Plans vs. routines

Sunday night over dinner, my son, parents and I were discussing the saving / investing system we set up for our kids in the spring. The idea was/is: set a monthly budget for purchases (in their case, mostly online movies, tv shows and games), and include a really healthy interest rate (20% monthly) to encourage savings. What a great idea! I got lots of really nice feedback on the post back in March.

My son described the system to my parents, but instead of describing the concept, as I just did, he described the reality: we set the budget, did it for a few months, and then basically forgot about it. So, rather than teach my kids a valuable lesson about saving and investing, I thought them how weak my own follow-through can be. Ouch.

It reminds me of a psychology study that found that announcing a plan is, in fact, detrimental to seeing the plan through — because, you get a nice dose of good feeling by announcing the plan, so much so that you lose the motivation to actually do it. This is, of course, problematic, and to be avoided.

If I’m honest, I can think of plenty of times where this has happened to me. I’ll refrain from listing them all out here, but trust me, there are more than a few examples. Looking back, the times I have been the most successful at seeing something hard and long-term all the way through are the times when I have just done it and not said anything about it. Show, don’t tell.

The holy grail is when something goes from being a plan to being a routine. Routine is so powerful, and yet somehow, sometimes, so elusive. At USV, we have built-in routine in some very useful ways — most notably, around our Monday team meeting (similar to most investment teams). The cadence is valuable and sets the tone for a lot of our work.

I have personally found it harder to get good routines going when it comes to writing, exercise, and a bunch of other things I think are important. Generally speaking, I find myself to be more bursty than reliably consistent. It is something to work on (but not talk about until it’s done…)

11 comments on “Plans vs. routines”

my plans for action (exercise, diet, writing (just commenting atm) et.c. are built around addressing my personal weaknesses, the things that through experience over time i know will interfere with and ultimately defeat the continuation of the action i have planned. I construct ‘no option but to’ scenarios by imposing hard rules. For example, i will not own a car, and i will not take the bus. That leaves me with only two options, walk or ride my bicycle. It’s just an example, and it certainly will not fit with many people and their lives. I also only buy and eat organic food. That one cuts out so many of the naughty food choices i might be tempted by, huge swathes of supermarket shelving, and entire shops. It simplifies the purchasing ‘targets’, and saves time.

I do need to develop a rule about internet consumption. It’s too easy to go to it. I’m not sure what the answer to that one is though. I wonder if there’s an app that will kill my phone (except for emergencies) for a 24 period each week, or certain blocks of time during each day?

Part of any plan is the measurement of progress. You just need to add that notion to your plans. Small thing. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

“The first casualty upon contact with the enemy is the plan.” What this means is you have to constantly update your plans when you hit the friction of life – which is all that happened here.


I’ve found that including “fix something this week” and “fix something this month” in the routine, taken from a short backlog, works for me. Something like personal Kaizen. It doesn’t mean that you have a deadline to apply the fixes, more likely it means that the tasks have to fit in the period, so that they are realistic and achievable.

It is incredible how many things, material and immaterial, deteriorate around us and are hidden or minimized by our human capability to adapt.

Planning is crucial to starting something. Not too much planning of course but planning nonetheless. I remember your post and seems like the plan you had in place was great. If you’re familiar with Scrum, the process teaches you to plan and act immediately by setting up actionable tasks.

May I recommend a book that I am obsessed with these days and frankly I believe all software developers should be. The book is”Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland, JJ Sutherland. It is also one of those rare books that translates well into audio form. Jeff is the inventor of Scrum and, wow, by implementing the full process of Scrum into my workflow in life and work recently, I’ve 10-20x my productivity.

I highly recommend it even for Scrum professionals, which I foolishly thought I was back in 2015. I helped introduce Scrum to my old team at Blockstack but we did not take full advantage of it’s power. I really wish we did but I was missing some very crucial aspects of the process.

Anyways, I digress, I think one of the amazing takeaways from Scrum that would have assisted you with your instance would be autonomy. At the end of the planning stage if you would have introduced those key tasks to your stories, it would have provided you and the others with the tasks required to act upon the great plan you folks came up with.

Hope this helps. Sorry for the long winded message.

Forgive me if I’m missing something, but why not automate the whole thing? That way you only have to use your mental energy to make 1 decision and then set it and forget it, rather than having to remember/choose to follow the rules of the system every time. While it would be a pain in the ass, you could build a contract on Ethereum that does this (even using DAI if you wanted).
As an added bonus (feature or bug, you decide) there would be increased flow towards seeing the benefits of investing because your kids could check their balance with 1click via a bookmark on etherscan, but there would be increased friction in spending (cashing out ETH/DAI for USD). They might also accidentally learn about web3, currencies, exchange rates, markets, etc… and might even decide to trade their DAI for other tokens instead of USD to play the handful of web3 games that are available. Who knows? I certainly don’t, but it’s an idea

My problem is that money is just some abstract thing for my kids. They basically just use free Internet services. They know that they should, and do, save their money, but it’s not hard for them, because they don’t want anything that costs money. So, the won’t learn how to make tough choices, unless I start charging them for their clothes or food, which I don’t want to do.

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