It’s been said that a person without goals is like a ship without a rudder. True enough, and a goal without a plan to achieve it is like a destination without a road. In his excellent book, Benjamin Hardy tells us that Willpower Doesn’t Work. We as humans need a method for achieving our goals, not just setting them. Fortunately one has already been invented: it’s called a system.
My definition of a system is a set of practices that, if followed, will result in a predictable outcome. An outcome I am very motivated to see realized is the success of my business. One of the critical factors in making that vision a reality is assessing the health and trajectory of my business on a regular basis. To do this I have formulated a series of recurring reports that our administrative staff generates which illustrate how well we’re achieving key business metrics such as productivity, profitability, efficiency, etc. Having the reports available, however, is not enough; I need to ensure I review them regularly so that I can take appropriate action in the business based on what they tell me.
For a long time I reviewed them “whenever I had time”. In other words, not on a regular basis. As a result, I was missing trends and key insights I should have been paying close attention to, and not taking timely and appropriate action as a result. I realized I didn’t have a good system in place to ensure I reviewed the reports regularly. I also realized that there were other items I should have been reviewing regularly that were also being neglected (goals, sales leads status, audits, etc). My solution (system) was to create a series of Calendar reminders for Monday mornings that reminded me (and blocked off time in my schedule) to spend time reviewing these specific items. Though simple, it has worked brilliantly for me.
Several years back I started training in Jiu-Jitsu. I loved it, and set a goal to get my blue belt. To achieve that goal I needed to be training several times per week or I wouldn’t progress, but things kept getting in the way of being there often enough. I’d have a long day at work that would cut into training time, or there was a school event for the kids, or I was too tired, etc. After three years I still didn’t have my blue belt and I quit (sad day). The reason I never got there wasn’t because I didn’t want it, it was because I never put into place a system to ensure I could train often enough.
How could I have created such a system? I could have decided that on such and such days I will create dedicated calendar events blocking out training time so work didn’t sneak up and get in the way, I could have planned for short afternoon naps to make sure I had the energy to train, I could have set a recurring task to look at my family obligations 2 weeks out so events requiring my attendance could be identified early and I could rearrange my training schedule for those days. I never did any of these things, and that’s why I failed.
Sidenote: I have since returned to jiu jitsu, implemented a simple system, and earned my blue belt a year ago.
I worry that people get scared of the word “system” because it conjures up in their minds immense complexity, huge time commitments, and fear of the unknown. But systems can be really simple. It could just be a calendar event like I scheduled to review reports, or simple checklists like the ones we use for our test fixture design at Pipeline before releasing critical documents, or a method for organizing files so everyone knows where to find what. The point is, systems can be simple, and the best ones often are.
How do you know if your system is a good one? Try it! If after a few weeks you’re getting more of what you want (i.e. achieving your goals) it’s probably a good system. If you’re not, chances are your system needs improving. Regardless, the system for evaluating a system is simply to try it and see what happens, then revise as needed.
If you’re having trouble accomplishing your goals, take a look at the systems you’ve put in place (or haven’t) to support those goals. Are your systems in alignment with (i.e supporting the accomplishment of) your goals? If not, think about the behaviors that need to occur to achieve those goals, then create a system (checklist, calendar event, routine, etc) to ensure those behaviors get done. Systems are our friends. Good luck 🙂