What ever happened to predictability? No, today’s post isn’t about milkmen, paperboys or evening TV. I’ve had a few conversations lately that got me thinking about whether it is better to plan everything out ahead of time or to embrace spontaneity and fly by the seat of your pants. On the one hand, structure and predictability provide peace of mind… but they can also lead to boredom, undue pressure, and crippling monotony.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from a post I wrote a few years ago from a dog’s perspective:

Dogs thrive under a well-established structure, knowing exactly when they can expect to go for a walk, when they’ll get fed, when the humans will return home and so on. This predictability provides comfort and reduces stress. As human beings, it helps to also have a certain level of predictability in our lives… but don’t forget to break that schedule once in a while and have some fun.

But what about humans? And how does this balance (if such a thing exists) work itself out in both our personal and professional lives?

The Travel Planner

I feel like my position on the matter has shifted as I’ve gotten older. In my younger days, I was more inclined to “figure it out when we get there.” When it came to travel, I didn’t want my days to be overly structured or tied down to a particular schedule. Spontaneity allowed for flexibility and the opportunity to explore destinations at my own pace, allowing serendipity to be my guide.

For our recent trip to New York City, on the other hand, I wanted to pre-book what we could ahead of time. I knew we only had so much time in the city, so I had a rough outline for what neighborhoods and landmarks we’d visit each day. I charted out our subway routes and peeked at Google Street View ahead of time.

Fail to plan and plan to fail, as they say. But this also placed a lot of pressure on our schedule, because we had to get to X by Y o’clock if we wanted to see or do Z.

Self-Imposed Obligations

Perhaps the area where I feel this conflict between structure and spontaneity most strongly is in relation to my content calendar. I’ve had to rethink the blog schedule here on Beyond the Rhetoric several times. When I first started this blog over a decade ago, I wrote and published spontaneously.

At one point, I decided to nail down a schedule and this became a daily blog, seven days a week. Eventually, other life and work priorities got in the way. These days, I published four times a week and I still stick to a rather strict schedule. Come here on Sunday and you can expect to find a Sunday Snippet with a thought-provoking quote. Come here on the last Wednesday of the month and you’ll find the What’s Up Wednesdays speedlink.

And then there’s the vlog every Monday, an experiment I intended to upkeep for one year. We’re coming up on the second anniversary of the vlog in just a couple of months. Some weeks, I leave the vlog to the very last minute. I can feel like it’s something I have to do rather than something I want to do. And this is even though I generally enjoy making those videos.

Blog Quality and Quantity

In chatting with a couple other Canadian dad bloggers, I was presented with a different set of viewpoints. One blogger say that he would only put it out if it is his best. He doesn’t publish as frequently as he once did, because he spends more time editing and curating his stories until he feels it is fit for public consumption.

The other fellow says that he does not adhere to any sort of strict content calendar. Instead, he prefers the flexibility to publish when he feels inspired. This might mean that the blog could go dormant for a week, but then he might produce a flurry of material the following week. It’s the authenticity of spontaneity, you could say, capturing his thoughts in the moment.

For me, as a professional freelance writer, I find that sticking to a schedule is a matter of training and habit. It’s about honing my craft and putting in the work even when I might not really feel like doing it. This is much the same as going to school or training for an athletic competition; you’ve got to put in the work.

Many Shades of Spontaneity

In many ways, I feel like I am a walking contradiction. I seem to value the idea of a structured content schedule and I want to plan things out ahead of time. That being said, the thing that I perhaps value the most about what I do is the flexible work schedule that it affords me. A firmly structured work day isn’t really my jam.

So, where does that lead me? I’m not sure. A structured framework with room to allow for spontaneity? How do you approach your personal, professional and creative endeavors? Do you allow inspiration to guide you or do you prefer a more predictable and stable environment?