In praise of simple systems

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Those days…

We’ve all had those days. The days where everything just seems to flow with ease. Where everything falls into place and at the end of the day you feel calm peaceful and like you really been on top of your game in terms of accomplishing things at work, being present as a parent and giving everything your very best. Work was productive, the kids have been well-behaved, everyone’s remembered all the things they need, dinner was a success and is all cleaned up, and now you are doing something you love whilst the kids are tucked up in bed and you feel a sense of peace.

And the other days…

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And equally we’ve all had those days where we seem to start behind from the moment we wake up. There are frantic moments to get out of the house. You are taking the kids to school and halfway there one of them realises they forgot their tennis racket/musical instrument/cricket bat/sports uniform… your on-time departure is now marred by the frantic rush to remedy the issue. You are then running late for school, as well as work.  Clients fail to show up on time, or you are blindsided by a request from a colleague which then throws your entire day into disarray. You get home feeling exhausted only to discover that the dishwasher wasn’t run so there are no clean dishes, the kids have forgotten about an assignment which is due tomorrow and you will be on duty helping them complete that assignment, as well as making dinner, cleaning some plates to put the dinner on and getting on top of the mountains of laundry that also need to be done. All you really want to do is curl into bed with a good book and shut the world out. You end the day exhausted and well and truly over it.

Do either of these days sound familiar?

I know in my life I have certainly had my fair share of both. I definitely prefer the first scenario!

But the thing is, we can all have more days like the first one. We just need to have simple systems that support us in our life.

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What are systems?  

Systems = a standard approach to complete a task or activity.

When I talk about the systems and processes, I simply mean the way you do things. You can have a routine or a habit that ensures actions or activities are remembered, completed or undertaken in a similar way each day.

Most of us will be familiar with systems and processes in a corporate or workplace environment. In that situation, systems and processes ensure tasks are completed in the same way by each person. In this way, systems assure a streamlined, efficient workplace. 

Systems and processes work the same way in our personal life. They help us maximise our use of time, as our daily activities become part of the system and therefore allow us more time to do the things we love.

Systems then are simply how we do things and get things done, and once they are routine or habit, they require little headspace. In essence, systems are thoughtful planning.  

I suspect many of us already have routines and habits that are operating as effective systems in our lives.  We just may not realise it.

Systems help avoid decision fatigue

Do you find yourself spending time wondering;

  • what’s for dinner?

  • when will I exercise today?

  • have my kids got everything organised?

If you are always wondering about these things (and more), then you have less time, space and freedom for the things you love.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits states, the more tasks or actions you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other, more exciting things!

And that’s why systems help. It is far easier to do something every day than to only do it sometimes. This is particularly true when you are starting out with a new habit, or setting up a system you wish to build into your life.

Either once only, or every day.

– Andy Warhol

Decision fatigue is avoided (therefore allowing more space for fun and joyful activities) when we simply build in a habit, routine or system to ensure something happens every day. For example, you decide to exercise every day. That removes re-answering the question each morning, “Is today a day I exercise?“, as you WILL exercise. By setting a daily habit or system, you neatly avoid the question, and you’ve also skipped the associated decision fatigue.  

Goals and systems

I love goals, and am realising I love systems too. Interestingly, there is an increasingly popular school of thought that we should focus on our systems and then the achievement of our goals will take care of themselves.

Forget about goals, focus on systems instead.

– James Clear 

The argument goes that goals are about the results you want to achieve, whereas systems are about the processes to get you there. Advocates state when the system is in place and followed daily, the goal and end result will take care of itself.

As a Career and Life Coach, I say we need both. I believe we need to articulate the goal so we know the direction are headed, and then we also need the system to help us make progress towards the goal.

Goals and systems - a personal example

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For example, over the last 6 months or so I have lost some weight, specifically around 10 kilograms (1.5 st or 22 lb.) For most of the previous calendar year I had a goal to reach my ideal weight (a figure I’d arbitrarily chosen as a number I’d feel good to reach). Yet I hadn’t reached it. In fact, despite doing the ‘right things’, the numbers on the scale were going up, not down.

I’d set a goal to reach my target weight, but I wasn’t close to reaching my goal; I was sliding further away from it.

I realised I was focussed on the goal, not the systems to support me to achieve the goal. It took a switch in focus to new habits and establishing systems of regular daily exercise, healthier food choices and meal planning that helped me achieve that goal.

And so I found myself agreeing with James Clear and other systems fans, that goals are important for setting your direction, but systems are more important if you want to make progress.

Systems and well-being

“Fix the input, and the output takes care of it self”

Systems people often claim a good outcome relies on good input. I like to think of this in relation to wellbeing.

By creating a simple system or process for everyday tasks that need to be completed, we ensure we have the headspace and actual space in our lives to do the things that we enjoy, which in turn supports our wellbeing.

  • To spend meaningful time with the people we love. 

  • To pursue our dreams

  • To dedicate more time to our passions

Systems also allow us additional time for self-care, to dream and/or to do things that bring us joy.

For example, when I look after myself and my emotional needs, my behaviour is more aligned with who I want to be and how I want to show up in the world. Creating a system for self-care is therefore vital to achieving my aim of living a more joyful, intentional and regret free life.

Straightforward, simple systems help us create and live a life we love

This is not a goal per se, but rather encompasses how I wish to live my life every day.

And therefore having a system in place is enormously beneficial, as like reaching my goal weight, living a life of joy and intention requires continual progress each day.

Some simple systems

To-do lists and reminders

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Systems need not be complex. They can be as simple as a to-do list, or a short chat reminding yourself or others, of what needs to be done. For example, my kids have a weekly timetable posted near their schoolbags to remind them of what they have on each day. This system mostly works to ensure they have the appropriate items in their bag for that day. However, it is not fool proof! There are still times things get forgotten. ;)

Another simple system can be to use your smart phone to set a daily reminder at a certain time. For example, to get petrol on your way home, or that the library books are due back. Little things that remove the mental overload, and support you to feel calm, in-control and confident.

Routines or habits

As shared above, routines or habits are also a form of simple system. For example, my morning routine is a habit but also could be viewed as a system. By rising early, I create time to journal and exercise before the rest of my household are awake.  By making my daily exercise part of a routine, I ensure it happens. And that is exactly what systems do – they make sure things happen in the same way each time.

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Meal Planning

Meal planning is another small system. Spending just 30 minutes looking at my week and planning out the meals I will prepare for dinners saves a lot of angst. By planning ahead, I free up a lot of headspace as well as ensuring there is no 5pm panic as I struggle to imagine what on earth I’ll make for dinner tonight!

Again, it’s not a complicated system, it is just setting aside some time, planning and then putting it into action.

Time hacks for household tasks

Another simple system a friend of mine shared, is to put the washing on the night before. After dinner and before bed-time, she sorts and loads the washing machine, setting it on delayed start, so that it is ready to hang out first thing in the morning. That friend shared it helps her feel accomplished if the washing is on the line before 7am!  She says it boosts her sense of confidence and sets her up for a great day.


Guidelines can be a system

Sometimes the simplest systems include creating guidelines for yourself. When my kids were small, they always wanted to have a play date after school. However, the challenge was play dates were often requested on an impromptu basis. Collecting my child at 3pm to have him frantically and excitedly say, “Can (friend) come for a play date today please Mum?”, often left me feeling overwhelmed.

So, I created a guideline, which led to a system.

My guideline was ‘no impromptu play dates’, or more positively stated, ‘all playdates arranged in advance’. Immediately, I felt less stressed. My child still had play dates, but we also had time for extra-curricular activities, free play and of course getting homework done.

Whilst this may seem like a very simple guideline or system – that’s my point! Sometimes the smallest systems can make a big difference in terms of us creating a feeling of space in our life.

In praise of simple systems 

I’m now proud to admit that I’m a big fan of systems, but only where they are helpful to create breathing space for ourselves and those we love.

Let me put it another way. As we build routines, habits and systems into our life we gain a sense of control. And when we feel like we have things orderly and under control, we feel confident. When we feel confident things are running smoothly and we are doing the activities that support us to be the type of person we want to be, we have more space for joy. 

And feeling confident and joyful is something I am a passionate about!

Systems are not the end outcome though. My focus is always, whether for myself, my family or my clients, that systems should support us live our dream life. Living to our systems is not our dream life.

Systems simply support us to create the space we need, so that we can live the life we want; an intentional, regret-free, joyful life we love.


Need a bigger boost to your confidence and wellbeing than simple systems can provide?

Through the coaching services I provide, I support women and men to feel clear and confident in their career and life, and would love to support you too. Simply book your 30-minute complimentary consult with me (via the blue button below) to learn how coaching with me could be the next right step for you.