My System to Win Big

Tuesday, 03 February 2015.

Back in January 2014 I read a book by Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) titled: “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”. The book was brought to my attention when I was reading up on some interesting research and ideas on passion and discipline (Carl Newport comes to mind, explaining why following your passion is bad career advice). Reading Adam’s book definitely struck a chord with me and even motivated me to change my work flow and long-held believes on what to focus on in life. Two things stood out for me:

  • Passion is bullshit. It is only after you have put in the work and are lucky enough in having success that passion comes, not before.
  • Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners.

Before reading the book I have often asked myself questions like: What is my greatest passion and am I working every day on the things I’m most passionate about? What kind of startup or company would fit my passion? I often had a hard time trying to find the perfect answer to these questions, which resulted in inertia to get started and in some cases I was setting myself up for ever higher and greater goals.

Reading about the system approach as an alternative to goal setting made a lot of sense to me. The system approach can be summarized as follows:

  • Create habits and reserve your will-power for learning new habits.
  • Reduce daily decisions to routine.
  • Avoid setting (high) goals, instead have a system that will keep you going
  • Keeping up your personal energy, which is your primary metric
  • Simplicity is key
  • A system will keep you going, also in moments of failure

One of the key points here is the creation of (good) habits and the discipline to carry it out. A recent blog post titled: “Screw motivation, what you need is discipline” argues for the same point. It basically boils down to growing habits and not let yourself be driven by your emotional state. So stop waiting until you feel good (enough) to start a particular task and get into the habit of allocating time to just do stuff to get things done. Focus on the process (your system) and not the product (deliverables and goals).

While in general you want to be the most productive you can be, for me having a family with the third kid on his way (due any moment now), you have to get even more organized and disciplined to get things done. The way in which I manage this is what I want to present to you next by outlining my system along several dimensions that Scott describes in his book. I have been adhering to this system for a full year and besides some minor changes and occasional missteps I’m still following through and it has definitely made a hugely positive impact on my life and productivity.

Now without further ado, My System to Win Big:


One or more of the following activities I do daily for at least 30 to 60 minutes

  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Push-ups / Sit-ups / Plank / Triceps-dips / 7-minute workout cycles (Honestly this is the one I want to become more of a routine several days a week.)
  • Walking
  • Cycling


  • Football (Soccer)
  • Kickboxing


Needless to say you need a good amount of sleep.

  • Go to bed before 00:00 (Yes, this one is hard if you do remote work for US companies from Europe)
  • sleep 8 hours

Flexible schedule

Being flexible here means being in charge of your own schedule. Making a fixed planning and schedule for things you want to do is highly recommended for young parents, as long as you are the one who chooses to make time for it.

  • Plan holidays/time-off
  • Plan fixed slots for daily exercise and sports
  • Plan stuff that makes you want to get out of bed for it


I’m a big proponent of the Paleo lifestyle, and try to avoid as much processed foods as possible and keeping it real.

  • Only occasionally bread/rice/potatoes
  • No Candy/Cookies/Chips
  • No Sodas
  • No Coffee
  • Occasionally alcohol (celebrations)
  • Meal skipping is good
  • Fasting once in a while is great (irregular intervals)
  • Snacks: nuts and fruits
  • Eating more vegetables by improving seasoning
  • Starches like Oatmeal

Steadily improving / Skills

  • Programming (Python, Clojure, Julia, Euler, Math)
  • Book reading / knowledge gathering
  • Blogging (on side-projects / programming)
  • Practicing playing the Piano (still a noob here)
  • Coursera courses

Imagine an incredible future

  • related: stay optimistic and opportunistic

Help others

  • Be there for my kids and wife
  • Offer free advice and guidance for start-ups and companies
  • Engage at meetups and help people out

Show gratitude

  • Value what you already have
  • Enjoy the moment

Have a healthy dose of Stoicism

  • Avoid the pursuit of materialistic goals and don’t get attached to stuff

Final words

My system helped me become more productive and happier overall, which may not yet be the fame and fortune that Scott Adams achieved, but it is still a big win to me, and I’m ready when any big opportunity arises in the future to take it head on.

Of course my system isn’t perfect. Of course my system is tailored to suit me and can be different for you. Of course I’m still failing every so often, but at least I have my system to hold on to and to remind me how I want things to go. Get your self into the habit of working on what matters to you and with a little bit of luck and serendipity you can win big too!

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