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Don’t Blame Yourself for Failing, Blame Yourself for Misplanning

The Programmer and the Robot, characters in the game of productivity

A couple of Christmas ago, my son got a little robot as a present. It was an educational game where players had to program the robot to follow a predetermined path on a board while avoiding some obstacles. The key was to program a sequence of moves using directional buttons (⬅️⬆️➡️⬇️) to reach the desired destination.

The last time I played this game with him he was 6 years old, and sometimes he would miss a move when the sequence of movements was too big for him to visualize in his mind, and he would get frustrated with the little robot.

I would then explain to him that the robot was only following his instructions, so he shouldn’t blame the little guy.

After a few plays, the robot got back into the box and is now resting among many other games and toys that served my kid well once or twice.

That episode vanished from my mind until recently. As I was looking at my planner and feeling kind of down with my low level of task execution, I realized that I wasn’t applying to myself the teachings I was preaching to my son.

I didn’t walk the talk.

The game of productivity

You see, in the game of productivity — a game where I get my ass kicked incredibly often — I am both the Programmer and the Robot.

I embody the Programmer when I plan my days, and the Robot when I execute the tasks, but since I always struggle to accomplish my goals, I kept blaming the Robot for failing at execution. Wrong!

What I should have done from the start was blame the Programmer.

As I told my son on that ludic afternoon, the sequence of movements is defined by the programmer, so if we don’t get to our destination, it’s not because the robot missed the steps, it’s because the path wasn’t well designed.

This may sound too simplistic, as there are a ton of things that can happen during the day that makes it very difficult to follow the established plan, but it’s up to the Programmer to code the script in a way that failure becomes an improbability.

From the gameboard to the real-life

With this new framework in mind, I decided to focus my energy on planning my days in the best way possible and, above all, a way that would fit my singularities, leaving little room for uncertainty and guesswork for when I’m wearing the Robot’s hat.

The first thing I did was to open my Google Calendar and schedule everything that I really have to do every day at a specific time, such as preparing my son in the morning and taking him to school, and blocking the time for my day job and commuting.

It’s curious that we tend to think that our day job takes almost all of our days, but although it does consume many hours from our schedule, it still leaves us 10 hours to fill with all the tasks that we want to do, and this is considering that you sleep 7 hours a night and work for another 7 hours on your day job.

Next, I blocked time for meals and house chores, and another block of time to spend with my partner and son.

So now that I had planned everything I really need to do on a daily basis related to work and family/house chores, it was time to distribute all the stuff I wanted to do by the available slots of time.

But with my calendar already packed, what activities should I choose for the remaining free time? Netflix? Learning? Social Media? Reading? Going out?

With so many possibilities, each one with its appeals, I needed to come up with a way to pick the most valuable for me, so I created the 6 Pillars of Life, the areas that I wish to focus on to achieve a good life, and that gives structure to the most important values in my life.

My 6 pillars of life

These are mine Pillars, your’s will be different.

HealthStoicismProductivityReadingWritingLearning.

The 6 Pillars of Life — image by the author

The 6 Pillars of Life are what sustain the things that I treasure and value, making all together what I perceive as a good life, so I needed to make them a constant in my daily routine.

To make that happen, I blocked slots of time on my calendar for each of them:

  • Health — Workouts and sports.
  • Stoicism — Reading about it and journaling.
  • Productivity — Planning & Reviewing my days, and using my PKM System
  • Reading — Making sure that I always have time saved for some books.
  • Writing — Daily writing is a key aspect of my life, so I block at least 1 hour to do it every day.
  • Learning — Learning new things and developing my fields of interest is crucial, so I reserve some time every day for deliberate learning.

After blocking time for all these things, the few blank spots that were left I filled with Relax Time, using it for reading some blog posts, playing online chess, or spending some time on Twitter. I also blocked a specific time to watch TV/Streaming platforms, limiting that time to about an episode of any show, preventing myself from binge-watching a whole season of The Walking Dead or something like that.

My calendar now looks something like this:

A typical week of my life these days

The lack of empty slots avoids guesswork and wasting time. Besides that, this is not a rigid framework, I do make occasional changes when needed, but I keep always in mind the actions that contribute to the strengthening of my pillars.

Conclusion

I’m not gonna lie, it is sometimes hard to keep on track, but the key to success is adjusting the schedule to my reality, having in mind the greater good that following this through brings to my life.

My calendar has changed many times during the time that I’ve been trying this new approach, and every time something goes off track, I check the causes and adjust the program if necessary.

The Programmer is doing a better job each passing day, and the Robot has a new motto:

Follow The Plan!


Some people are able to build up a routine that allows them to successfully do everything they plan, others, like me, must try different approaches and see what works.

This system is working, and I hope you can take some ideas to apply to your own.

I would love to hear about it from you, so feel free to comment below!

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