How to stop planning and start doing


January 2, 2017
stop planning, start doing

There is nothing I love more than a fresh planner. I love goal setting and making to-do lists and organizing my thoughts to no end. As someone who often gets stuck in Idle Achiever mode, planning is my preferred method of procrastination. It feels really productive. But there certainly comes a point when planning gets in the way of doing.

If you like to hunker down in planning mode when you should be getting down to business, here are some tips to help you get the ball rolling:

1. Set small goals

You don’t need an elaborate master plan for every single task. Don’t drag out the planning process until it becomes bogged down in detail. Set small, simple goals and work toward them immediately. When your emphasis is on the work, you’ll get to your desired result.

James Clear, who writes about habit transformation, says that your focus should be on your system, not your goals. Your system is the thing you do every day to achieve your long-term vision. If you want to write a novel, you need to set small word-count goals to achieve that. If you want to run a marathon, you need to put in the miles every week. Action, not planning, is the true key to success.

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2. Limit your planning time

Often, I won’t realize how much time I am wasting on the planning process until it’s too late. If this sounds like you, it’s important to limit how much planning time you allow yourself before it’s time to shift your attention to the work at hand.

Karl Moore, a professor at McGill University, writes that planning should take up no more than 5%–10% of your time; the rest should be reserved for execution. This is difficult for many of us because we are traditionally schooled in planning, but not in doing. If you want to see your projects come to completion, it is essential to move your mindset from prioritizing strategic planning to getting things done. This might mean failing, but better to fail fast, learn, and try again than to perfect a plan that’s never put into action.

3. Keep your plans to yourself

When it’s time for us to start a project, we are often inclined to find outside sources of accountability to hold us to our goals. However, this often leads to a whole lot of talking about our plans and not enough time spent executing them.

In a popular TED talk, Derek Sivers explains why the accountability factor can sometimes hold us back. “Psychology tests have shown that telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen.” Announcing your goals gives the mind a jolt of satisfaction similar to if you had actually accomplished that goal, which can lower your motivation. Talking is a lot easier than doing, so keep your plans to yourself and start working on them.

For more about how to move from planning into action, check out our Spark Your Motivation Life Course.

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