Master your Systems and Take Control of your Future
Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights
Systems are vital to working effectively (and not just efficiently), and they are key to achieving your goals. If you didn’t achieve the successes you’d hoped for last year – don’t panic. The chances are it’s just your systems that need a tweak in order to help you move forwards over the next 12 months.
What is a system?
The dictionary defines a system as a set of connected things or parts. Systems can also be described as a set of principles or a method to achieve something.
The three key parts of any system
All systems contain three key elements: an input, a process and an output.
An input is anything you do to activate the system or give the system use. A process contains the steps and functions that the system will perform. An output is the result that you get from the previous elements: input + process = output. To get the most out of any system you need to optimise the input first. Your second focus should be to identify what the right process is to obtain the maximum output.
So, thinking back to 2017 – if something you set out to achieve didn’t go well, then your input or process was probably not right or you didn’t have a handle on what the output should have been.
Six characteristics of a good system
Productivity expert Annie Mueller defines the six characteristics of a good system as follows:
1) A system should be designed to achieve a specific purpose – every system needs a ‘why’.
2) A system should be as efficient as possible – we often do things the way they’ve always been done. Often the pain of trying something new prevents us from taking action. We stick with familiar. Question every component.
3) A system should contain everything it needs to accomplish its purpose – only keep the necessary elements. The simplest solution is invariably the best solution.
4) A system should be repeatable and teachable – if you cant teach it then you’ve created a bottleneck and that will hinder your overall productivity.
5) A system should give you predictable results – unpredictability hinders productivity.
6) A system should be reviewed regularly – know what your biggest need is or the problem that needs to be solved.
Improving your systems
Always be on the look out for improvements to your systems. Schedule into your diary opportunities to review your systems so that they can grow and evolve with you. Just because a system worked for you a year ago, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you today. If the thought of continuous improvement daunts you, then ask people around you for ideas. What systems do they use that you could adapt for yourself?
Never underestimate the impact of 1% improvements i.e. small changes and adjustments. I recently heard the story of a man who always made coffee for his wife in the morning, poured it into a flask, tightened the lid and left it on the kitchen worktop for her each day. The problem was that he always over-tightened the lid and she struggled to take the lid off to add in the milk. When the man discovered this seemingly small problem he adapted his system so that he didn’t screw the coffee lid on so tightly. It might seem insignificant on the surface but those marginal gains add up to a big overall improvement in efficiency over a lifetime.
Calendars and saying ‘no’
Your calendar is a system that you need to fiercely protect. If people want to get in your calendar and steal your time then there needs to be a good reason. Most people make the mistake of filling any empty time in their calendar with requests for their time. This results in you becoming overwhelmed, stressed and with little energy (both physically and mentally) for the more important tasks that you originally included to help you achieve your goals.
Create gaps in your diary and ensure they stay there. These gaps will give you breathing space. Push back on requests for your time. Most of the time they can be answered by someone else or at another time. Make your default response ‘no’, rather than ‘yes’.
Carpe diem (Latin for ‘seize the day’) – make today the day that you start to shake up your systems and realise their value in pushing you forward to achieving your goals.
If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.
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