You can think about it. Analyze it. Plan it. Diagram it. Visualize it.
But at some point, there is JUST GETTING ON WITH IT.
You won’t always know all the steps to take. If you wait until you have total clarity, you may never begin. And you certainly won’t know at the beginning what you’ll know by the end. Yes learn all you can but at some point you’ve got to get on with it. Even if it feels messy, clumsy or inefficient, this is how you learn the way.
Over time you can optimize the course, learn where you can skip steps, connect with people that help you speed ahead and then voila like magic you suddenly find yourself THERE. But without a THERE or getting started, there is no space for the magic to take place.
HAVING A VISION IS THE FIRST PLACE TO START
So having a VISION is the first place to start. Unless you know where THERE is .. you may get distracted and wander into other experiments that are not taking you to place you want to be.
ONCE YOU’VE GOTTEN CLEAR ON WHERE ‘THERE’ IS
Once you’ve gotten clear on where THERE is.. you’re ready to begin taking your first steps. You might be unsure if they are even the right steps – that’s okay. Just get going on what feels like the best step for now and you’ll start figuring things out.
The first thing you’ll figure out is whether a step is something you’re going to repeat often or if its a one time action. For example setting up a corporation is a one-time activity, but maintaining a newsletter is a recurring event.
CREATING PROCESSES – BEGINNING WITH MINI-SYSTEMS
Once you’ve begun to identify recurring events (and there will be a lot of them) you’ll want to think through a system for how to optimize them. It can be as simple as drawing out how one step flows into the next to create a micro-outcome, as you create a mini-system. Systems thinking is a powerful way to produce outcomes on a consistent basis. And creating mini-systems within a larger system is one way to create bigger a bigger, consistent outcome.
Think of the word ‘system’ as an acronym for “Saving Your Self Time, Energy and Money” .. systems conserve energy. From our biological systems to our economic systems – the output of a good system is a positive end result. Whether it’s saving resources and making more.
Once you’ve started thinking in terms of systems you can then start thinking about RULES.
IF / THEN RULES
Rules are a simple way to identify what needs to be turned into a system. When you’re first beginning many ‘fires’ may arise that require your urgent and immediate attention. As these fires arise, rather than just putting them out and moving onto the next one – create a RULE for what to do in case that same issue arises again. Put just a little more thought into HOW you responded to the fire to effectively resolve it, and what you consider to be the best way to resolve it in the future. This will not only inform your future self, but it will also help anyone you assign to do this operation in the future. So in effect, you’re creating training on the fly that will help others to replace you. By setting up simple rules, you’re solving problems not only in the moment, but creating systems that will create ideal outcomes in the future.
If / Then Rules are simple and effective. IF X situation occurs again (the fire) , THEN we take Y action(s) (the solution). You only replace a rule if you come up with a better, faster or cheaper solution for dealing with that fire again.
The good news with creating these kind of rules is that you only have to deal with surprise fires once. And as your system grows tighter and tighter, the surprises become fewer and fewer, and the size of the fires grow smaller and smaller.
A business with the right systems in place gets a higher valuation than one that still requires the owner to put out fires. Because a smart investor values both the output of the business (profits) AND it’s systems that ensure the more consistent and reliable outcomes, WITH the least effort.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Last by not least these systems are nothing without the right people to operate them. So having the right systems and training for how to operate those systems are important. And as the creator of something the chief responsibility is to develop these systems and training – which you’ll discover along the way as you take action in realizing your vision.
SYSTEM CREATORS – NEXT LEVEL
You can shorten the development of these systems sharply by working with people that already know many of the systems or who can ADAPT to the fires as they arise and develop new systems WITH YOU. This kind of assistance can be invaluable and takes the bulk of the heavy lifting (identifying fires and creating systems for them) off of you.
The more you come to rely on systems and have well documented training, the less you’ll have to worry about when leave, get sick or in some way don’t show up to perform. Think of ‘system transferability’ as a kind of SYSTEM for when the people operating the system are not able to perform. Using what we’ve learned so far it would be an IF / THEN rule that says:
IF X person is not able to operate this system , THEN Y action will be taken. Where Y might represent putting another person in place or having someone as a back-up if it’s only a short term need.
System transferability is an obvious and important step in creating more full redundancy. And shows you how as you optimize systems, you’ll need to think at an even bigger picture, more meta-level to ensure all your systems keep functioning as planned over the longer time lines.
ELIMINATE A SYSTEM OR OPTIMIZE IT
Along these same lines you can also create systems that improve themselves. This is to ensure you don’t run into the issue of becoming too bureaucratic as an organization and less adapting to the changing environment.
A simple IF / THEN rule for adaptation could be something like: IF the system remains the same for longer than 90 days, we need to look at A: Is it still relevant? B: Is there something that can be optimized about it that we’re missing? This would create a system that looks at all systems after 90 days to see if they can be eliminated or optimized.
SYSTEMS THINKING FIRST
The good news about systems thinking is that you’ll quickly be able to identify where to spend your time so that you DON’T have to spend your time there again. Problem solving at the level of systems is one of the most leveraged activities you can do.
Leverage creates greater efficiency and outputs in the future. Amplifying or speeding up the success of your ideal outcome.
ONE TIME TASKS
Not all tasks can be turned into systems. In fact in the beginning you may not know which tasks will be recurring, until they do. In which case you work from your system for one-time tasks.
The first step to any system is to have an inbox or CAPTURE point for all new ideas, tasks, suggestions etc. This can be in a notebook, in a notes program, inside a task manager – there are various tools available for this. The idea is use the one that you feel MOST COMFORTABLE with using as you’ll be returning to it again and again as your default starting point for work.
DO YOURSELF OR DELEGATE
From the inbox the first major categorization is to determine whether you’re going to do the thing yourself or delegate it to someone else.
Early on you might think you need to do everything yourself, especially if resources are limited. But the truth is there are many ‘crowdsourcing’ options available now that allow you to enter into ‘micro-contracts’ with people on sites like Fiverr or even Odesk where you only pay for the job to get done .. and this can be a great test project for someone to help you see if you want them to work on future projects of a similar nature.
PAID PER TASK / PROJECT VS FULL TIME EMPLOYMENT
Employment itself seems to be moving towards these micro-contracts, simply because they work and give you the freedom to delegate on a per project or task basis, without having to micro-manage a person’s time. This also gives freedom to the person doing the work as they can choose when and how they want to work so long as they are getting the work done.
It only makes sense to hire people for full-time employment if they are going to operating a sufficient number of systems that it warrants a ‘full time’ person. In other words, if you aren’t sure of your systems yet, you probably don’t have a job description. And without a job description, you’re probably just wasting your time and money hiring someone full-time, UNLESS that person is going to create the systems that they need to operate. In other words, don’t hire someone full time unless you’re clear on what they are going to do! Or you are sure they have the track record- to get clear on what needs to be done.
If you don’t yet have a clear system in place yet, hiring per project or task is a great way to start without getting anyone’s hopes up for long term employment or wasting money on fixed overhead that could be better used somewhere else.
MANAGING PROJECTS / TASKS
Once you’ve started to delegate tasks or projects, you’ll want to use an online or cloud based tool for easier tracking. I also suggest a simple ‘daily report’ format that enables you to see what they did and what they are going to do next as they make progress. The main tool I use for project tracking is Ticktick and then for daily reports I simply use email.
GETTING CLEAR ON WHAT YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DO FIRST
Most people operate in the reverse, thinking they have to do everything and only start to delegate or build a team when they are desperate or overwhelmed and their work / life balance is off-kilter. By being more clear headed up front that you’re going to focus on only those things that you want to do or have to do – you’ll have more space to be clear headed about creating systems, and finding the right people to operate them.
YOUR SYSTEM FOR GETTING THINGS DONE
Now that you’re only left with the tasks or projects that you want to do, like to do, or have to do because you couldn’t find anyone else to do them, let’s help you get more streamlined in how to organize them and focus your time.
INBOX – The inbox is your place of capturing any relevant idea, task or solution that could help move your life, business, system or project forward. Having a place to capture gets it out of your mind the moment inspiration strikes. From there you can do additional thinking and sorting – but for now just capture the thoughts in raw form right as they come.
Estimate Time After you capture an idea, to know whether it is an actionable task yet, estimate the time it would take to complete. If you’re unsure, its likely because it’s not an action item yet – it’s still a rough idea that needs to be broken down. Only after you’ve broken it down more into actionable steps can you truly estimate the time it will take to get done by adding up the time of each step.
Delegate – As mentioned earlier, once you have a clear action step, with time estimate you can find someone to work on each item or the whole project.
The inbox capture, breaking down the thoughts into action steps and delegation to the right person, are some of the highest value and most leveraged activities that often times, ONLY YOU can do. Another layer to move the ball forward would be to find someone who can assist with following up the people you have delegated to. This will save you time from having to hover over people or having things fall through the cracks.
Someday – If something feels like a good idea but it’s not relevant yet, or not something you want to put more resources into for now, you simply delay or procrastinate on it by moving it to a someday section. Yes it would be nice to do this thing, or realize this outcome – but it can wait. You still captured the idea and perhaps you even broke it down more into actionable steps – but now is not the time. So just wait. Not everything can be done at the same time. Being selective about what you work on and when are attributes of a strong leader with limited resources. Setup a reminder to review your someday folder at least once a week to see what may have changed. Simply recycle the ideas back into your inbox and re-categorize them to be delegated, delayed (goes back into someday), deleted (no longer relevant) or DO — which means you!
DOING THE THING YOURSELF
As you can see, much of the “doing” in your system is thinking from a high level what needs to be done, how it will be done, when it will be done, who will do it etc. It’s not actually doing the task.
But then it gets to the point where it’s just faster, easier or better in some way (perhaps you just like to do it) for you to do a task personally. But only after you’ve given it some leveraged thought. The reason for this is because often times people get so busy they don’t have the time to think from a more leveraged vantage point and so they are always too busy or stressed out to give careful consideration to everything they are doing. They rush around putting out fires, so they aren’t thinking of systems. They don’t have the time to train anybody so they aren’t delegating. They don’t have time to detail out their systems, so they have no training even if they wanted to delegate. So they never quite get ahead of the curve to even become more of a leveraged thinker. But not you.. you’re now ready to Do at the highest level of what you want or what’s most important.
CREATING PERSONAL HABITS THAT CHARGE YOU UP
There’s a saying “You can’t outsource your push ups” , and I think its really the first place to start with what you should actually be doing. Instead of thinking about the work you must do, think about the personal habits you can put into place first thing in the morning. Think of your body as the most sophisticated technology on this planet when its properly optimized it can do wonders. When it’s poorly optimized everything else suffers.
So your first ‘work’ is to actually optimize your human body. It needs plenty of rest, good hydration, good nutrition and plenty of movement. There’s also other modalities for moving energy in the body such as massage and sound and expression in the form of dance, painting, etc. Plus there’s a need for play and recreation. As well as a need for quality time connecting with loved ones. This may seem like a lot of actions that YOU and only YOU can do. But the reality is you can turn many of these needs into one system of daily habits, and you can make these habits into a game.
THE 7 MAJOR LIFE AREAS
In order to optimize the self I think of it in 7 main categories that are all operating simultaneously. No wonder it can seem so complex – unless you have this awareness it can be. Neglecting any one of the areas for very long will make its way to the surface and show up in unpleasant ways. But in maintaining a meta-level vision of self you can maintain this awareness on a consistent basis, to continually optimize the self before any ‘problems’ even show up – meaning that you can experience greater and greater levels of energy and fulfillment with none of the side-effects of neglecting these areas.
The 7 Major Life Areas Are:
The spirit basically lives in the body and mind.
The body lives in the environment and responds accordingly.
Quickest way to experience a better life: optimizing the environment. By optimizing the environment you can actually have a huge impact on your body and mind, making your habits easier, which also make your life better in a big way.
We could go into many ways of optimizing the environment but the first thing we want to do is turn the daily habits into a game.
TURNING HABITS INTO A GAME
There are two main ways I’ve developed that you can turn your daily habits into a game. One is done in the physical (offline) and the other is done in the digital (or online). You can choose to do one or both.
In the digital realm I simply use TickTick, which also tracks tasks. Its very easy to use Ticktick as my habit tracker as I’m already habitually go into it to manage my tasks, team and calendar. Now by using Ticktick, I’m reminded by my environment (the system itself) what I need to do on a daily basis to optimize in the 7 major life areas.
If I don’t want to be on my computer or phone, or I simply want an easier way to track my tasks , I developed a system I call “chipits” where I have written all the things I want to do on a consistent basis on little chips that I move from one jar to another over the course of a day. I log what I completed in a day by emptying the jar, taking a photo, moving that photo into my “chipits’ album.. and then moving all the chips back into first jar to begin tracking the habits again.
In this way I have found a very efficient way to ‘cue’ myself for all the habits I want to do. This saves me from having to write them down each time. Anything I want to skip I leave in the first jar.
This also creates separation from the Projects or Tasks that I’m working on each day. Allowing me not to feel overwhelmed even though I might have 20 or 30 chipits that I complete in a day.
I like to track the # of habits I get done each day and log it, making it like a game to see how many I can do each day. At the same time I don’t over-do it and make sure that whatever my personal habits are for the day it’s helping me to be a more optimized version of self so that I have the energy and clarity to focus on the work at hand in my personal system.
SCHEDULING YOUR TASKS
Now that you’re charged up and ready to start working on optimizing your systems, you’ll want to think about what you’re optimizing and what you could do today to have the biggest impact. For example instead of simply saying you’re working, you could get more clear on what you’re improving. Because all work is really about improvement, and all improvement leads to better outcomes – be clear on the end result and suddenly work takes on a new meaning.
For example when working on your business, think about the system you’re improving. “I’m working on improving the customer experience.” Or “I’m working on improving our training.” If you think about it, there’s only a few key areas as it relates to optimizing the self, our work, our teams, etc. that once we’ve identified those themes, everything seems less overwhelming. This is called ‘chunking’ .. and makes it easier and clearer for your brain to know what you really want.
For example instead of having 100 urgent to-do list items staring you in the face, once you group them according to goals or areas for improvement, you may find there are really only 5 or 10 main categories, and of those, you only need to do one thing in each category to really move the ball forward.
By focusing on impact / results more than ‘to-dos’ you’ll find yourself relaxing more, getting more done and ultimately achieving more than when you were running around like a crazy chicken. You’ll also find yourself thinking less about all the things you need to do and focusing more on getting on with it!
Whew! We covered a lot in today’s post. Here are some key points:
- You may never know all the steps to realizing an ideal outcome at the beginning, the important thing is to know where THERE is and get started finding a way.
- In the beginning you’ll want to sort out recurring items from one-time things so you can build systems for the recurring items
- A simple way to sort out recurring items is through creating mini-systems and documenting your IF / THEN rules so you know how to deal with the same situation again or you can train another person on how to handle it.
- As you begin to identify the things you don’t want to do or shouldn’t be doing, you can decide if you are going to hire someone on a mini-contract or full-time job.
- Hire people full time only when you are clear on what they are going to do, or if you’re confident they will be clear on what they need to do (and can create the systems they themselves will follow)
- Have all your systems clearly documented so that you have system transferability – the ability to transfer a system to a new person or a back up person if the person responsible for that system is unable to perform in the role.
- Create a system for reviewing systems to ensure they stay up to date and get eliminated if no longer useful.
- Allow items to make it to your to-do list only after you’ve thought about how to delegate, delete or delay them.
- When it comes to doing, the first tasks on your list should be part of a personal routine that charges you up
- Chunk down the things you need to do into smaller ‘impact area’ groups and work on the highest priority item based on what will have the biggest impact
- Schedule the work you’re going to do so you’ve created a space in time that it will actually get done
- Get on with it!
James Sunheart is a student of personal development and spiritual growth. He is passionate about optimizing people, systems and life. He’s written 7 books. Interviewed hundreds of experts. Given a TED Talk in France. Lives in Costa Rica while developing a sustainable eco-village. For opportunities email: James AT FullPotential.com