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Will Planning Less Help You Do More?

A productivity junkie who's done it all decides to stop planning entirely. Will his experiment work?
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Have you tried about a dozen different productivity systems but failed to see long-term results?

Computer scientist and professor Cal Newport empathizes. After noticing he had more research ideas than he could possibly turn into papers, he "launched at least six different plans aimed at increasing my research output," he wrote on his blog.

Were any effective? Not really, he confessed, so he decided to try something new: the anti-plan plan.

He defines it this way: "An anti-plan has you to throw out all … rules and just dive in, adapting, the best you can, to your circumstances. It requests only that you keep a record of your experience, capturing, for later review, your thoughts, triumphs, and frustrations."

To keep this record, Newport devised a system called a "gournal," where he regularly emails updates and reflections to a special email address, which automatically sorts them by labels. Here's what he hopes to get out of it:

The theory behind anti-planning is that it exposes you to a much wider swath of the productivity plan landscape. Your journal will keep you updated on how well you’re doing, which provides the selective pressure needed to drive you toward some novel approaches to getting more depth out of your working habits.

People sometimes worry that anti-planning will tank their productivity. The reality is usually the opposite: the flexibility and constant self-reflection tends to increase the rate at which you produce valuable output.

For these same reasons, however, anti-planning can be draining (all that reflection and decision making reduces willpower). So I usually only last a month or two before falling back onto a more structured set of rules.

The key, however, is that the system I end up after anti-planning is often more effective than where I was before.

The anti-plan, then, is not so much a long-term change as a means to get a better sense of how you work. Rather than blindly adhere to someone else’s system, you watch your own patterns to develop tricks and schedules that maximize productivity. It's an approach Newport thinks many folks could benefit from.

"If you’re frustrated with the effectiveness of your productivity plans, spend some time without one, and see what bubbles to the surface," he suggests.

Want to track Newport's progress? You can follow developments on his blog

Will you give the anti-plan a try? 

IMAGE: fd/Flickr
Last updated: May 20, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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