On Planners, Dawdlers, Postponers & Improvisers

04 Jul On Planners, Dawdlers, Postponers & Improvisers

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 4.7.22


It is useful to know, I think, what kind of attitude each person in your circle has to plans and appointments. Because there are different ways of looking at a schedule – anything on a scale from “this is a vague suggestion” to “this will happen come hell or high water”.

I come from a family of hell-or-high-water people. Itineraries were drawn up and meticulously stuck to, to the extent that heading off on the annual summer holiday was a tense exercise, usually ending in tears.

Not only would there be a set time of departure, our father would also have drawn up a diagram of how luggage would be placed in the car boot. Heaven help anyone who brought something not previously notified (no, Teddy, you were not booked on this trip) or who messed things up by, for example, popping the picnic hamper in without consultation and before the suitcases, rendering it inaccessible en route.

There were designated toilet stops which had little if anything to do with how urgently you needed to go. Prone to car sickness, I once tried to hold on so long to the contents of my stomach – we weren’t due to stop till Waipawa – that I did something unspeakable in the back seat around Waipukurau. My apologies once again to my brother.

Our Dad was someone who hated chaos, loved a plan. Very much a believer in “you cannot manage what you do not measure”, he measured everything. He would keep a notebook in the car’s glovebox recording miles driven, time taken and petrol consumed. This would become information shared with the hosts at our destination, a brilliant conversation opener for someone not skilled at the usual small talk – this summer’s route compared with the one taken last summer, this car’s fuel efficiency as opposed to the one before.

It drove him a little crazy later that I would arrive to visit and not be able to say how long the trip had taken because I hadn’t looked at my watch before I’d left. Sometimes I just lied, because my preferred style of travel involves frequent stops – for snacks and shops rather than carsickness now – and the resulting data would never please my father because, for him, a journey was always a race.

Now my circle includes different kinds of people. My husband will always say on the day of an event, “Do you still want to leave at five?” and it used to throw me, this idea that a plan once decided could be revisited. I’d think, Wait, what? Does he no longer want to go at five? Does he not want to go at all? Why are we discussing this again?

I had to learn that, while my family would be leaving at five even if someone broke a leg, he comes from a family who take a more flexible approach, checking in to see if anyone has changed their mind, cheerfully postponing if something comes up. It has taken me a long time to learn this doesn’t mean no one wanted to do it in the first place.

And my daughter’s approach is different again – wholly organic, based on how things are going and when it feels right. This is unsurprising, I always feel, for someone born six weeks early – she was ready, we weren’t.

We try to make space for each other – the planners, dawdlers, postponers and improvisers. Of course, if my dad was still around, he’d organise us all into a pie chart.