I’m a planner. I schedule tasks for exact times–work on this article at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 22–and come what may, I stick to the plan. I hate “playing things by ear” and seeing how I feel in the moment. I know how I’m going to feel in the moment: angsty, because I don’t have a plan.
More spontaneous sorts, on the other hand, are “energetic, and very flexible and adaptable,” says Kerry Schofield, cofounder and chief psychometrics officer at Good.co, a service that helps people find employers best suited to their personalty type. Such people are often creative. “They love new things. If they have to stick to a schedule, they’re not getting to try new things. It’s too restrictive.” Planning out a day or a week bothers them, “because it ruins the surprise.”
In the world of personality tests and types–the Myers-Briggs juggernaut and the like–it’s not cool to call one type better than other types. But there’s this reality: Planners have an advantage over spontaneous sorts in the workplace, where you have to meet at certain times, and big projects involve meeting multiple intermediate deadlines. Spontaneous types can do well in startups where “they wear a lot of different hats at once and jobs are very flexible,” says Schofield, but even if you’re working in a friend’s garage, “there has to be some planning and some scheduling,” she says. “There’s no getting around that.”
And if you work in a larger organization? The flip side of creative spontaneity is that “you create an incredible bottleneck, which can cost the company a fortune,” says Julie Morgenstern, the organizational expert and author of Never Check E-mail in the Morning. If you’ve got five people who earn $100,000 a year wasting a day waiting for you to be inspired, that’s $2,000 lost to your whims. “It’s a very self-centered way of working in a community.”
But there are ways that people who hate to plan can honor their gifts while fitting into the schedules of the real world.
One approach? What Morgenstern calls “time blocking.” Spontaneous sorts “work really well once they’re up against a deadline,” she says. “Creating some structure can fuel their creativity. They just have to create the right amount.” Somebody who hates to plan can create a broad rhythm for her days. Mornings are devoted to quiet work. The middle of the day is devoted to getting back to people. Afternoons are devoted to business development.
In that same vein, you can create time blocks for “important things that don’t get done,” says Morgenstern, like the “administrivia” that burdens everyone. Try giving yourself two hours for administrative work on Tuesdays from 1p.m. to 3 p.m. Don’t say “I will file my expense reports at 1 p.m. Tuesday” because that makes any good spontaneous sort want to rebel. But creating a time bucket in which you can work on administrative tasks in whatever order you like preserves some feeling of spontaneity. “You’ve got to have some freedom inside the frame,” says Morgenstern.
Spontaneous sorts can also benefit from recognizing that breaking big tasks into chunks–so you’re not missing deadlines–is a skill that can be learned, even if you aren’t naturally inclined that way. Introverts learn to ask people questions about themselves as a way of making cocktail party conversations. Likewise, spontaneous sorts can learn to estimate that a job takes 10 hours, and practice breaking it into 10 one-hour chunks that can be done over two weeks. Suggests Schofield: “You can see it as a training opportunity. Rather than something that gets in your way and drives you crazy, it can make you happier.” After all, getting to sleep the night before a deadline is priceless.
As for playing it by ear, thoughtful spontaneous sorts come to understand that you can shape what you feel like doing in the moment if you’re smart about it. Often, just starting something for a few minutes will trigger a virtuous cycle. “Persistence feels like a long way from being spontaneous, but at least you’re now visibly making progress, which has its own reward,” says Robert Kelsey, author of the self-help book What’s Stopping You? These positive feelings make the task at hand feel more fun–maybe even like something you’d choose to do.
Finally, leave some time open. “You’ve got to keep the release valve in the system,” says Morgenstern. She suggests that you try “structuring half the day, and having freedom half the day. You could start that simple.” If you can’t pull that off, even leaving just a morning or afternoon open every week can give you the free time you crave to be open to whatever possibility the universe brings you.
[Image: Flickr user DoodleDeMoon]