Systems over goals

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Icon Nov 1, 2021

I came across this idea earlier this year and I keep coming back to it when thinking about stand-out takeaway insights from the many hours of podcasts I’ve listened to in 2021 so far. Attributed to Scott Adams, the essence of the idea is that implementing systems is more effective than goals, as a way of making progress towards anything.

Here are some links that lay it out better than I can

So, a good example in my life is running. I regularly run. In fact, most days running is the first thing I do. I have a system for starting my day that normally starts with going for a run. My system is that on certain runs, I will do something a little more challenging than the previous week. At least once a week, my system for running expects that I will run a longer distance than the previous week. If I run, according to my system, I will improve. There is no endpoint – it is a perpetual cycle of progress. I may include specific goals at varioius points that provide temporary focus into my system, but even without explicit goals, the system keeps me running.

When I apply it to my professional life, I see systems all over the place in how I operate. I have systems for the types of meetings I run each week. I have systems for managing my workload and processing tasks. I have systems for how I plan my work objectives each year, and systems in how I track my performance and ensure professional growth and development. Again, specific goals may also apply from time to time, but largely, my professional progress is a product of the systems in place to ensure perpetual motion forwards.

I have systems in place to help ensure I am a good father and husband. For example, I have scheduled daddy-daughter dates that ensures an even allocation of quality time. I have patterns of behaviour for how I say goodnight that helps to keep the relationship close. These are important aspects of my life and systems help keep my actions in sync with my values.

I like this idea of systems over goals because I was doing it before I realised it was a thing. I like this idea because I know it works for me.