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When to plan and when to take action

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

When to plan and when to take action

Scott Miker

When it comes to personal improvement, it may be difficult to know when to act and when to sit back and plan out your approach.  If we act without adequate planning we usually find ourselves doing the wrong things.

If we plan without adequate action, we find ourselves in analysis paralysis.  We can’t possibly do anything perfectly so we just keep finding fault.

This is why one of the principles of the systems and habits approach to improvement is to shift from a perfection mindset to a progress mindset.

Searching for perfection is a losing proposition.  Wanting to be perfect means that we don’t want to make mistakes.  But we have to make mistakes in order to improve.  We have to make those mistakes and then find better ways to structure the system so those mistakes don’t happen again and again. 

This means that to continue to improve, we can’t expect perfection.  This is very difficult for some people.  I am often labeled a perfectionist so this concept was a struggle for me personally. 

I constantly avoided starting something that could result in failure and would do whatever I could to avoid the potential to make a mistake.  While at the time this seemed like the best way to avoid doing something wrong, the actual consequence of doing this was that I was doing nothing.

It wasn’t until I decided to start a business that I started to understand this.  When I started a business I needed to make enough money to pay bills.  This usually meant that I took on work that wasn’t “perfect” but was paying. 

I started to realize the value in taking on this work.  I gained tons of experience and handled all sorts of adversity during this time period.  The way I handled that adversity meant more than I could have learned by sitting back without action. 

In my book, You Can’t Surf from the Shore, I emphasize the importance of getting starting and doing something.  We can’t wait for perfection because perfection won’t arrive without action, mistakes, and improvements.  Waiting for perfection is rooted in a type of response to fear, so we have to be willing to take a risk in order to get past that fear and succeed. 

In many systems thinking books I am often disappointed because the authors play the role of critic too often.  They talk about the poor decisions by others without giving any real understanding of a better decision.  It is easier to sit back and criticize others than it is to actually go out and do something. 

But if we really want to keep improving and getting better, we have to focus on making progress over trying to be perfect. 

Focusing on progress shifts our thoughts to be around improvement.  We think, “How can I change something to get a little bit better?”

Doing this over and over starts to show improvement.  The progress that we make starts to build and grow and change.  We start to realize that there is no such thing as perfect unless you include mistakes in your definition of perfect.  And if we do that, then there really isn’t a reason to plan without action. 

Therefore to answer the question of when to plan and when to take action we have to see if we are doing things that aren’t helping us achieve our goals (action without planning) or if we are not doing anything because we demand perfection (planning without action). 

By shifting to focusing on making progress, we can then balance planning and action in a way that keeps us moving forward, constantly getting closer and closer to meeting the goals that we set.