Ever wondered why some people have easy and effortless systems in place and why you don’t?
I heard it again just yesterday, a potential client saying they hadn’t had time to set up a system. Was it you? I say you don’t have time not to set up a system.
A system is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole. Things, that work together. In other words, a good system makes things easier for you. The parts are used well, to serve you, and you save a lot of time.
The easiest way to reduce stress and overwhelm is to have a system. A repeatable process that gives form to the tasks you do, and lets you feel confident and in control.
A good system focuses your efforts by providing a repeatable set of steps to achieve a goal. A really great system will let you learn, practice, tweak and upgrade it as needed.
Each iteration of an easy and effortless system will allow you to save time, gain focus and become more productive. And yes, I realize I’m going to be asking you to exert some effort upfront to get to the effortless part. That comes from forming the habit of using the system.
Start by looking at processes you already have in place. Are they complete? Add steps, remove steps, adjust and update as needed. Then look at areas that are frustrating you. Create one system at a time and watch your work and life get easier.
Learn & Practice for Easy and Effortless Systems
Experience has revealed that you need to know a system well before you can decide which parts don’t work for you. Keeping that in mind, try applying these steps and start creating systems for yourself today.
Use a system well:
- What is your desired outcome? You need to know what you are trying to achieve so you can tell when you are done.
- Do the steps, in a certain order. Brainstorm all the steps you can think of to reach that goal. Then pick an order you will do them in. It is OK to adjust as you go so, just pick an order and stay with it until there is a sticking point.
- Achieve a result. Notice how doing tasks in that order worked.
- Examine the results. Would doing a few of the tasks in a different order made the process happen more smoothly? Did any of the steps not matter at all?
- Adjust the checklist (yes you just made one!) to reflect the changes that need to happen for next time.
Fear or Excitement?
Do you resist implementing systems because you want to maintain your free spirit way of working? When you equate systems with too much structure and possibly pressure, you won’t get to experience the freedom an easy and effortless system provides. You are going to have difficulties getting your stuff done.
The trick is to create just enough structure, and plan for being in the mood to take on certain tasks.
You may be surprised to find out that I run my own business based on my intuition. It’s true. I’m a linear thinker, pattern seeking, steps obsessed, organizer who uses her intuition for almost all decisions – especially those related to my business.
How does that happen?
A while back, I realized that most indecision is based on fear. Intuition is nature’s way of keeping us safe. So, I harnessed that power. I include it as a step in my process and now I honor the fear.
Sometimes fear is there to give pause because there is real danger and sometimes it is there because we are entering unfamiliar territory, and sometimes its just because we are about to discover something amazing.
Excitement can look and feel a lot like fear, the internal, no real danger kind. It can stop you from taking the steps you need to be successful at your current endeavor. The simple act of becoming aware of this can help you do it anyway. We all (ok, most of us) know how much we want to get back on the roller coaster after the ride.
There are a few tricks to use this knowledge effectively.
- Always know your current goals and priorities. The stuff you are working on and towards.
- Always have a list of the tasks involved in getting you there.
- Focus on only a couple of projects at a time.
- Create your daily to do list by working on what feels expansive and exciting from the focused list.
- Try to include one unfamiliar thing a week. Keep learning, practice, realize the world won’t end because you tried something new, and keep moving forward.
This creates a nice blend of structure and free spirit action that will get you the results you seek.
Does the thought of creating a system still make you cringe? Try a different word – method, order, process and scheme are all synonyms.
I like systems because they make tasks almost automatic. Use methods to make things repeatable with an expected result. Use them consistently and get consistent results.
Do your laundry the same way every time and you will know when you are almost out of detergent, how long it will take, and when you need new clothes.
Pay your bills in the same way every time and you catch mistakes, know where your money is, and how long it takes.
Return from a business trip and do the same steps every time to get back in the swing – quickly refocus – know what new knowledge to incorporate into existing plans, how and when to follow up with the people, and if it was a profitable decision to make the trip in the first place.
Systems make things faster and easier. A good scheme is also delegatable. That will allow you to work on development activities while maintaining confidence that routine tasks are getting done.
Bottom line is that having systems save you lots of time in the long run. So, if you are feeling short on time, start scheming.
Tweak & Upgrade Your Easy and Effortless Systems
Are you frustrated that some area of your life isn’t working? Do you have a system for that area? Sometimes it is the lack of a functioning system that causes the frustration, not the task itself. Sometimes the system is just a little bit broken and needs an adjustment. And sometimes you have abandoned your system too soon and that’s what’s causing the frustration.
Reinventing the wheel every time can be stressful. Having a flat tire can be even more frustrating because it seems like it should be working when it doesn’t. Having a repeatable plan, a system, is a much easier way to function.
Take the time to break down the tasks involved in getting that frustrating thing done. It doesn’t matter if it is getting the kids out the door in the morning or submitting your expense report, the same procedure will help solve the problem. Take note of which of those tasks are repeatable and which are variable (depend on something or someone else). Now can you see where the way you are trying to do that thing goes wrong? Where the frustration starts.
Next, brainstorm ways of adjusting and anticipating that frustration. That’s the key to fixing your system. The repeatable tasks can often be made easier and sometimes even automated so you can focus your efforts on the variable parts of the system.
How many suggestions have you tried or purchased to fix your broken system? Patches only work sometimes. When you already have some structure and know what’s missing or broken and you use the right adhesive, like when you realize that having your grocery list with you at the store, for your regular shopping trip, would make it easier and faster to get home with the right ingredients.
The easiest fix is just to keep the list in your phone, or take a photo of your fridge list on the way out.
Did you give yourself the time to learn and use the new system? It takes awhile to learn new methods of doing, and a while longer for it to become habit. Giving up too soon is a frequent problem I see with my clients. They assume the system doesn’t work when really they just haven’t really used it. Be honest, have you done the steps in the right order for at least 3 weeks?
If not, try recommitting before claiming it doesn’t work or adjusting it. Determine ingredients, put list in phone, go to store, purchase items on list, put groceries away – every time you go to the store.
Was that system needed in the first place, or does using it take longer with out more benefit? I have witnessed some very complicated systems involving color-coding, cascading logic, a full moon, a map of the store, and a rainy Tuesday to work as designed. You have to look for more time just to use it. They are very frustrating and so rarely get used, so they don’t work.
Instead, ask yourself this question – “or I could…?” it helps you think it through before you implement complexity. Or I could just take a photo of the list on the fridge that I have been adding to all week as I use things up.
Systematizing is about creating repeatable steps that work for you and your life. When the steps are repeatable they get easier each time, and that is what saves you lots of time in the long run.
Make it Easy and Effortless
What is your favorite system? I bet it is 5 steps or less.
It takes a bit of time and effort to make things easy. That is my usual response when someone says “you make it look so easy.” Most of the time I don’t even think about the things that appear effortless. Because those are the tasks that have become routine to me.
I created a system and used it often enough that now it is habit, and I have saved my ongoing effort for something else. Something creative or difficult or new. Thinking about my day in terms of systems allows me to view my time as interconnected. What can I do now to save time and effort later?
Anyone can do it with a little practice.
The best part about systems is that they can adapt to changes in my situation. When something new comes in I evaluate its place in my space and routine and make the necessary adjustments. All the playing around to see which parts go where and what parts can go, is what allows me to “know” the system. The awareness breeds the good habit.
Organized people know that there is a little more chaos before the breakthrough that makes a system easy. Understanding the system is how to get there. There it is again, that concept of system. And, this is why I’m always talking about it. Everything is connected.
So, when you have a great system that has become habit, and therefore effortless, it is easy to forget how you got it working that way in the first place. I think it is beneficial to step back and take a look at your systems – the ones that are working – and see why every once in awhile.
Let’s tinker. Think about what systems, or partial systems you already have in place. If you are having a hard time with this, think about what you do first thing in the morning. What are the first 4 or 5 tasks you do every time you wake up, before you even think straight? That is your wake up and get going system.
Is it working? Would putting the toothpaste closer to the toothbrush help? How about getting the piles out of the hallway so you don’t trip on the way to the coffee? Would already having the water in the coffee maker be less frustrating? See how that works?
When a piece of your system becomes a point of frustration it’s time to adjust. Sometimes it’s as easy as pouring the water at a different point in the routine (the night before). Not making the adjustment can cause years of frustration.
Sometimes it cascades into problems with other things too. Pouring water into the coffee maker when still half asleep can cause spilling which can cause a short, which can lead to no available coffee. That is just a bad start to the day.
What point of frustration in your day needs fixing? What one thing can you do to fix it?
If you look at each piece of your day like this, pretty soon you will have a much smoother day.