Stop Planning, Start Doing

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I used to be part of a group that met every few weeks to plan all the awesome things it was going to do.  There were action plans, charts, and PowerPoints.  There were discussions about global strategy, leveraging platforms, and other important sounding phrases.  It was mind-numbing.  Eventually, I realized that planning had become camouflage for the absence of doing.  Observers saw very serious people doing some very serious planning for some very serious objectives.  It looked very serious, for a while.

Eventually, I split.  I hate planning.  I especially hate meetings where people who seem to specialize in planning want me to listen to them plan, when I could be out there doing.  Or sleeping.  Or anything else.

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Stop planning.  Start doing.

One of the favorite tools of planners is networking.  Which is usually just a fancy word for trying to convince prospects that they are semi-friends so they will, at least in theory, be more likely to buy whatever you’re selling.  The problem is that it rarely works like that.  If you want to sell your house, are you going to hire a broker just because he likes the same music you do?  Of course not.  You’re going to look around and see who’s kicking butt in the house selling department and hire her.  I realized long ago that no one is going to hire me just because I share their love of fishing, or because I agree that Rectify is a great show.  They’d rather go fishing with their kids and watch TV with their spouse.  When they hire me, it will be because they looked around and figured out I’m really good at what I do.  And maybe a little because they like me, probably because I’m not always trying to sell them something.  People buy brands.  People don’t buy your product just because you stuff a business card into their overflowing pocket and bullshit with them for five minutes about how bad or good the local sports team is doing.  When you are at a so-called networking event, everyone is selling.  No one is buying.  PandoDaily puts it in harsher tones:

Contrary to popular advice, networking is for losers. Why? Because the kind of people you want to meet aren’t out at networking events, handing out business cards. Think about it. Have you ever seen Marc Andreessen at a Tweet-up or a monthly chamber of commerce mixer? Of course not. He doesn’t have time to hang out with smankers and people trying to sell him things. Going to an open networking event is like going to a dating party for really unattractive people. There might be an occasional diamond in the rough, but usually it’s just rough.

I wouldn’t put it in quite those words, but I reach the same conclusion.  As does Jeff Archibald in a post at Lifehacker:

How many of you approach a networking event (man, I hate that term) with that sort of mindset? “I’m going to meet people who I might be able to get some business from”, or “There will be a lot of potential business opportunities at this event,” etc? That mindset is wrong. It’s inherently selfish. That’s why your networking attempts are failing and fruitless.

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You don’t want to plan, and you certainly don’t want to network.  Rather, just start doing it, and by letting others see you actually doing something they find useful, you can build your personal brand, let them figure out why they want to hire you without making them suffer through a poorly disguised sales pitch, forego the nonsense and get down to business.  Which is, you know, the point.

Let’s be clear, however, that a decision not to over-plan and to avoid traditional networking does not mean you just fly by the seat of your pants in a chaotic flight to who knows where.

So, yes, I plan.  A little.  Really, I think about what I need to do, until what I need to do becomes clear to me and then I do it.  Everyone is different, but for me this process usually happens when I’m working out.  Not because I’m some fitness buff, but because when I’m working out I’m so eager to be done (the best part of the day is when you step off that treadmill) that my mind does amazing tricks to pass the time.  A year or so ago, I had a major network (the computer kind) failure at home.  As a part of the fix, I wanted to greatly simplify my network setup.  While suffering through a 90 minute treadmill session, I had three successive revelations, the last of which resulted in a completely different network setup using some of the devices I already had, while dispensing with a bunch of other hardware I didn’t need.  There was a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea.  Most of my planning, from work to home, from farm to family, gets done that way.  No meetings, no mind map, no PowerPoint.

And being a geek, I use technology.  To help me.  Not as another chore where I become bound to log every decision and note every step.

The key is to use technology to help keep you organized, without letting the process of being organized take on an inefficient and burdensome life of its own.  That’s where many tech-savvy folks get turned around.  Sometimes the best mouse trap is the simple one you’ve had for years.  Everyone needs to create a system that works for them.  I use a semi-connected combination of Evernote, Reminders on my iPhone, Fantastical (my favorite calendar app) and Dictate+Connect, a handy dictation app I learned about via David Sparks, to do this.  Simply stated, I put things to do on my calendar, the status of those projects that need to be tracked (and most don’t) in Evernote, and I delegate both word processing and tasks via the dictation app.

But here’s the thing.  90% of the tasks you need to do can be simply done or delegated in the time it would take you to set up some sort of task management process for them.  Don’t over-plan.  Don’t over-organize.  Just start doing.

Trust me, it works.