Goals are great, but systems are better. Goals give you a sense of direction of where to go but don’t help you to be present in the moment. It focuses too much on the end result rather than the process. Don’t you want to enjoy your life now and each day, rather than when you reach your goal then end up disappointed because reaching your goal didn’t make you feel much happier? After reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, this couldn’t have been any clearer to me.
How many times have you set goals and never reached them? How many times have you reached your goal only to set another one because you still don’t feel like you’re succeeding? For many years I was always focused on having a minimalist, organized home, and being healthy and working out. But every time I looked at my life and saw that I hadn’t reached my goals, I would instantly feel like a failure.
James Clear states four problems why systems are better than goals, in summary, here is why:
- Winners and losers have the same goals, but how you take action daily determines which outcome you will get.
- Achieving a goal is only a momentary change. Instead of focusing on changing a goal, you need to think about changing the systems and rules behind it. Don’t just treat the system, treat the cause of it.
- Goals restrict your happiness. With goals, you are always waiting for the future you to be happy, instead of being happy now.
- Goals are at odds with long-term progress. When you reach your goal, you tend to go back to your old habits because you already reached your goal and now you have nothing else to motivate you. Once you reach your goal, you celebrate. But then you realize that you’ve lost the thing that was giving you purpose and direction. “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.”
To read more about these reasons be sure to check out his post here: https://jamesclear.com/goals-systems
Other times I would reach a point in my life where my house was organized and neat but it would only last for a day. Then I’d feel unhappy again and set another goal. It became a repetitive process and I was never happy because clutter kept gathering.
I felt my house was always messy and I kept bringing in more new stuff more than I was throwing out. What I needed wasn’t a goal of having an organized home, but a system for keeping my home organized, clean and clutter free.
For working out, I wanted to go to the gym at least three times a week. But that rarely happened. I hated the gym. I always felt lost and confused, I didn’t know which machines to work on, and I felt like everyone is just judging me (even though they weren’t!).
But I knew exercising was healthy for me. I knew working out would make me feel less stressed out. It would increase my happiness and moods. It would make me feel stronger. It would let me keep up and play more with my three kids. Working out was important to me, but I never did accomplish my goal of going to the gym three times a week because I was focused on that hard to reach goal, rather than creating a system of an exercise routine that I can do every day that made me feel good.
I really like James Clear’s take on goals vs. systems here:
Are goals completely useless? Of course not. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.
James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits
After succeeding at my goal of becoming a blogger where I never would have to go back to work, I started to realize that my success didn’t have much to do with any goals I set, rather the system I was following.
When I first started blogging I was literally making $0.03 cents a month from Google Adsense! I didn’t start a blog to become rich, I really didn’t have any goals, to be honest. I was just writing and creating designs that I wanted to share online. I didn’t know where this blog would take me, it was just a system I had created and followed.
After writing and sharing printables on my blog consistently for the past 4-5 years, my blogging has given me so many opportunities and lots of different ways for me to make more income.
I think Scott Adams describes why systems are much better than just setting goals best here:
My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.
Scott Adams, Goals vs. Systems
So to take what I learned from my blogging system and incorporate it into my working out and keeping a clean home goals, I started creating systems for those too.
My Home Cleaning System
Instead of cleaning up the house after it gets trashed every day I started cleaning up as I go. I learned about the one-touch rule, where you put away an item where it belongs the first time rather than putting it down somewhere it doesn’t belong then having to clean it up later. I started cleaning up in between times where I wasn’t doing anything. For example, if I was waiting for water to boil in the kitchen, I’d start cleaning the countertops or putting away some dishes.
I created a cleaning routine where I set up what chores I will do on what day, this is what my clenaing routine looks like:
- Mondays – Clean the Bathrooms
- Tuesdays – Clean the Kitchen
- Wednesdays – Clean up the office/living room/kids’ rooms
- Thursdays – Clean up the bedrooms
- Fridays – Declutter/Clean up general areas
I even went further in creating checklists for what to do each day. So for example, on Mondays, cleaning the bathrooms had a full list: scrub toilets, wash bathmats and towels, dust light fixtures, sweep/mop floors, clean mirror, scrub the tub, scrub the toilet, etc. I had these checklists for each day. and when the day came I simply followed the list. It limited my decision making, I didn’t really have to use any willpower because it started becoming so routine for me and I was actually keeping my house clean.
I also had a system for clutter.
- Each morning I make sure that I empty the dishwasher (or have the boys do it)
- I start a load of laundry every morning to avoid having to do wash five loads at once.
- I followed a rule that countertops should be as bare as possible.
- If I bought something new I had to first make sure I didn’t have it already.
- If I brought something new into the house then I would automatically have to get rid of 2 or more things similar to it.
- We also follow the “everything in its place rule”, where we created a home for everything. I love that I never lose my keys anymore because we always put it in the basket by the front door.
This system has really helped me keep the house clean and organized. For working out, instead of trying to achieve a goal of working out 3-4 times a week I started off slow..here’s what that system looks like now.
My Exercise System
Instead of trying to go to the gym 3 times a week I started off by first parking super far and taking a 10 minute walk in the mornings when I took the boys to school. After that morning walk I would feel energized and ready to take on the day.
I listed the main areas of my body I wanted to work out and assigned days for when I would work out that part.
- Mondays – Butt/Legs Day
- Tuesdays – Arms/Chest
- Wednesdays – Butt/Legs Day
- Thursdays – Abs/Core/Strength Training
- Fridays – Cardio
I then assigned a time that would work best for my workouts. This took a lot of trial and error. Eventually I found mid-mornings to work best for me. I tried going after dropping the boys at school but the baby would still be tired and wanting to nurse, then afterwards I would get hungry and have to eat breakfast. So now we go 30 minutes after breakfast which is around 10:00am.
I also looked up some workouts for each of these exercise routines so I never had to worry about what to do. Now I know that on Mondays and Wednesdays my workouts would be 30 seconds of each workout:
- High Stepping
- Butt Kicks
- Donkey Kicks (left and right)
- Butt Bridges
- Curtsy Lunges
- Lunge Knee Hops (left and right)
- Flutter Kicks
- Bench Glute Kick-Backs (left and right)
- Sumo Squats
- Hip Bridges and Leg Lifts (left and right)
- Mountain Climbers
- Kneeling Lunges (left and right)
To make the habit of exercising every day I started creating and following rules to make sure the habit stuck. Here’s a list of rules that helped a lot:
- Making sure my workout clothes are easy to find (I hated having to look for workout clothes that were mixed with my regular pants) Now I have a set drawer just for workout clothes (sports bras, tops, and workout pants)
- For my home workouts, Mondays and Wednesdays, I make sure my workout gear is easily accessible and not in the back of a closet. I leave out my resistance bands, mats and weights in a basket right in the living room.
My Business System
For my blog and business I have a goal of being more consistent. I really want to be more visible and start creating more videos. I also want to continue creating more products that will help my readers. My goal is to double my income by June of 2019. I know that in order to do that I need a system where I am consistently working on my business and not just when I feel like it. Some of the systems I need to make sure I do are:
- Creating bi-weekly videos
- Writing bi-weekly blog posts
- Working on my projects
- Emailing my newsletter more consistently and not just during sales
- Offering more freebies consistently
- Offering valuable information
- Responding to emails, comments, and messages
- Continue submitting designs for Silhouette to increase that income
My Business Routine
I’ve assigned days of the week for when I will work on each of those areas in my business. That way I won’t feel overwhelmed and be able to focus better. I also assigned certain work hours. I work from 8:30am – 9:30am and 3:30pm – 5:30pm.
- Mondays – Admin Day/Social Media
- Tuesdays – Content Creation
- Wednesdays – Write/Project
- Thursdays – Design
- Fridays – Write/Project
- Sundays – (optional) Content Creation
My Business Rules
In order to stay focused, avoid distractions, stop procrastinating I started to list out some rules to follow for my business as well.
- Use Pomodoro timers (I used to use the Be Focused App but I’m so visual so I bought these timer cubes and they work so much better!)
- Work on hard tasks when Paul takes the kids to the gym
- Work on social media and networking during in between times or when I am just laying the couch
- Keep my desk clean and empty
- After working on a project always put everything away to keep the office clean and ready to work
- Before closing the laptop make sure to close all tabs to avoid losing focus when I start working again next time.
Goals or Systems?
So what do you think? Do you think if you created systems in your life would you still be able to reach your goals? I think I will still use goals but I am going to focus more on my systems.
Creating a system that works for you will take time, but you just have to start. Don’t procrastinate. You have to figure out what days work best around your schedule, when you will have the most energy, plan out your workouts, lay out your clothes, make all the tough decisions ahead of time. If you continue to show up and work on the process the results will come.
An easy way to create systems is by creating simple checklists. I use checklists to map out how to do tasks step-by-step. It’s something I can come back and refer to every time. Creating checklists and rules in my life helps me to save mental space, saves 5-10-30 minutes, and makes sure I am not missing anything. It makes sure I am always doing things efficiently. Checklists will help you to reduce stress, you won’t worry about forgetting something. And that will free your mind up to think about other things.
After creating your checklist systems, continue to test, tweak and improve your systems until it helps you reach your desired outcomes. You can also see which processes you can delegate or outsource, group, simplify, or eliminate altogether. This way you can focus only on the ones that matter.
Do you need to systemize every part of your life? No. Just the ones that are inefficient. Ones that cause you stress. Identify the systems that aren’t working well, like your morning routines, or how you prepare for a test. Don’t create checklists for everything. Don’t create systems on everything in your life. Some of your systems are already working well.
Some other systems I have in my life are making sure my car gets an oil change every 4000 miles (checking it every few months) , having a packing list for whenever we travel, how to write and publish my blog posts every time,
Systems give you control. We are in a world of constant distractions. Our minds are always distracted. We need the right structure, the right foundations, the right systems in order to succeed.
People with systems succeed because they are consistently focusing on the foundational tasks and steps to get to their goals.
If you are ready to start creating your systems, I’ve created a workbook that helps you do just that. One section of the workbook is completely focused on creating rules, routines, and workflow checklists to help you.
This workbook will help you:
- Create routines to plan more effectively daily
- Take action daily
- Create a system that will help you be more productive
- Banish procrastination
- Set quarterly goals
- Figure out the small baby steps you need to take to act on your goals
- and always have clarity and know what you should be working on when
If you’re ready to create your system be sure to check out Wonderful Plans. Learn more about it here.