Dispatches from the frontlines of the business of making software.

Losers have Goals. Winners have Systems.

I’ve been studying copywriting. Every evening, I sit down with a pot of Chamomile tea and write out an advertisement by hand for an hour. Yup, my life is all rock-star living.

A few days ago I was writing out a classic ad for a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. The ad starts with the story of two guys who had similar starts in life, both graduating from the same college and both starting in the same company. 40 years later, one was running the company while the other was a line manager. What made the difference? – reading the WSJ, apparently.

I beg to differ. The difference between extraordinarily effective people and most people is in their systems.

This is how a good system works: I hate to exercise. It’s not my fault; it’s in my DNA not to expend energy on pointless activities. So, instead, I just show up to CrossFit three times a week.

The good people over at CrossFit have come up with another system that is startling effective at getting people to work out really, really hard. In fact, they work out so hard that the most common criticism of CrossFit is that people injure themselves from working out too hard.

Why does this system work? For one, I don’t have to think about anything. My job is to show up and do what I’m told. Contrast that to most gyms where you have to show up, figure out what you’re going to do, then do it, hope you’re doing it right and then wonder when you can stop.

The result is that most people get confused and just run for 30 minutes on the treadmill and never see any results.

The point of this is that CrossFit is a system, whereas messing around on the treadmill without a plan is not a system.
Once you start seeing your life in terms of systems, you have a set of tools to optimise and change your life.

You want to find a job? There’s a system for that (and you probably aren’t using it). You want to lose weight? There are millions of effective system for that. You want to become a juggler? There’s a GREAT system for that!

You can simple select a system for the result you want and take advantage of YEARS of trial and error of others.

Unfortunately, humans don’t seem to “get” systems very well at all. It’s taken me years to truly appreciate systems. Before that, I just thought I’d have to “work harder” and “try to figure it out”. The problem is the willpower is an exhaustible resource, and trial and error is a slow way for any one person to learn.

So, I’ve compiled a list of the systems I use, split out over different categories:

1. Health Systems

2. Organisational Systems

  • Google calendar (set reminders that are sent to your phone, plan reviews)
  • Evernote (never forget an idea again)
  • Dropbox (backup and internal file sharing)
  • To-Do lists
  • Check Lists

3. Communication Systems

  • Gmail (set up with multiple email addresses)
  • SMS alerts sent to iPhone when emails from important clients are received
  • WordPress blog for networking, spreading ideas and keeping up contact
  • Skype (I really want a better alternative!)

4. Finances Systems

5. Productivity Systems

  • Accountability partner (my surrogate boss)
  • The PomoDoro Technique
  • Weekly reviews/plans
  • Evening planning for following day
  • The “Just Showing Up” system (for tough items, I’ll count just showing up as a victory)

6. Wardrobe System

  • I systematised my wardrobe so I can travel for extended periods with a 20 litre backpack that weighs about 7kg.

7. Meeting New People

So, that’s an overview of my more important systems that run my life. Not all systems work for everyone. But most people will benefit from implementing some of the above systems to make their life run more smoothly, achieve goals and not have to work so damn hard.

One response to “Losers have Goals. Winners have Systems.

  1. I love this post.
    The gym analogy is great.

    You don’t go to the restaurant to go to the kitchen and learn how to cook the perfect meal! You show up and order what you want and expect everything to fall into place.

    The problem nowadays, is that there is no time to apply all what you learn, if you don’t take action it’s like you haven’t learned at all!
    So having a proper system (could just be a set process of simple 123 steps to follow) is extremely important.

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