Knowing how to create effective systems is a game-changer for life.
Why? Because having systems allows you to make progress without anxiety about future goals.
And knowing how to create effective systems helps you maintain your energy and enjoy the present while moving towards the desired future state.
This article is a follow-up post on the systems versus goals article here on switched-on dot info. This previous article detailed out why the systems view is essential and why systems are superior to goals. At least when goals are defined too narrow.
How to Go about Creating Effective Systems for Your Life
First off, create systems from the inside out. You want to have systems that work for you and your best life you intend to live. It’s always a good idea to learn from what others do. But what eventually works for you only you can and should decide.
Second, think simplifying rather than optimizing because the best systems are simple, aligning with our human nature. If we complicate our life too much, there are too many points of failure, and we quickly disperse our energy.
Optimizing often happens due to an external goal that we aim to reach. Of course, we want to get better all the time, but this happens by focussing. And not by trying to squeeze ever more into our lives.
As humans, we are systems with body and mind; and we can only push ourselves so far. To be sure, we can go remarkably far, but we have to play within our system limits.
Because when we overreach and suffer, for example, from sleep deprivation, we cannot operate at our best. Sufficient regeneration is a natural part of any stable system.
Stability leads to the third point, which is to best aim for resilience. We often underestimate the importance of resilience. As a result, we tend to sacrifice stability to goals like maximizing income or comfort, which both can lead to a system collapse.
When we maximize income at the cost of depleting our health, burnout can result. On the other hand, being too comfortable can result in too little physical exercise and multiple diseases.
Fourth, work with goals as an indication of direction. Ask how you want to live, not what you want to have.
What you do every day determines your progress and direction. Goals can be part of that, but what you do determines where you are going.
Donella H. Meadows wonderfully described the difference between goals and actions in her seminal book ‘Thinking in systems – a primer‘ (2009): The purpose of a system is defined by the observable behavior, and not by the stated goals.
For example, many people say they want to be a writer. So you have to write, best daily. If you then observe yourself every day, you can naturally call yourself a writer.
If we say that we want to be a writer but don’t write or, even worse, agonize over not producing any written material, that statement serves our identity. But it’s not an accurate description of our system as a writer. Or put differently: Being something is very much about doing.
And fifth, systems are hierarchical. Our mind works as a system. We may live in a family, which again is a system. Our city is a part of a state, that state is part of a country, and so forth.
Similarly, we need to clarify the different systems in our life and their importance.
The switched-on growth-system works with three systems or pillars, which are inner (growth mindset) and outer freedom (wealth system), and meaning (transcendence).
You may want to compare your understanding of systems with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Your systems will adapt as you progress in life.
Five Steps to Better Systems
With the five premises for approaching systems in mind, here are five steps outlining how to create effective systems for your life goals. These steps are iterative because any resilient system will go through a continuous feedback loop to adjust and optimize,
1. Take Stock of What You Are Doing Now
Take inventory of your activities throughout each day. Every bold action has to start with recognizing and appraising the status quo. And no activity in your life is not part of a system.
To keep things simple in the beginning, you may want to focus on business activities first. Eventually, however, all actions contribute to how you feel.
So, taking the www.switched-on.info website as an example, there are the following activities: writing of blog posts (which in itself includes various steps), maintenance of the technical infrastructure, building links, writing a newsletter, writing an e-book, answering incoming contact forms, building link partnerships, engaging in social media, to name but a few.
2. Create and Document a Process
Next, look at the process for each of your activities. What are the detailed steps you need to take, for example, to publish a new blog post?
And let’s heed Confucius‘ advice that ‘the strongest memory is not as strong as the weakest ink’: write down the steps in a process, commit them to scrutiny.
What are the entry and exit criteria for each step? Are there alternative ways?
For publishing a new blog post, the simplified process may look like this:
- Research topic
- Contextualize the purpose of the content and how does it fit into the overall website
- Write a working title and meta description (one-sentence summary)
- Write the first draft
- Optimize for SEO
- Create social media
- Respond to comments and social media
4. Act on Your Documentation, Implement!
Implementation is the fun part. Enjoy seeing your documentation in action.
And document further: How long does each step take? What difficulties do you encounter? Is any of the steps redundant, or could it better be integrated with another step?
Write down your findings. You will thank yourself later. Any data and visibility into your process will help to make your process better and your life easier.
5. Evaluate Feeback and Continuously Improve
The magic follows the fun part. Monitor feedback and statistics. Make data your friend. Confirm your hunches with data. Be ruthless because there will be surprises.
It happens that you put all your heart into an article, and nobody gives a damn. And then you casually pin down a piece and hits the sweat sport in your audience. Your web analytics will tell the truth.
Make your feedback the virtuous self-enhancing loop for your systems.
If you are working on the Internet, look for what you can automate, batch, or even outsource.
Services like If This Then That (IFTTT) or Zapier help to create connections between actions. Something straightforward would be to post your newly published article straight to Twitter and other social media.
The more you can automate and save your time, the better. There is no reason why a knowledge worker should not look at her process like a well-oiled machine.
Remember the Purpose of Creating Effective Systems As You Move Forward
So this is how to create effective systems for your life goals.
Sometimes, documenting may seem restrictive to the point of anal-retentive.
Especially if you have a feeling and perceiving personality like myself, implementing systems in your life may not come easy.
Then it’s good to remember why to implement systems in the first place: The purpose is not to keep you busy, but instead to free more time and build guidelines to focus on what is essential. And being rigid on your time is the best way to create more space to be creative and optimize your productivity.
In case you are new to setting up, documenting, and tracking systems for yourself, you will be amazed at how it changes your life.