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Blog // Creativity // Productivity
October 7, 2020

Before Planning Begin

Plans are good. They help us focus, get things done, and make sure we have everything we need to finish the job. But sometimes, planning gets in the way.

He was full of questions. What’s the best software? What filing system should I use? What’s the best format? I’m pretty sure he had more questions than photos. Not an ideal place to be for a budding photographer I thought. But it wasn’t the first time I’d find myself in that sort of conversation, nor would it be the last.

What’s the best music recording software? What’s the best platform for a blog? What’s the best way to sell something online?

The mistake here is putting too much emphasis on planning and not enough on doing. You can’t build the perfect system until you have some sense of what the system is supposed to do.

When To Start By Planning

There’s a famous quote from Cicero: “Before beginning, plan carefully.” You’ve probably seen something similar on a motivational poster or before opening a chapter in a productivity book.

If you’re about to embark on a familiar challenge, it’s a good idea. Study the problem. Gather your tools. Make a plan. Get to work.

But what if “begin” means being a beginner? Or beginning a new kind of challenge?

When Planning Isn’t The Answer

Then, planning carefully could be a trap. You don’t know what’s involved. You don’t know what tools you need. Or what the roadblocks and pitfalls might be. You could easily invest too much time or money on things that end up not mattering.

This is also true for a lot of creative projects.

The shape of the challenge, the thing you are making, will evolve as you make it. I love Twyla Tharp’s suggestion to start each project with a box. When planning a new dance production, she would get a big box, then start putting inspiring things into it – maybe a CD of music or a clipping from a magazine. When it came time to choreograph the piece, she’d dump everything out and make sense of it.

That’s when the planning starts.

Sometimes what we need is to invert Cicero’s idea: “Before planning, begin carefully.”

Begin Then Plan

Take some steps. Try some things. Take some photos. Then start to figure out what software works for you and what catalogue system works. Just buy that paint kit, or take that course, or start banging away at that novel.

When you’re learning how to play, any guitar is better than no guitar.

Eventually, you’ll have something. Then you can start to think about what works for you. You can make informed decisions about tools, processes, and systems.

Then you can make a plan, draw your map, and chart your course.

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