What Flexibility Is, and Is Not

OK, class, today we are having a pop quiz. Ready?

“Last minute” people (a.k.a. procrastinators) are flexible. “Planners” are rigid and inflexible.

True or False?

For years I believed the answer was True. I myself am of the “planner” variety, and this natural inclination of mine occasionally bumps up against the tendencies of people who are of a more “last minute” persuasion. More often than not, this results in mutual irritation and their labeling of me as “inflexible.” I’d argue back, of course (and occasionally slap some not-very-nice labels on them in return). Sooner or later, though, I’d accept their evaluation of me — albeit reluctantly — figuring they were probably right.

But I came to a new realization about this recently, and it’s saved me tremendous frustration — both with myself, and with the last-minute-ers.

“Flexible” has no inherent relation either to planning or a lack of it. “Flexible” simply means “able to bend without breaking.”

I thought procrastinators didn’t struggle with inflexibility, but then I thought back to my college days and recalled how many people got nervous when professors would assign a project with a series of progressive deadlines (e.g., your paper topic is due by March 1, your outline is due by March 7, first draft is due by March 15, etc.). Stuff like that made the Last Minute People freak out a little, because it required them to commit to something and stick with it over a long period. Wait a minute, you mean I can’t wait until the weekend before the paper is due to decide what I’m gonna write about?! What if I wanna change my mind a time or two or twelve?

It’s hard, sometimes, to do things differently — and that, my friends, is what flexibility is really all about.

Waiting until the last minute to start a project isn’t flexibility. Scrapping everything and starting over 25 times before a deadline isn’t flexibility. Being flexible means being adaptable to change. It means openness to a different way of doing things. What is that different way? Well, that depends on you.

If your standard MO is to plan ahead, then flexibility — for you — may look like being willing to part with your plan and accept a last-minute change. If your standard MO is to procrastinate, then flexibility — for you — may look like being willing to commit to a plan early on in the process and see it through to the end. The key is bending without breaking.

It’s so simple, I wonder how I didn’t see it before.

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