Executive Function Strategies Blog

The Lost Art of Planning

Is our ability to plan ahead becoming a vestigial organ?

Do you remember, before cell phones, how you planned outings with friends? I realized recently that, like our appendix or tonsils, our ability to plan ahead might become a vestigial organ, thanks to our reliance on immediate communication. I was lucky enough to attend a dear friend’s destination wedding on Grand Cayman, a beautiful island filled with sand, sun, and exorbitant roaming charges for cell phones. Now, my friend is a brilliant scientist. Really, she might be on the front lines of a cure for cancer someday. But she will readily admit she is planning impaired. In the weeks leading up to her wedding, she would text me a few hours before shopping for her gown, or picking up items for the honeymoon, hoping I could accompany her for crucial decision-making (ivory or white? 2 inch heels or flats?). Given my coaching schedule, especially during my students’ final exams and projects, I wasn’t able to accompany her as often as we both would have liked. We made do by texting photos of items to be considered, and I would weigh in with my opinions between coaching sessions. Technology enabled this impromptu method, and we were both thankful for this convenience.

Jackie Professional Photo

The tide turned, however, once the 20 or so guests arrived on the island for the wedding festivities. Gone were the conveniences we had relied upon to replace the need to plan and anticipate events. Arriving at different times, on different airlines, those of us that happened to run in to each other shared room numbers so we could call each other. But the beach and warm water beckoned, and it was miraculous when any two of us were in our rooms at the same time. We had a bare bones itinerary: we knew when and where dinner was the first night, and when and where the wedding ceremony was to be held. Anything else was up for grabs. Another kink in the mechanism was the fact that two of my friends were staying in a nearby B&B that was not reliably accessible by even a landline! We had to dust off some serious planning skills to make sure we were all in the same place at the same time for a road trip one day. Imagine: no safety net of texting “running 10 minutes late”, or “ran into some friends on the beach, let’s do road trip”. We had to arrange to be at a specific place at a specific time, with no wiggle room for distractions that could risk missing a connection.

As we celebrated at the wedding, all (mostly) went according to plan: a ceremony on the beach, an outdoor reception, excellent food and music…and toward the end of the evening, suddenly the bride, the groom, and most of the guests flung ourselves, finery and all, into the warm turquoise waters. The careful orchestration of all those wedding details yielded in an instant to the chaos of sweaty celebrants. And the result was an unforgettable moment shared in an exotic locale.

OK, sometimes planning is overrated.

Jackie Stachel, Director of Media and Outreach

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