Systems not Tactics

Today I was reminded about why I find Ramit Sethi personally motivating:

What you are seeing here is the game being played around you. Clueless people look at random tactics. They jump on the fad diet, the shiny budgeting software, the fanciest productivity tool. Smart people see behind it and realize any individual tactic is just a random tactic — but the SYSTEM of testing different approaches is profoundly important.

A lot of what he writes about is not just learning some technique, but implementing an automated system that forces you to apply something positive (even if not ideal).

For example, the video in the post explains how having a personal trainer forced him to meet his fitness goals because the cost meant that he would never miss an appointment, and the trainer’s advice was clearly better than him winging it. In his financial advice book, I Will Teach You to be Rich, he showed how to use automated savings and investment tools to make sure you save. Automating will beat your best intentions every time.

This resonates with me because, as a programmer, automating is second nature, but coming up with ways to automate your life are hard. Some things that worked for me:

  • CrossFit — It’s cheaper than a personal trainer, but not cheap. The payment is automated, so it motivates me to go, and the results have been amazing. Like a personal trainer, the workout regimen is also automated — just show up and do what they tell you.
  • Food Journaling with consequences— At my CrossFit box, I joined a club where we have to food journal or get punished with hard exercises. We also agreed to eat well, but journaling is the part that makes me stick to it, because we have to show our journal at the meeting. Sometimes I just pre-write the whole day in the morning, and just follow it — then my eating is automated — I can’t snack, because I didn’t write it down. Also, the meeting is automated, and the members hold me to my commitments.
  • (total self promotion) My iPhone app, Habits –It helps me remember to do some simple things like call my mom more regularly. I also useTraxItAll to track progress towards my goals. Finally, automatically sends me an email each day to ask me what I got done — I now have a nice calendar where I can see each day’s accomplishments.
  • Putting planning activities on my calendar — I made it a 2012 goal to spend time on the last weekend of each month to plan out the next. I put these dates in my calendar as if they are meetings, so I don’t schedule anything else.

Unlike a computer, we aren’t forced to follow our programs, but figuring out ways to automatically generating feedback, reminders, and motivation will help you stick to your plan.