This Not That - Planning Edition

Stop Over-Planning With These 3 Tips

Published on
January 16, 2024

Life requires a lot of planning. When you have ADHD, it requires even more. In a world of a thousand possibilities, effective planning can be a strategic tool for success, but it's equally important to discern when spontaneity and flexibility can take the reins. Some things really don’t require that much of your time; for others, it would be prudent to make sure you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s. Your time is precious AND limited. This guide was created to help adults with ADHD determine how much of their already-limited attention should go toward planning.

Here are some situations for which extra planning time is well spent, and when it might end up wasted (and what to do about that).

Plan This:

The Meal Plan for the Week: You’ll thank yourself when you’re logging off work at 6pm and know exactly what you have to make for dinner. No scrolling on the internet for an hour trying to come up with something. This will help It’ll also help reduce poor dietary choices by having intentional choices available in the house and reducing the cost of ordering out.

Family & Social Time: Ever find yourself saying, “I’ll find time this week,” only to not find time for several weeks? If that’s you, don’t put off finding the time. Put it down on the calendar. Even if you can’t make the decision unilaterally, start the conversation now. Talk with your partner/kids/parents/friends about a designated time this week that everyone can do something together. Maybe it’s a date night or a monthly outing to do a family-friendly activity. For social time, maybe it’s a weekly lunch or coffee meet up. Making it official can help build the pressure to follow-through rather than continuously adjusting it.

Your Morning Routine: Sometimes our brains start up a little bit slow. The last thing the brain wants to do when it first wakes up is try to recall everything you need to do to get ready for the day and be prepared for whatever demands come your way. This requires SO much recall, attention, and focus. Give yourself a morning brain break by having a set routine ready that allows you to use that energy elsewhere… like responding to your boss’ email from last week 😬

Traveling: Don’t make yourself remember everything you need to pack and where you’ll be staying. Create a travel checklist in advance (focusing on items that can’t be purchased if forgotten) as well as a general itinerary for any places you NEED to be and how you’ll get there. The rest can be fluid, but make sure the core of the trip is nailed down.

NOT that:

The “Perfect” Organization Solution: This one might be upsetting. I know the urge to want to find THE solution, the perfect fit, and not want to settle for anything else. The most important thing is that the organization is FUNCTIONAL. There’s always time to make improvements later, but rather than delay it any longer, let’s get it started with something that’ll work in the mean time.

Email Responses: I know there can be huge emotional barriers to completing this task. It might ease some of the anxiety to carefully go over each detail to make sure you’re communicating what you need to. However, there is a difference between intentionally choosing your words and becoming trapped in the “what ifs” of how a person will respond. As you spend more and more time planning, you increase the pressure for it to be 100% perfect, as now they’ve waited for a response. A simple, quick response might be the best option.

The Daydreams: I LOVE daydreaming and allowing the imagination to run wild, but there is a time and place for it. For example, thinking about how you want to redo the kitchen during working hours isn’t the ideal time. Spending time looking at different flooring when you know that’s not in budget for another 8 months is also “productive procrastination.” While you may use that information later on, there’s likely another task that could use planning with a more pressing deadline. How? Make sure to ask yourself if what you’re working on has an immediate value.

Entertainment: I consider this one of the ultimate traps. It’s 6pm on a Wednesday, and you decide you want to watch some tv. Before you know it, it’s 7:15pm, and you STILL haven’t figured out what you want to watch. There are endless options for entertainment nowadays, and trying to weigh all the options is going to lead to decision fatigue. There are TOO many choices - and, honestly, a majority of the selection will probably be equally fine choices (especially if you’re on your phone during the show anyways!).

  • What movie to watch: Pick a movie with the knowledge that you can always change it if you don’t enjoy it, and there will be another night to watch a different one. Save yourself that precious “me” time by not weighing your options.
  • What book to read: Exact same concept as watching a movie - you can always set a book down if you don’t enjoy the plot line or disagree with the perspective. There are SO many books, and reviews will vary based on each individual - the ONLY way to know if you’ll like it is if you read it yourself.

How To Tell When You’re Spending Too Much Time Planning

  1. If you seem to be constantly revising, editing, and adjusting the plans you’ve created, or even just keep starting over from scratch… take a second to check in with your perfectionism. 🤔
  2. If you plan so long that you end up missing deadlines because you delayed starting the actual project and ran out of time to complete it... you might be “productively” procrastinating.  
  3. If your plans include SUPER detailed aspects that weren’t required for you to get started on the execution, and could (should) have been done at a later time… over-planned.
  4. If you’ve begun to feel overwhelmed with how much you have to do, and feel anxious looking at your new plan… try scaling it back to make it approachable again. You can add those details in later.
  5. If planning tends to be the “fun part” of a task, you might be more likely to spend too much time planning.
  6. If you’re questioning if you spent too long planning… that’s a pretty good indicator something here is a little funky.

3 Tips To Limit Your Planning

  1. Set a specific amount of time for planning. What seems reasonable for this type of task?
    ➡️ If we’re planning our day, let’s try setting a timer for 20 minutes.
    ➡️ If we’re planning our week, let’s set a timer for an hour.
    ➡️ Planning something difficult/unknown time needed? Use the Pomodoro timer to help you keep track of how much time is passing (25 minutes would be good!)
  2. Plan the beginning steps. Execute the steps. Plan the next steps.
    Force yourself to make progress as you go by planning only 3-4 steps at a time and then following through before you get another chunk of time to go into planning.

    Want an easy way to remember it? ⬇️

    Use an Anatomy Metaphor

    🩻 Create a plan for the bare bones. These are the aspects of your plan that are an absolute necessity. So if you’re trying to build a presentation, don’t work on the title slide.

    💪 Add some muscle. Add some meat to the bones and expand on the ideas you’ve already created. What really helps bring the point home without the nitty-gritty? Think 3-4 main points.

    🦵🏽 Bring in the joints. Now that we have most of the plan completed, bring it all together with aspects that tie your chunks to one another and help the pieces move smoothly.

    💄 Put some skin in the game. Polish it all up with the cosmetic changes. Spruce up headings, make edits, etc. and set a timer to have it done in X time.  
  1. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑Get a Second Opinion
    Ask a friend to sit with you and have you verbally explain the planning process as you go through it. Ask them to call you out when you’re starting to focus too much on one aspect and redirect you to where your attention should go.

It is hard to strike the balance between underprepared and over prepared for efficiency and quality. While this guide may be useful in helping deal with some of the struggles, you might need an ADHD coach to help you identify why you’re getting stuck over-planning in non-essentials and under-planning in the important areas. Our online ADHD coaches at Shimmer can help you create tailored techniques to combat the underlying issues (whether that be perfectionism, procrastination, or other) getting in the way of planning and empower yourself to manage your own time and productivity.

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