Ramblings about Dutch diaries, tiger mosquitoes and rigid planning.


In The Netherlands people live by their diaries. When you invite a Dutch friend for a coffee in an hour they will probably have something else planned. Ask them for lunch that day and the likely counter offer is a date at least a week later. 

The result is that  if you want to see your friends you also have to start making plans a few weeks in advance. This soon leads to your own “Dutch diary” quite soon.

The Dutch Agenda.

The Spanish diary.

Growing up in Holland I was not only used to this way of doing things, I didn’t even realise it was a “way of doing things”. I unconsciously assumed it works the same around the world. Living in Spain made me see that there is a better way: not making personal plans too long in advance.

Because the Spanish do not fill their agendas weeks in advance meeting a friend is much easier. When you call someone to go for a coffee or lunch later that day the response is far more likely to be positive.

The big advantage of the Spanish diary is that it allows for optionality. When the day of an event that you planned weeks before arrives, things have changed. You might have some urgent tasks for your business to take care of, or something else came up. By planning on short notice you can use these inevitable changes to your benefit. For instance, when the weather is unexpectedly nice you can schedule a game of tennis because someone is likely to have the time.

Another plus is that in Spain you do fewer things you do not feel like. When you live with a Dutch diary, and scheduled something weeks in advance, you only cancel if there is no other way. 

Something else I learnt from the different way of doing things, is that not having too many rigid plans does not only make sense in the short-term, but in the long-term as well. 

Tiger mosquitoes. 

I have always wanted to live in a place with nice views and a big space outside. Gardening is not something I enjoy so I never considered buying a house with a garden. However, imagine that I would have obsessed all my life over making loads of money to buy a mansion with a garden. The opportunity cost would have been significant as the focus on making money could have caused me to miss out on loads of memorable moments.

I would probably live in such as a house right now, but would not be able to enjoy the garden for a reason I would have never anticipated in advance: the rise of the tiger mosquito.

A tiger mosquito.

Where I live tiger mosquitoes are taking over. They are an aggressive type of the species that operate during the day. When you step outside they will follow you around and bite multiple times, even through clothing. Their bites cause strong allergic reactions in most people. 

Their presence has made it impossible to sit on my terrace and read a book. This has made me realise I am lucky not to have a huge garden and that obsessing over a long term goal is not a good idea.


Planning for the long term is useful. It obliges you to think about goals, priorities, constraints and will provide a sense of direction. But rigidly following those plans does not make sense. Things outside our control change and impact our lives. Our preferences change and the world evolves. 

Obsessively following detailed plans will lead to inefficient behavior. Moreover, those plans can make you blind for optionality. The Spanish intuitively understand this, the Dutch generally do not. 

Notice that this is also another distinct edge that small companies have over multinationals, A huge organisation has to focus on detailed plans because they have to implement more processes and systems than a small company. This causes rigidity that startups can benefit from. 

On a personal level, it is good to allow for optionality to avoid your plans biting you in the rear, as the tiger mosquito almost did in my case..

About the author

Ivo Oltmans
By Ivo Oltmans


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