Are You a Planner or a Structured Procrastinator?

Doug Belshaw likes to plan. He’s even created his own daily planner.

But recently, Belshaw has been wondering if planning is required for productivity. Does everyone need to set out their day ahead to get ahead? Well, not necessarily.

Belshaw recently discovered structured procrastination and was amazed to find it was a real thing and not a joke. The plan is to get more done without a plan. Just work on what you feel like.

Such a simple idea sounds brilliant. But it’s never that simple, is it? Nevertheless, Belshaw found that high-profile people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger made use of structured procrastination to get things done.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Has this prompted a change of heart in Belshaw? Nope. He says, “I’ll keep my planner!”

To schedule or not to schedule? That is the question.

Or is it? I think a binary argument of schedule versus non-planning is too simplistic. A total lack of planning still requires an element of planning once the day is underway. And not everyone can dismiss timetabling completely, on a whim. Stuff happens around you. The world doesn’t pander to you, so you must respond to the needs of others. This, sometimes, requires a schedule of sorts.

One reason why I like the David Seah Emergent Task Planner is that it looks a few major tasks, extra tasks if you have time, plus emerging stuff because “Life just happens”.

The 1-3-5 Daily To-Do List is good for a basic schedule too. One big, three medium, and five small tasks on your list. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just a basic breakdown of things to do in varying degrees of size/time/importance.

As you’d expect, there is no one-size-fits-all. Much depends on each person and their current individual circumstances. A structured plan is necessary for some activities, while it hinders others. Also, while some thrive on orchestrating every last minute to perfection (despite the realities), others don’t want to get bogged down with anything more than a basic starting point.

Structured procrastination sounds like fun. But it’s serious stuff. You have to be determined and driven to make it work effectively. Otherwise structured procrastination becomes…well, it becomes procrastination!

How do you work best? Much of the consideration boils down to the following questions:

  • Do you feel productive enough?
  • Are you satisfied with how you lead your day to day life?
  • Does this day to day activity correspond with your future plans leading to personal success?
  • Have you tried new approaches to improve your productivity, even when you feel confident that your current approach is successful?

If you have any doubt here, it might be worth taking the plunge. If you haven’t tried any other methods, can you truly be sure that your approach is best for you? You may feel efficient, but until you try alternatives, there may be a more amazing set of tactics to propel you further than you’d ever imagined.

One compromise is to only use due dates when absolutely necessary. Most of your schedule is free to do what you want, when you want. For the few matters requiring a definite time or your definite presence (either physically or emotionally!), get it booked in. Not only can you then schedule, but you can also keep the schedule to a minimum. Everything else is available to you and your whims.

What do you think? Are you a planner, a structured procrastinator, or something else entirely?


  1. Hi Martin, thanks for mentioning my post and linking to the Emergent Task Planner. I hadn’t seen that one before!

    I think that everyone should create their own planner and iterate it over time. The reason I like mine is that it forces me to categorise what I’m doing into three themes (not just a random collection of stuff) and then I can plan when I’m doing what.

    To be fair, I’ve also got an ’emerging tasks’ section to my planner, so it’s not as inflexible as you (perhaps inadvertantly) made out! 😉

    1. If you haven’t seen David Seah’s planners, there are many to enjoy. Not all are free, but they are well worth checking out.

      Yes, sorry if I imply that you have too rigid a structure to your day. That wasn’t the intention. Although now I demand to see a detailed breakdown of how often you make use of the emergent tasks section, otherwise it may only be a ruse. 😉

      But seriously, I can well imagine you need to use that section on a regular basis!

  2. I’m a lister, and I’ve come to accept that. I spent my first year of university making intricate schedules and evernoting everything, part of the second year adopting every planning/time managing tool I could find. Then the second half just making it up as I went along.
    Then I bought a diary and got a big stack of paper. Each Monday I write a list and if it has a due it just has “by Thursday”. It is a tight deadline though. I mean those due bys. I finished this final year calm and with every piece of coursework (dissertation included) in at minimum a week early but mostly 2+, it’s been the most relaxed but scheduled year possible. Without my tight schedule I would have been like many of my peers, tearing my hair out and making last minute changes an hour before hand in. Scheduling has saved my sanity.

    1. It sounds like you’ve worked with many different ideas and got to the point where you knew what worked well for you.
      You’ve given a great example that shows how tight schedules don’t need to be elaborate beasts in order to work. What matters is to take your plans seriously and give them active consideration.
      Thanks for sharing your scheduling story, Lotte.

  3. I am a planner, but only once every couple of months (usually every 90 days). My planning is created once and then I get to work on it. Procrastinating is easy for me. I build in time to do that. I schedule my procrastinating. Every day I take 30 minutes to procrastinate as much as I can. This is slowly getting less time since I end up being productive in that time (yes, I procrastinate when procrastinating…).

    During the 90 days, I plan as little as possible, just outline what I need to do without being to rigid about it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts

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