Intentional Leader

Build great teams, products, habits, relationships

The value of good systems – for self and team (and business)

Intentions and goals supply the fuel to do something great. On the other hand, systems and habits help us solidify this change and get more efficient over time.

If you want to observe something really cool about yourself, pay attention to a habit you have or a system you’ve created. Can be a good or bad one, doesn’t matter and you will find no judgment here. It could be something like reaching for your phone as soon as you wake up every day or keeping an organized desk. Notice how you appear to effortlessly go through this habit or system – almost like a super power, you move through it without thought sometimes. Observe how you don’t particularly perform a good habit any more efficiently than another good or bad one even though the perceived emotional satisfaction should be different. Take note of the little shifts in how you have adapted your life to make it easier to sustain that habit or system. For example, your phone charging by your bed or a filing system by your desk. Check out how your habits may seldom be unaffected by the size of the ultimate reward but more by the anticipation of it.

Thus, systems or processes or habits help us stick with it and perhaps even “unstick” with it. So, what are some ideas to build a good system for a, let’s say, good intention.

1. Understand thyself– Observe your habits and in them, your thoughts. Our habits are triggered by cues that are generally not so apparent. So, bring out your inner scientist to first understand your strongest habits or systems. Couple of ideas to share:

A. Stuart Danker aka Your Friendly Malaysian Writer wrote a really nice post about observing your thinking mind with practical advice on how (link below). If you’re a runner, use your daily/weekly running habit to observe your thoughts at different stages of the run.

B. In his book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg points out 5 things to observe to identify your habit trigger – Location, Time, Emotional state, Who is around you, What did you just do before.

2. Simplify and reward – Reducing friction in taking action to form a habit goes a long way to make it easy to stick. Vice versa, increase friction if you’re trying to get out of a habit. For e.g. if you want to get into the habit of reading, why not keep the book by your bed and your phone in a different place. Build in a rewards mechanism – can be tangible or intangible. Experiment with what works for you. Ultimately, the anticipation of a carrot (or in some cases, a stick) can help make habits stick. A nice illustration can be found in a Children’s story, The Berenstain Bears forget their manners.

3. Build upon a habit/system – Do you already have some strong habits? Latch your new habit on to this one. Your existing habit could thus end up becoming a cue for the new one creating a positive, reinforcing loop. This is a nice way to get the scale.

4. Start small and practice – Habits or systems are hard to install overnight. So go easy on yourself. Start small – maybe shoot for only 5% of your goal when you start, adding 1% every day with a reward at the end. The key is to build consistency over time so the activity becomes almost like an unconscious reaction. Watch the video below by Destin Sandlin from Smarter Every Day. He develops a real super power – you have no idea how hard this is till you try it.

One thing to point out is that the ideas, I’m sharing here are not limited to us as individuals. These can also help teams and businesses build new habits, focus on what’s important, find metrics that matter etc. In other words, build a system that elevates achieving goals from being just focused on achieving the goal to building a system to reliably and consistently achieve goals. This is a great way to make progress on intentions or a business vision.

What was most helpful for you in this post? Please let me know in the comments. Hit like or subscribe for more!

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