How To Tell If Your Planning Is Actually Procrastination

A closeup of an hourglass with a woman in the background leaning back in her chair by a laptop computer

Procrastination has a sneaky way of seeping into our most well-intentioned tasks.

We’ve all been here: You sit down at your desk and pull out your calendar and email and start making lists, drafting messages, organizing future meetings. In your mind, you’re being ultra productive. Calendar invites are being sent, you’re blocking off future time, you’re taking big steps toward your goals. Or are you? 

There's a fine line where planning becomes procrastination and it’s not always easy to spot – especially when you’re ticking off your to-do list. It looks like progress, but at the end of the day what have you accomplished? To make matters even more difficult, your planning and procrastination might be completely intertwined, especially if you’re good at task-batching. 

Planning is an essential part of any work. It keeps you organized, productive and can help keep anxiety at bay. Planning is a good thing! Usually. If you feel a little like you’re actually treading water and not making a lot of advancement toward your main goal or project, you may be wading into “procrastiplanning” territory. 

Here are a few ways you can tell if you’re actually procrastinating: 

  • You’re re-doing tasks. Tidying up your notes or schedule might seem like you’re getting organized, but it can also be a way to put off other tasks. 
  • You’re planning for a goal that is far off and not fully developed yet. It’s great to think long-term, but it’s really no use if you don’t have a solid foundation. 
  • Your to-do list only includes surface level tasks. If you’re drafting an email to a colleague, for example, instead of finishing a project with a deadline, you might be procrastinating. 
  • You don’t have designated time for planning, making it even more difficult to know what’s real and what’s procrastination.

If you still find yourself debating whether your planning is procrastination, take a minute to think about what purpose your tasks are serving. Do they need to be taken care of right away? Can they be delegated? 

Plan to plan

You won’t ever get away from planning, which is why it’s so easy for it to masquerade as productivity. But planning can only go so far, after a while you’re just putting off important tasks. 

There are lots of reasons why you might be doing this: fearing the unknown, lack of direction, perfectionism, burn out. The list goes on. One way to get around procrastination — whatever the reason — is to focus on time. In a way it sounds counterproductive. Afterall, you’re dedicating so much time to planning! 

Instead, get strategic. Designate some time for planning instead of letting it rule your day. Setting twenty minutes a day or an hour per week for that work specifically will automatically create a boundary. You’ll force yourself to work more strategically and think critically about your planning. 

It’s okay to give yourself some flexibility, especially if something you’re working on is complex and has a lot of moving parts. But for the most part, you should aim to be strategic and avoid spending too much time on details that are out of your control, too far out or not immediately relevant. 

Eliminate the need for perfection

A lot of planning comes from the need to be perfect. If you consider yourself to have high standards, find it difficult to delegate tasks or get caught up in small details, you’re probably somewhat of a perfectionist and most likely delaying work in the process. 

Giving up control is hard to do, and usually at the core of the planning-procrastination struggle. It’s important to remember in this instance that there will always be aspects of a job or project that are out of your control, but you are a lot better off when you can pull back and move forward. 

When you get stuck in a cycle of planning, keep these tips in mind:

  • Monitor progress. Shift your mindset to focus less on perfection and more on getting to your goal. Check-in as often as you need to to ensure that your planning is not procrastination. 
  • Consider the worst case scenario. This isn’t meant to scare you, but help you realize that you probably already have a plan in place if the worst happens. Facing that fear is helpful in moving you forward. 
  • Focus on strategy instead. We can all point to imperfections in previous work, but the more you study them, you’re bound to find that strategy is the real important piece. Unlike planning, finding a good strategy will help you develop a road map so that you don’t get stuck in the planning stage. 

Start doing 

At a certain point you have to stop planning and start doing. Easier said than done, right? 

Sometimes, it feels like a giant leap. We put so much effort into getting projects ready or planning them perfectly that it’s hard to let that aspect go and move on. If you get caught up in that transition, a simple way to nudge yourself forward is to dedicate a chunk of time to the actual work, not the planning.

Set a timer and work for half an hour. Really commit to doing it, and at the end of the thirty minutes you can shift tasks or take a break. But, more than likely, you’ll find that whatever was driving your procrastination and preventing you from your work wasn’t that big of a deal.

Even if you didn’t really realize in the beginning that you were subbing work with planning tasks, you’ll probably find that you really needed the push.

Once you become aware of how planning can disguise itself in your tasks, it gets easier and easier to spot. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t feel like you’re making any progress, you probably aren’t. That’s when it’s a good time to re-evaluate your work and how you should approach it. 

Written by Kara Mason.

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