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Reblogged:'Anti-Planning,' Decision Fatigue, and Ruts

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Several years ago, Cal Newport posted on a productivity tactic he called the anti-plan. Basically, he'd not time-block plan, but allow himself the psychological freedom to roam, journalling what he did along the way.

I found the below paragraphs, where he both promotes the approach and warns of its pitfalls, very thought-provoking:
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. [bold added]
What your plans might look like when you're stuck in a rut. (Image by Steve Johnson, via Unsplash, license.)
Knowing that Newport is an academic, it sounds like he uses sabbatical time or summer breaks for this, and both of his observations make a lot of sense to me.

In similar situations, I have noticed that a free period allows me to play around with ideas that have been percolating in my mind that, for whatever reason, I had not been able or willing to devote attention to at the expense of other, more pressing matters: My take is that so long as there is a good supply of such things in one's mind and the relative freedom of a lull in more pressing concerns, the days are effectively time-blocked for reflection and experimentation.

When the pool of ideas that have wanted evaluation or development have been used up, decision fatigue sets in and more explicit planning becomes necessary.

So it can be easy to see that the time for an anti-plan has come to a close. What about the opposite situation? Newport hints at that, and perhaps doesn't explicitly realize he has been at such points, when he admits:
According to my Monthly Plan archives, since September 2012 I’ve launched at least six different plans aimed at increasing my research output, with the goal of closing this final gap.

None made a major impact.
I don't know what those plans were, but it sounds like his situation might have been adequately described by the colloquialism stuck in a rut.

A huge problem in intellectual work is exhausting an avenue of thought or creation, perhaps unwittingly. One feels like one can be doing more, but can't squeeze anything else out of one's time. Sometimes, an unforeseen interruption to one's routine serendipitously leaves one with new connections randomly thrown up from one's subconscious or chances to think at odd times or in strange places -- See Newport's whole concept of adventure studying. These strike me as effectively being mini-episodes of anti-planning.

I would guess that Newport's urge to anti-plan comes from a feeling of being in a rut, and perhaps a secondary indication can be repeated good-faith efforts to raise output failing to bear fruit.

Having to make constant decisions on the fly is impossible for the same reason that All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy.

The anti-plan is the way to introduce much-needed spontaneity to one's mind so that it can once again find delight in the world. There is a time for that, just as there is a time to put one's nose to the grindstone and build on what one has thus learned.

-- CAV

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