In my first post on systems, I shared the benefits of having systems in your life. Just in case you think you’re “not really a system type of person,” I should explain — you already have some systems. Really.
Strangely enough, whether you are organized or live life “by the seat of your pants,” you have systems. Many of them may be unconscious. You put your clothes on in a similar fashion each day. You probably put the same leg first into your pants, you put the same shoe on first each day. You brush your teeth in approximately the same way each day. Your brain does this to conserve energy. It moves tasks that are commonly done out of the prefrontal cortex (home of conscious thought, decision making and willpower) to a lower region of the brain called the basal ganglia. This area of the brain is responsible for automating common behaviors.
The brain does this to conserve energy and speed itself up. After you do something a good number of times, it moves to the basal ganglia, and the brain becomes much more efficient in performing that action, because little to no conscious thought goes into it.
So, what I’m advocating is that you put this energy-saving, willpower-conserving brain trick into play for you. But how do you get them into the “habit” section of the brain? Here’s the starting trick: move some of the actions that represent your deepest values outside your brain entirely.
In other words, write it down, and use a checklist.
So here’s how to develop systems for your life or work:
1. Notice where systems are needed.
Take inventory. Here are some questions to help:
- Where do you often forget things?
- In what areas are you stressed?
- What areas of your life make you sigh heavily right now?
- Is there an area where I really am struggling with the mental RAM to do well?
- In what good things am I struggling with having enough willpower?
2. Write down each step of doing something perfectly.
If this is finances, what does an ideal financial week/month look like?
(Deposit paycheck, give to charity, save, pay key bills, purchase needs…?)
If it’s at work, what does it take to prepare for pulling off a highly successful meeting?
(Prepare presentation? print handout materials? Contact attenders? and probably 20 other things)
If it’s cleaning a building, what needs to be done in each room?
If it’s spiritual, what time and resources do you need to have a great time of spiritual growth?
If it’s getting a successful start to the day, what are the things you need to get done each day?
This step can be challenging, but it’s worth it. Honestly, as I think about it — most of the areas in my life that are working… are areas where I have taken the time to do this kind of heavy mental lifting.
I sat down once and typed out every single step to a perfectly executed weekend worship service. (There were over 60!) Then, it was time to go on to the next step:
3. Organize your list into a written checklist.
When you have identified everything that needs to be done, put them in order or priority, or group them together by types of actions.
This will not work 100% the first time. You’ll have to add & change as you use the list. This isn’t a failure, it’s improvement!
4. Find a place to keep your system.
Save your work in a place where you can quickly get a copy again. For me, some of my systems live in Evernote, while others are hard copy that stay in a place (a clipboard the cleaning supplies room, laminated on the sound booth counter at church, etc.)
I’ll talk more about how I save my systems in the next post.
5. Automate what you can.
With all the digital tools available, there are some things you should never have to remember again, except to review once or twice per year.
Finances: Giving through your church website. Retirement savings through your company’s 401(k) program. Short-term savings with a checking to savings weekly auto draft.
Relationships: This one’s tough to automate. But IFTTT sends me a text each week to remind me to text my wife and ask how her day is going. (Don’t tell her.) 🙂 For a while I felt bad about having to do this kind of stuff… then I realized, “Hey, I’m not devaluing my wife by ‘reducing her to a checklist!’ I’m acting like she is too valuable to leave to chance!”
You can’t automate everything, but if you automate 15 actions per week, that clears some stress!
6. Set reminders.
To get your unconscious mind to let go of the stress of holding everything in short-term memory, you’ll need to set reminders so you can forget them and live in the moment.
This has never been so easy in the history of mankind. You probably own a cell phone, and probably a smartphone.
- Alarms! (Most have custom repeat options these days!)
- Calendar alerts! (Set Google calendar to text you when an event happens in 10 minutes, or 30 minutes)
- Location based alerts! (I have one that reminds me to text my wife when I arrive at Sam’s Club.)
In the next post, I’m diving deeper into the systems that are working for me right now. I’ll share some of my favorite tools in this area.
How about you? What systems do you need to install in your life? Share them below, or on Facebook.