The Architect, the Engineer and the Builder


I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to structure my time in order to be productive. The internet is filled with articles about productivity but one framework I've developed that works for me is to think about the different jobs that are required when you're trying to accomplish a goal. Focus on a single goal at a time is the key to productivity. Before this framework I would bounce around the different stages, get distracted, stuck and frustrated with my lack of progress. I think about the process as three jobs; the Architect, the Engineer and the Builder. First, determine the longer-term vision and goal, then determine the steps that are needed to achieve that goal and finally complete the tasks.

An architect designs buildings and often supervises the construction. "An architect will create the overall aesthetic and look of buildings and structures, but the design of a building involves far more than its appearance."1 Think about this first phase as defining and designing your goal. It's teaching yourself "to long for the endless immensity of the sea".2 The importance of this step will become clear when you're in the trenches of achieving your goal and wondering to yourself why you're even working this hard. Determine not only what it is you want to accomplish but why. I always have more goals then I can reasonably accomplish and this phase also helps to prioritise what is actually important to me. I tend to set goals for the year. I think about what I want my life to look like at the end of the year. I feel 5 years is too far out and I tend to optimise for novelty.3

The Engineer figures out how the building is actually going to get built. Maths, physics etc. What do you need to do to achieve this vision? Use this phase to plan out the steps involved. I usually break this down into months, then weeks. Working from the year-long goal set by the Architect break down what needs to happen by the end of each month in order for you to reach the goal. These need to be measurable milestones that you can easily use to see if you're on track or need to course correct. Then each Sunday I review what I accomplished in the last week and set the tasks for the next week. These need to be as easy and simple to follow as possible. You shouldn't have to answer major design questions as the Builder.

The Builder does the hard yards of moving bits and atoms and making the goal a reality. Action without thought is reckless but thought without action is useless. It's very easy to make grand plans and fail to follow through with them. There are many posts on the internet about how to not procrastinate and why we procrastinate.4 I'll leave this piece to them. One thing I will say is that if you consistently find yourself failing at the Builder stage there could be one of two common problems.

  1. The goal you set as the Architect is not something you actually want to do
  2. When you were the Engineer you didn't make the plan for the required tasks clear and easy enough to follow.

This is an iterative process and for me all three are necessary and should be in constant contact with each other. Sometimes it's impossible to know a task is impossible until you sit down and try to complete it. If this happens you need to go back up one level and reset the task. Sometimes you get halfway towards a goal and realise it's not something you want to do so you need to go back and re-architect the entire project. If you're missing the Architect you could wake up in 5 years and realise what you'd been working on either doesn't make sense, isn't inspiring to you or was in the completely wrong direction. If you're missing the Engineer you can get lost in the clouds or bogged down in the day-to-day. If you're missing the Builder you may have a great vision and a plan to get there but nothing will ever become real. The three working together allow you to march forward in whatever direction you choose.



2. "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

3. In a large part from reading the book Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned . I realise the irony in writing a post about planning goals and taking inspiration from a book about how the planning probably won't lead to 'greatness'. But I feel one year provides a long enough horizon to accomplish something reasonably sized but not so far out that I find myself waking up in 5 years realising I've been working on the wrong thing this whole time. It provides flexibility in being able to jump from interesting stone to interesting stone.

4. Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

5. Some reading that helped me think about and create the system above.

Productivity - Sam Altman

Internal Family Systems - Ph.D. Richard C. Schwartz

Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done” - Clayton M. Christensen