New Year Resolution: Systems Systems Systems !

I don’t really do New Year resolutions – but I do have a suggestion for us all in the New Year.

We should develop our systems.

It doesn’t sound that inspiring I admit, but I think it’s one of the most useful things we can do; both to improve the quality of our own life, and to maximise our efforts for the benefit of others.

Developing and maintaining an effective and efficient system – whether for managing your email inbox, running a local charity, or campaigning on international issues – will deliver a lot more ‘bang for your buck‘.

Trying to just keep battling through, relying on enthusiasm and personal energy, will innevitably result in burn out and failure. Instead the trick is to develop systems that will keep running with minimal effort and intervention, leaving you free to direct your energies most effectively.

No doubt this will sound like common sense to some, and abstract nonsense to others. It might perhaps also sound a bit too much ‘management science’ or ‘self help book’ for some tastes, but it’s really nothing more than trying to look at the whole picture and identify and solve problems holistically. The more complex the issue, the more important it is to develop a reliable process for managing it.

I’m actually a bit of a personal efficiency geek, spending hours reading websites like Lifehacker and 99%. I use a system called Getting Things Done (GTD) to manage my own work, ideas and projects – but one system’s as good as any other, so long as it works for you. One of the key ideas in GTD is to have a regular method of capturing information (ideas, things to do, jobs etc) on lists – once on the list you can forget about it and relax, effectively ‘dumping your stress’. I could write for hours on the joys of Evernote, Google Docs and Remember The Milk . . . but I realise I’m probably edging towards ‘too weird’, so I’ll get back on topic.

The idea isn’t to become ever more hyper efficient, as much as to build good habits. It’s a cliche that we are what we repeatedly do, but it’s nevertheless largely true. The more natural and unthinking it is for me to clear my emails, backup my files, organise my paperwork, keep abreast of relevant news, network with others, manage my diary and progress projects – the less stress I’ll feel under, the more time I’ll have available to do other things, and less chance there’ll be of missing something important.

If you’ve had experience of voluntary groups, committees, churches or similar, you’ll know the tremendous benefits having effective systems can deliver, and the chaos and wasted effort that can result in their absence.

In picking just one thing to suggest for the New Year I could have easily gone for compassion, communications, sharing, or any number of other vitally important things – but having efficient systems is what will turn our best intentions into real results !

Whether you’re part of some organisation or larger project, or whether it’s just for you – join with me in spending a few moments improving and developing your systems this year,

. . . . we’ll all get more done as a result.

Happy New Year !

Photo from Rita H Cobbs, via Flickr

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  1. I think individual ways of working are very personal things, but my own system is largely based around GTD – the focus on getting stuff out of your head and into a trusted and reliable system that you can be confident will remind you, is a winner for me.

    It seems to appeal particularly to computer based slightly geeky types (who moi ?), amongst whom its developed a bit of a cult status.

    If you haven’t already found them, check out these key resources . . . good luck :)

  2. Hi Steve
    Thanks for the inspiration in this post. I’d only ever got to page 30 in Dave Allen’s book before, but you post prompted a full reading and I’m now in the early stages of implementing the system. I found a good iPad app for it and am trying to translate his non-tech solutions to the app. It really helpfully shifts thinking, and I hope I can get the whole systems working and maintain it, it has such potential :-)

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