Presence vs. Planning

May 22, 2019

Sometimes I find it hard to focus on the work I am doing. It can be easy to constantly be evaluating how everything you are doing affects the present, affects your future, and affects those around you. These are good questions to be asking, but at the right time. If we are always planning, how are we ever going to get anything done? On the other hand, if we are never planning, how do we have context when choosing what to do next?

Planning and being present are two of the most important and productive states for us to spend time in. However, when we try to do them at the same time, it can be some of our most unproductive time. Recently, I have been exploring finding the ratio of time to spend on being present vs. planning ahead. It is not lost on me that these kind of questions are not as much of a science as we frequently make them out to be, but I think viewing them at least partially through an analytical lense can be useful.

These are a few of my thoughts and musings on the topic, which ultimately sum to the following broad conclusion: we usually overvalue planning, and undervalue presence.

Planning Informs Presence, but Not Completely

I have always put a huge empahsis on planning because I have held the opinion that I can’t be present unless I am so certain of my plan that I don’t have to “think” and can just be fully in the moment. While this meakes sense in theory, it has been my experience that is usually does not play out this simply.

In fact, presence is usually harder the more granular our plan becomes. If we are already certain of every step that will take place during a day, a year, or a lifetime, we are reducing our ability to adapt and be flexible. For a mundane exapmle, if you have already decided what you will eat for lunch, then someone asks you to grab a bite to eat with them, you may miss out on that opportunity because it did not fit into your plan. A better way to think in scenarios like this would be “if no other option presents itself, I will do _________“.

This allows for the same reduction in decision fatigue, but does not cause you to sacrifice presence for planning. Furthermore, if you remain open to opportunities that may come up, it will likely reduce the time you spend planning because you won’t expend as much energy deciding on something that may not happen.

Plan a Mindset, Not an Action

I graduated from college last December, but I still live with a group of guys who are finishing out their final semester. These have been my best friends over the past few years, and they are moving to San Francisco, New York City, Washington D.C., and Charlotte in a few days.

Over the last few months, we have had very different schedules. I will often find myself getting ready to go to sleep when they are just beginning whatever plans they have for the evening. It has been hard to balance my stage of life with their’s, but they are important people in my life and I have worked to continue to invest in our relationships.

As a planner, this was hard. I often knew exactly what I wanted to do at a given time, but they would come up with some plan to go hang out at some random place or go get doughnuts in the middle of the night. If I adhered to my plan, which would appear like the right thing to do when I was laying it out, I would miss out on some of these opportunities to make lasting memories with them. Ultimately, I frequently chose to give up sleep or work time to make sure these last few months living with them were special.

Because deviating from my plan felt like a failure to me, I had to fundamentally change the way I thought about planning. For most of this semester, I would make a relatively solid plan for each day until around 6:00 PM, at which time my plan was to be open to whatever plan came up.

Balance is Big

That being said, I didn’t always choose to abondon structure for flexibility, and I really don’t believe it is ever a good policy to fully defer to one or the other. When planning becomes overweighted relative to presence you lose flexibility, but when presence is overweighted you lose direction.

There are few things in life that don’t require some sort of balance or moderation. Our state of mind is certainly not one of them. However, the balance does not look the same for everyone. The time you allocate to presence vs planning should in many ways reflect your season of life and your own personality. For me, I know that I have trouble staying motivated without a strong sense of direction. Furthermore, I am in a stage of life where I am making big life decisions with minimal information relative to my elders. Because of this, I have chosen to increase my overall allocation of time to planning.

However, I also have a lot going on in my life that takes up a great deal of time. For this reason, three of my most important planning times are when driving, writing, and exercising. I have found that these are times when I have the most clarity and can focus. I believe this is mainly due to the fact that each of these activities restricts some of my physical capabilities. When my hands are unable to wander, my mind seems to follow suit. That being said, I also believe that time completely mentally and physically focused on planning is needed as well.

I encourage you to find out what the right balance of planning and presence looks like in your life. If you have any thoughts, please contact me on Twitter @hasheddan!