as both the consumption and creation of science and art and all the crazy connections between disparate concepts and images that stem from those — I absolutely must NOT plan anything that can be left unplanned. Instead, I need to leave as much time as possible free for solitude, for the intermixing of the subconscious and the conscious and all the goodness that arises from a lack of structure.

What say you, blogosphere? What drives you to plan or not plan?