C. Hinsley

21 August 2020

But how foolish it is to set out one's life, when one is not even owner of the morrow! O what madness it is to plot out far-reaching hopes!

When people make itineraries or otherwise attempt to prioritize what they'll need to do at some determinate time in the future, they are making a major mistake in judgment.

Planning is dimensionality reduction of action spaces. It's taking correlative information from your corpus of research and extracting a promising trajectory of action.

In order to effectively plan, you must articulate objectives in the format of "from X (current status), to Y (desired status), by Z (target accomplishment date)." Any plan must necessarily operate from the context of such an objective, even if its articulation is only implied. There is often an overwhelming temptation, especially for the Myers-Briggs xxTJ types, to spend any downtime roadmapping plans of action and task prioritization lists for some endeavor that they are not currently engaged in. This is ineffectual because you cannot observe with any level of fidelity the X component of the objective, the current status. If you were able to simulate the status of the objective in your mind with sufficient fidelity, you would not need to research nor plan in the first place; indeed, planning is necessitated by the inability to comprehensively visualize ad-hoc the state of an objective and the steps necessary to achieve the end goal.

Research is not planning.

You may well be able to perform research, whether first or second-hand, on a given topic, but at the same time be totally unable to work on objectives pertaining to the subject. You should not spend this time planning. You should spend it researching. Organizing or refactoring records is a form of research. Enumerating bottlenecks is planning. Asking others for information or references regarding a topic you have been working on is research. Brainstorming with colleagues on what you can do to improve your work is planning. It's fine to stop working and go plan, but it's not acceptable — nor is it productive — to plan when you cannot work.

Research informs planning informs execution informs research.

Planning must proceed from insights formed during research. Execution must proceed from plans, whether formed with little thought at the moment of operation, or with careful deliberation in the form of a well-structured procedure. When executing plans, information is generated by environmental feedback, which can in turn be sifted and compiled into research; you learn first-hand whether your plan is effective, and you are given clues as to what ways in which your plans are ineffective. This contributes significantly to the necessary coupling of execution and planning — spending too long planning without engaging in execution of those plans at some level leads to the gradual formation of minor delusion, which can manifest not only in needing to scrap and re-plan, but also in harming one's objectives. At times, just being in the environment where execution will take place is sufficient to keep planning on good tracks. And indeed, you may plan just before you become able to execute; this is no problem as long as the actions are not totally disjoint. You must take special care not to plan when you are not going to be able to execute.


[1] Seneca, Lucilius Annaeus. Letter 101: On the Futility of Planning Ahead. Page 92. Tao of Seneca, Volume 3. https://tim.blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/taoofseneca_vol3.pdf