Are You a Planner or a Pantser?

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least by me anyway) that there are three types of people in this world:-

⁃ The Planner
⁃ The Pantser
⁃ The Hybrid

Growing up I always considered myself to be organised – a ‘planner’, if you will. I’d sit in class all eager and determined to do well and to please the teacher as best I could (we all know that half of the time it’s knowing what teachers want to hear, not what you really think, that gets you that gratifying head nod). The teacher would give us an essay to write for our homework, I’d write down the exact assignment and the deadline and my head would instantly be filled with all of the facts and resources and research I could put into this work to guarantee me a solid ‘A’ grade.

I’d know in advance exactly what I was going to write about, the structure and the sections I needed to reference (from whatever we had been studying at the time). I put a plan together almost immediately. By the end of the class, I was geared up and ready to go – pure in the belief that I would go home, pour myself a half litre of black coffee and then crank out a first draft that night so I had plenty of time to tweak my homework until it was just right.

In reality, I’d write down my homework assignment and the deadline. Then I’d go home and watch ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ safe in the knowledge that it was only Tuesday and I had until Monday to get my homework written and submitted. I’d do it tomorrow, it would be fine. Tuesday would then turn into Wednesday and I’d probably end up seeing some friends. Wednesday would become Thursday and so on… Eventually I would end up sitting in my bedroom on Sunday night frantically trying to churn out an essay at 9pm, knowing that I’d have to be in bed by 11:30pm at the latest in order to even begin to feel moderately alive on Monday morning. You know what though? As stressful as it was (all due to my own procrastination), I did actually get the grades I wanted doing it that way.

Little did I know back then, but I am what is known as a ‘Pantser’ – the definition of which is someone who flies by the seat of their pants, works better with a countdown clock rather than a deadline and needs that worry about being late with something in order to actually get anything done! Always last minute, always stressed and always kicking myself for not having started a project earlier – that’s me! To say that this way of working isn’t particularly healthy when you’re approaching 40 would be an understatement, especially in the trying times we are currently experiencing.

Thus, now I am in my mid to late thirties (a lady never reveals her true age don’t you know), I am trying to become more like my comrade in arms at SJB. She is a true Planner. Give her a project, she will sit down and plan it from start to finish. She puts in review points, she breaks down the task into manageable chunks (that she actually completes on time) and she sets deadlines THROUGHOUT THE PROJECT which is a true revelation to me.

Who knew there was more to a project than just ‘Start’ and ‘Finish’? Honestly, my admiration for her way of working knows no bounds. Does she get stressed out? Of course, but not to the extent that I do because she’s not doing it all at the last minute. She actually gets stuff DONE. I want to be just like her when I grow up….Oh wait. I am a grown up which means I better get started!

Being a Planner is a very different mindset to being a Pantser and whilst I can plan fairly well in my working life as a manager, I find it quite difficult in my personal life (because it’s actually me doing the task rather than guiding others). I needed a guide myself and that’s where my partner in crime stepped in to get me organised.

We started off by creating a spreadsheet for a writing project with dates, tasks and deadline points. Then we created folders for each task with a template for each task within them. Once the deadlines and the order of tasks had been sorted out, the skeleton of the project was in place. Simples. Or so you would think. The next stage was actually doing the task in the allotted time, something I am not so good at!

Sitting at my desk, keyboard at the ready, with weeks to go before I knew the work was due, I found it exceptionally hard to concentrate for longer than twenty minutes. Hence, I started breaking my time up into ‘chunks’. I’d crack on for as long as I could before getting distracted and then go off and potter for ten minutes before coming back to it. To a certain extent, this worked well. I still didn’t get everything I wanted to get done finished on time but I made some progress.

My partner sent me emails and prompts to give me a little shove now and then. This helped but it was still that rush of a project deadline looming that I missed. With the knowledge that I had lots of time to get stuff done, I was easily distracted, my inspiration waned and I lacked that much needed urgency to finish.

What I have learnt from trying to plan rather than ‘pants‘ my way to a deadline is that both methods are equally sound and both of them cause a wee bit of stress! Although the planning method does help to get stuff done, my mindset still needs that big countdown clock to really get me over the finish line. In time, I hope to be able to retrain my brain to become more of a planner but I’ll probably always be a bit of a hybrid.

If you want to try and get more organised, put a bit less pressure on yourself, I can highly recommend the following top tips:-

  • Make a plan as best you can. If your project contains lots of tasks that you need to complete, make a spreadsheet or a ‘To Do’ list. Set deadlines against your tasks and tick them off when you do them. This helps to give your brain a sense of completion!
  • If like me you have problems concentrating on one thing for a considerable length of time, try ‘time chunking’. If you think it will take you an hour to get something done then give that task an hour and a half to do it. That way you can work for twenty minutes at a time and give yourself ten minute breaks in between.
  • If you’re working with someone more organised than you, ask them to send you prompts or reminders a week before your deadline. If you’re working on your own, you can set yourself alarms on your phone and even schedule automated emails from yourself to give you a kick up the butt!
  • Go out or online and buy yourself a beautiful organiser to write out all the things you need to do. Keep it on you at all times and don’t be afraid to make notes in it whenever something pops into your head – this will help when you’re struggling for inspiration.

I hope that my organisation experimentation gives you some inspiration for your future projects. Whether you’re a Planner or a Pantser or even a Hybrid of the two, remember there is no ‘right’ way to get something done but hopefully there are always ways you can find to reduce your stress levels. Whatever works for you.

SJB

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