Monday, December 13, 2010

What's your System?

from the DLM Blog:

Are Your Systems Letting You Down?

Posted: 07 Dec 2010 06:27 AM PST

You always lose your keys. You rarely get any exercise. There never seem to be any clean mugs. You keep forgetting to put that letter in the mailbox. You have great intentions about putting some money into your savings account each month – but you never actually do.

A bunch of very different problems, but with one root cause: your system is letting you down.

Or, worse, you don't have a system at all...

Why You Need Systems

I know this is going to sound a bit obsessive-compulsive, but having the right system in place – even for the smallest of tasks – is really important.

Why? Because it saves thinking. It prevents repeated mistakes. It circumvents willpower and lets you build strong habits without struggling to force yourself to have more self-discipline.

You might well have a bunch of systems at work. When I worked in tech support, we had clear, step-by-step instructions for all sorts of tasks, like setting up new forums for clients. We had systems for who did what when.

But do you have strong, reliable systems set up in your personal life?

A "system" could look like any of these:
  • You always put your keys on the hook in the kitchen

  • You go out for a walk every evening before dinner, buying fresh vegetables on the way

  • You always put the dishwasher on in the evening

  • You keep your outgoing mail near the front door so that you remember to put it up

  • You set up an automated transfer between your checking account and your savings, so that you never need to summon up the willpower to make that transfer manually
If there are little areas of your life which constantly bug you, or problems which you just can't seem to get over, then create a simple system which you can implement to help you through.

Finding the Point of Failure

Very often, you do have a system in place – but it's not working. (You might not realize that it even is a system.) For instance:
  • You leave your keys in the pocket of whatever jacket or coat you're wearing

  • You slump on the sofa every evening and end up ordering take-out because the fridge is empty

  • You only put the dishwasher on when you realise you've run out of clean plates
...and so on.

You probably haven't set these systems up consciously, but they're running, all the same. To fix them, you need to look for the point of failure – the moment when it all goes wrong. There's often one very specific point where you can take action to turn things around:
  • You lock the car (fine), unlock the front door (fine), put the keys straight into your coat pocket (fail!)

  • You write a letter (fine), put on a stamp (fine), and leave it on the kitchen table amongst a pile of papers (fail!)
One of the recurrent problems that I had was forgetting things I'd agreed to at Church: people would often talk to me after the service, I'd nod and agree, and I'd have forgotten about it by the time I'd got home. Now, I'm in the habit of jotting down a note to myself as a reminder.

Very simple actions can absolutely make the difference between success and failure. Taking just a few minutes to think up a better system – and to get into the habit of using it – can save you a lot of mistakes and wasted time.

What simple systems could you put into practice today?

Written on 12/7/2010 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing.Photo Credit: Tony Brierton Photos

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