Productivity Hacks: The Benefits of Planning

Productivity can be a hidden gem. We’ve talked so far in our productivity hacks series about how productivity can be increased through the methods we’re already using to stay productive. Oftentimes, however, the most productive gains can be found where we weren’t necessarily looking.

I know we’ve all heard our parents or well-meaning mentors tell us to “think before you speak”. And yet, as I experience this world, I wonder if that was the most forgotten piece of advice any of us ever got. It’s as if we categorize thorough planning as a waste of time and believe instead that flying by the seat of our pants is the better way to get things done.

My aim is to dispel the myth that planning is a fool’s game. At first glance, it may seem contradictory that we could be more productive if we spend time planning things out before we execute. Many believe (& thereby behave in such a way) that if they know the end goal, they can go ahead and start executing toward it. They’ll figure out the road bumps along the way and address them as they come.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people argue this. I have to think their headstrong opinion on the subject is left over frustration at their 8th grade teachers who forced them to outline their papers before they could write them. I can hear the squabbling from the rows of pre-teens now.

I’m going to give everyone who holds onto the opinion that planning and outlining are a waste of time a pass. Perhaps the importance of outlining was just never put in proper context for them.

Outlines and planning effectively are the methods that separate the accomplished from the unaccomplished & the successful from the unsuccessful. They keep you from getting so deep in the woods that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

If your boss hands you an assignment or project at work that’s due in a week, you may be tempted to just dive right on in. But without first taking a second to think of scope and requirements, you might end up doing a bunch of work in the wrong direction which ultimately equals wasted time.

I’m not saying that planning will prevent all the change-course moments that occur during projects, but it will provide a lot of foresight which can help us keep those moments from toppling the ship entirely.

For instance, in designing a new interface for our online appointment system, we spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to best layout people’s working hours or availability to take appointments. It’s one of the most important aspects of our application and we knew we had to nail it in our new design.

We thought first about how people think about their availability. Do they think about it more on a location basis or on a date-range basis? Is it easier to see your availability in an organized list or in a more visual way (like on a calendar)?

While the design we landed on ultimately took us a while to develop, we saved a lot of time from unnecessary re-works by effectively planning beforehand. Our planning process involves personas, use cases, and wire-framing before we even begin on HTML layouts. Being this detailed takes its own sweet time, but you can’t deny the satisfaction when you’ve really nailed something and foreseen the hiccups that could have reared their heads along the way.

What about you? Are you a planner or do you jump right in? How do you feel about taking time to think through things before acting? As a person who use to hate planning and just wanted to get into the action, I can tell you that it is a hard transition to make. For those of you who have made the transition, what kind of changes have you seen in your work? Let us know in the comments below.

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