Why I thought it was useless and why it is still a supremely powerful technique to boost your efficacy.


A short introduction

So what is Murphyjtsu? In short:

In the course of making plans, Murphyjitsu is the practice of strengthening plans by repeatedly envisioning and defending against failure modes until you would be shocked to see it fail. Here’s the basic setup of Murphyjitsu:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Think about all events that could happen resulting in the plan failing, and what to do about these.
  3. Imagine that you’ve passed the deadline and find out that the plan failed.
  4. If you’re shocked in this scenario, you are done.
  5. Otherwise, simulate the most likely failure mode, defend against it, and repeat (steps 3-5).

What is important for Murphyjitsu to work is that you’re able to find reasons for plans being unsuccessful. But, Humans are pretty good at that.

Detailed Description

When I first read about it, I thought it would be something really awesome. So I tried. And noticed that it has quite the overhead. I thought it would be possible to apply this to just about every problem I’m facing. Spoiler: this is not possible. Using this technique requires quite a bit of time and effort, sometimes more than some Problems are actually ‘worth’ it.

Let me nail that down to a specific step.

  1. Make a plan.

Simple enough, this happens all the time, at smaller and bigger scales. From how to get to university, to moving to the next town or planning out my life.

  1. Think about all events that could happen resulting in the plan failing, and what to do about these.

This is important to do upfront. It may seem unnecessary at first (since you would do something similar in step 5), but If you apply Murphyjitsu to a few problems, you tend to notice that a lot of the in step 5 noticed problems, have not been thought about yet in this step.

  1. Imagine that you’ve passed the deadline and find out that the plan failed.

This tends to be much easier than you might imagine. Just think about every time someone else brings up a plan the first thing the human brain somewhat naturally thinks about is how that plan might fail. Just apply this to your own plans, and you’d be surprised how valid the claims might actually be. It is much more effective than asking someone else to point out failure modes, since the evaluations as to how likely which scenario is, is much more correlated with your own estimation as to how critical they would be.

  1. If you’re shocked in this scenario, you are done.

Yes, it is that easy. However, you will not be shocked in your first few iterations (because you will still notice things that are likely to go wrong).

  1. Otherwise, simulate the most likely failure mode, defend against it, and repeat (steps 3-5).

This one is the crux. No, you don’t have to try and defend against all failures you could come up with - this is neither possible nor necessary. You only need to defend against those that you deem probable (about the link: you can start at the ‘blue tentacle’ part). This will still be quite a few problems, so don’t worry.

The bad side

As you might have noticed, this might take some time until you are done - until the plan you make is sufficiently robust. The overhead is not worth it for most problems. Still, if you need to get something done, if it is worth it, this technique is exactly what you want to modify appropriately and use. Still, this is a considerably limited use for a seemingly awesome technique.

This is why I did not really use it consciously for a long time. I got almost all of my plans done in the first place, and those that I did not manage to get done in time were not sufficiently important to apply Murphyjitsu toward.

The good side

At some point, I noticed something. I noticed that I’m doing it unconsciously all the time!! What do I mean by that? And how did that happen?

There is this mindset where you really want something to be done. Think about the feeling you have when you stop thinking about your estimates as to what you should be capable of, and actually start doing things. Anyways, if you, from this state, try to make plans, you tend to factor in all kind of things already, as you want this to be done in the first place. These plans are automatically much more robust than most I do otherwise - mainly because I already consider a couple of things that could go wrong as well as countermeasures.

So, what happened? Well, after becoming aware of Murphyjitsu, I somehow started applying it unconsciously when planning new things. It was not the full version of Murhpyjitsu however, as I did more ‘intuitive’ iterations instead of actively conscious ones. Still, they proved to be quite effective in helping me achieve the goals I intended to actually achieve.

The actual thoughts that go through my head are along the lines of ‘Oh I won’t make this one, I won’t be able to get up early enough’ or ‘Oh I won’t get away early enough from this meeting to get to the next one on time’ or ‘Well I need more concrete metrics/goals if I really want to achieve this, I will not get started like this’. And I usually do the obvious next thing: put something before the meeting I would not get up for early enough, like going for a run with a friend; rescheduling the meeting I will not get away from early enough; and making abstract goals more concrete with actions I can do right now.

This is, at least in my understanding, a less conscious version of Murphyjitsu, but the basic principles apply. I didn’t do it with ‘Oh let us apply Murphyjitsu on this schedule right there’, or ‘Okay what could go wrong here’. These are utterly necessary to do the conscious version, but having your unconsciousness do Murphyjitsu can be even more effective - mainly because it is significantly faster and delivers astonishingly good results. Still, for the most time, I was not even aware of that.


So much about me and my thoughts about Murphyjitsu. Do not hesitate to give me feedback or tell me your thoughts.


  • 2020-09-04: fixed grammar