For the past year most of my mornings have gone as follows. My alarm goes off. My cat starts meowing. I get of bed and stumble to the cupboard to feed my cat. In a half asleep state I try to figure out my own breakfast and get it ready. With my eye on the clock I fumble around for gym clothes and get changed. Then, between bites of food, I search for my shoes and my keys. Just as I’m about to leave for the gym I remember I need water, so I fill up a bottle, latch my bike bag onto my bike, and head out the door. I’m usually running a few minutes late.
Last week I purposefully made a seemingly insignificant set of changes to my evenings. Before bed I filled up a water bottle, dished a plate of pre-cooked eggs onto a plate and a can of cat food into a bowl, set my keys by the door, and laid out my gym clothes next to my shoes. It took me about 5-10 minutes to take care of these things. I wrote each item down on a checklist to help me remember them all.
After implementing this new procedure, everything I usually struggled with in my half-asleep 6 am brain state became ridiculously easy to take care of in the morning. I got out the door faster. My morning felt a lot more peaceful. I knew that everything I needed to do was already laid out. I didn’t have to think to get things done.
You might read this and think that I’m advocating for you to take a look at your morning routine and make your own tweaks. It’s not a bad idea, and if you’re inspired to do so, please go ahead!
My true purpose with sharing this example is to illustrate how creating thoughtful procedures for your life, both at home and at work, is critical to your success. High performers create clear structures and guidelines that help them maneuver through life.
I keep seeing this recurring theme in many different aspects of life.
For example, when I worked as a nanny I learned that giving kids a predictable, functional sequence of events to follow turned a chaotic, nag laden morning into a pleasant way to start the day. So I had the kids get dressed before coming down for breakfast. I set backpacks by the door. I woke one kid up earlier than the other. Every week I figured out and implemented a slightly different set of protocols to make the mornings run more smoothly.
Systems are omnipresent in businesses. Think of a restaurant that you visit regularly. No doubt the employees are following a set of procedures to make sure you have the same, predictably enjoyable experience every time you visit. Successful business owners set up systems to support their staff in providing a consistent experience for their customers.
Systems even exist in art. The writer Ann Patchett describes her procedures for getting her writing done in her collection of essays, “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage”. Lo and behold, she uses an identical framework and series of steps to create varied books. She imagines the whole book in her head, sits for at least an hour per day, writes one chapter at a time, sends that chapter to her friend Elizabeth, makes revisions, and then writes the next chapter.
In every area of our life we’re following procedures. Some are consciously created, like my evening gym prep routine. Others are de facto, like ‘the procrastinate on my project’ routine or the ‘fight with my family member’ procedure.
Purposefully creating your own procedures at home and at work benefits your life. It reduces the amount of cognitive load on your mind, which frees you up to consider more important or interesting matters. You can increase your present moment awareness and enjoyment. Plus, when you set your environment and routines up ahead of time it makes it convenient and easy to succeed.
Creating systems in your life is a differentiator, and it’s not that hard.
Here are the steps to follow.
1) Pick a small aspect of your home or work life. Start with an area you have little to no resistance around.
2) Write out all the steps involved.
3) Consider the optimal order and timing of the steps. How could you be most efficient and get the best outcome?
4) Re-write the steps in the new order.
5) Follow this new procedure until it’s engrained.
By putting your focus on improving the systems in your life you’ll set yourself up for success, make your life easier, and increase the level at which you’re able to operate.
Has setting up a system worked for you in the past? What area of your life would you like to pick for a new procedure?