Following a plan vs your curiosity

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jasonleow  •  24 Jan 2021

Following from reflections on minimizing productivity yesterday, I saw this tweet by @coreyhainesco that I love so much that I’m reproducing it in whole for reference:

There’s a constant tension between following a plan and following your curiosity. The plan is set ahead of time. Obligations, deadlines, to-dos. Your curiosity is spontaneous. It changes and evolves. Inspiration strikes and you act.

My goal is eventually for the plan to be to follow my curiosity. Curiosity sparks flow. Getting into flow results in productivity. Deep work. When you follow your curiosity, work is an end unto itself. When you follow the plan, work is a means to an end.

It’s the difference between goals and habits. Goals are the destination, habits are the journey. The plan is the destination, curiosity is the journey.

I love how he kind of weaves together many of the tensions and apparent contradictions between stuff that I’d been musing about the past few days. Productivity vs optionality. Following a plan vs following curiosity. Structure vs spontaneity. Destinations vs journeys.

I don’t think one can be completely forego one side for the other, to be honest. That’s a false dichotomy, lazy thinking. Perhaps there’s phases in a project, or seasons in life, where it serves one better to follow one or the other. Context definitely matters. Though having made all the caveats, it’s all too easy to fall into the productivity and planning side of things. That’s how the world is run (by humans). Based on schedules, timezones, to-dos, KPIs, roadmaps. There’s few companies, institutions, countries, committees that put spontaneity front and center in their mission and day-to-day way of being, is there? Individuals, maybe. Likely artists, flaneurs, wanderers, travelers.

Can one approach ‘normal’ work as an artist or wanderer does? 80% spontaneity, 20% structure?

I wonder if these categories are in fact getting in the way. Because as the tweet eludes, curiosity leads to flow, flow leads to deep work, and deep work is, in fact, the ultimate form of productivity. It’s the best of both worlds. But flow cannot be forced nor planned nor structured into existence. It has to be allowed to happen. Like gardening. You till the soil, add fertilizers, allow just the right amount of water and light, and let the plant do the rest. You can’t force the plant to grow, but we can create the conditions for it to thrive. Same with flow. Perhaps that’s then the intricate dance of structure and spontaneity.

Structure to steward just the right conditions on the outside, but relinquishing all control beyond that. Everything else is left to spontaneity to sprout.

The plan to follow is to follow curiosity.