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Are you a planner or a reactor?

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
September 5, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 35

Credit: Shutterstock
Being a planner has its advantages and disadvantages.
A laptop computer screen showing an electronic calendar.
Credit: Shutterstock
Being a planner has its advantages and disadvantages.

Many human behaviors occur along a continuum, including planning. Some people plan everything ahead, down to the last detail. Others just use a general idea of what is going to happen and then prefer to react in the moment. Most people fall somewhere in between.

Planning ahead. Planners need to be informed of projects, deadlines, and parameters well in advance. They want to create a detailed plan and schedule and then work the plan. They will think through responses to all sorts of “what if” scenarios and prepare their responses. Depending on the probability and severity of the complication, they may go so far as to purchase materials or put other resources on hold.

During an event, they can relax and follow their plan. If a problem arises, they know how to deal with it, and they have the proper resources to handle it.

Although some planning is good, too much can be a problem. Planners may miss out on things that are going on around them because there’s always something coming up next for which they are preparing. They may spend time planning for things that never happen and realize afterward that the time could have been better spent.

Living in the moment. Some people don’t like to plan too much. They do the minimum planning required, prefer to react to events as they happen, and don’t waste time thinking about things that are not going to happen. Reactors have a general plan but don’t sweat the details. They are not locked into a specific schedule and will jump in when something needs to happen. They are usually quite flexible, good at thinking on their feet, and quick to identify solutions. The unexpected does not bother them because they know they will be able to handle it.

However, reactors may miss out on opportunities because they are not ready to take advantage of them. Furthermore, it may be more expensive and time-consuming to solve problems after they appear.

Strike a balance. Does one description or the other resonate with you? Identifying your preferred way to work can be useful for identifying colleagues who complement your strengths. Although you will never change completely, you can learn to strike a balance. If you’re a planner, make sure to leave some time in your schedule for spontaneity. If you’re a reactor, try to add some structure to your life. For important projects, you may want to seek out an assistant or partner who complements your strengths.

Set expectations appropriately. No matter how you prefer to work, make sure to communicate to your colleagues so they know what is expected of them. If you know that your coworkers are planners, make sure to give them plenty of notice of new projects. If you know they are reactors, make sure they will be involved at the crucial times of a project.

Sometimes you have lots of notice and can plan every detail. Other times, you need to react quickly to changing circumstances. Having flexibility can ensure that you balance a project’s needs with your preferred personal style.

Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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