Why you can’t plan (and why this may not be a bad thing)

Admit it, we’ve all been there. You’re facing a massive deadline on a project or essay but don’t really know where to start. Why is it that some people just seem better at planning?


What does science tell us about planning?

Shaggy from cartoon Scooby Doo hangs from a rope speaking about his plan

Some people like to plan

In the early 1900s top psychologist Carl Jung identified four ways that we relate to the world. These are Sensation, Intuition, Feeling and Thinking. Jung believed that one of these four functions leads our thought processes most of the time.

Sensation and Intuition are defined as “perceiving” or non-rational thinking. Feeling and Thinking are defined as “judging” or rational thinking.

So, how does this relate to whether we are planners or last-minuters?

Psychologists Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers created the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) based on the theories of Carl Jung. It identifies (among many other things) whether you favour judging or perceiving in certain situations.

According to the Myers-Briggs foundation those who favour “judging” generally like to make lists and plan to avoid running out of time prior to a deadline.

Those who favour “perceiving” prefer to stay open to new information. They are less likely to plan and are even stimulated by an approaching deadline. Nothing like working under pressure to focus the mind.

How we plan depends on our personality. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator defines personality types.

Which Myers Briggs personality are you?

So don’t judge next time your pal pulls an all-nighter at the library whilst you smugly plot your to-do list for the next week. It may be that they are more a “perceiving” type than “judging”.

However, your MBTI type is a preference. So although you may prefer to work in a certain way, this doesn’t mean you can’t change your habits. It just takes more effort!

Also, no-one is just one personality type. The MBTI explores 16 different personality combinations (see above). However each of these is on a sliding scale – meaning that there are millions of combinations in total.

These examples refer to how people express themselves in the outer world. Therefore a “judging” personality may feel inside that they are really flexible in their planning and thinking. Similarly, a “perceiving” personality may feel inside that they are organised with their plans. Humans are complex, huh?


The billion dollar question:

Is our personality defined by genetics or by the environment we grow up in?

Put simply; are some people born good at planning or does our upbringing decide how we plan?

The answer is unknown for sure although a recent study did link different structures in the brain to personality type. However even though some people like to plan, they aren’t always very good at it.


So, is making plans good or bad?

Planning Fallacy - Julianne Moore and Colin Firth discuss plans in A Single Man

You’ve managed to sort out your epic to-do list. Your diary divides up your time equally between your tasks for the week. You are the plan master. You feel epic.

Yet when it comes down to it you still end up running out of time. How is this possible?!

You could blame planning fallacy – a theory by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It describes a phenomenon where we underestimate how long certain tasks are going to take.

Psychologists believe this is partly due to people focusing on best possible outcomes. When planning we assume everything will go right and that there will be no delays. Being an optimist is awesome, but in this case it can catch you out!

It doesn’t matter if you like plans or are a last-minuter. Both approaches are fine, and now you know a little about why you might favour one over the other. Without some planning there would be chaos. However, every now and again it’s good to shake up your routine and try something spontaneous. As writer Allen Saunders put it “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”


We love it when a plan comes together; what we learned

Planning a list of tasks is all well and good, but make sure you’re realistic about how long each task will take.

Your plan for today:

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Liam Neeson - I love it when a plan comes together, as Hannibal Smith in the A-Team