Staying organized without planning

In a recent post, I told you to stop planning and start prototyping.

Cyril—whose web site you should visit just to admire his simple design—objected that efficiency maximization was a very personal matter.

I conclude that I must have misrepresented my idea. I seriously doubt that anyone can manage his time better than with a greedy algorithm. In truth, I spend an hour every few days deciding on what I need to do next. What I never do is decide in October what I will do in February. I tried a few times and it never worked. Unless you are a cyborg, I doubt it can work for you.

Deciding on what to do next is not the same as planning. Or rather, my plans are crude:

  1. do step A;
  2. do step B;
  3. (missing steps);
  4. prove that N=NP (or achieve true AI).

I realized that trying to fill the blanks was useless. As long as I know what the next few steps are, I am in good shape. The trick is to constantly revise.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

4 thoughts on “Staying organized without planning”

  1. I think this is valid for many areas of life as well as for programming and other creative processes in general. If you plan too long ahead you may discover that what you planned for is no longer valid or relevant when the time comes. Too often the prerequisites and circumstances will have changed in the meantime, so maybe what you wanted to do six months ago is not the same as what you want to do today.

    I do believe it’s possibly to plan your life with “agile methods” and “greedy algorithms” and still stay organized, as long as the choices you make are based on rationale and will and not only (external) impulses or what is the “easiest” choice at any time. I think someone once said “Live as if you are going to die tomorrow and plan as if you are going to live forever”, which I think sums it up quite well.

    This does, however, require the ability to make fast decisions and not dwell on mistakes in the past. Also, it makes most excuses to procrastinate invalid, which I think some people find very hard to deal with. It’s so much easier to plan to do things than to actually do them…

  2. still stay organized, as long as the choices you make are based on rationale and will and not only (external) impulses or what is the “easiest” choice at any time.

    No chance that you will always succeed at this.
    No matter how hard you “will”, learn about hyperbolic discounting!
    (currently a favorite topic of mine because I just happened to buy and read the book)

  3. Very interesting topic.

    Human beings are not naturally productive. Without programming, we tend to end up smoking pot and gambling. That is precisely why you have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you really want, and getting back to the “best next step”.

    That is also why long term planning fails. You will constantly break your own promises. You can “will” yourself to do something for the next hour… but certainly not for the next ten months. The only way to achieve great things is to constantly go back, think about what you are doing, and find out what you should be doing. You should constantly be thinking critically about what you are doing.

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