Forget Resolutions. Improve Systems

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Now that we’ve all had time to make and probably break most of our New Year’s resolutions we were inspired (or pressured) to make, how do we still achieve the progress that unleashed that optimistic enthusiasm?

I’ll give away the punch line now: Forget resolutions. Improve systems; the kinds that truly deliver.

As the joke goes, one man told his friend, “I stayed up until midnight not to welcome the new year, but to make absolutely sure the former one indeed went away.” It’s no secret most of us want to only see 2020 in the rearview mirror, but it takes more than distancing from the past to affect future change.

Really, how do we realize this 2021 journey with a greater sense of control over our own happiness and productivity so unlike last year we’re not indentured to how circumstances we can’t control unfold? How do we make sure we’re not driven by the urgent, or reactionary, and never truly accomplish the vital and important?

Instead of making grandiose New Year’s Resolutions (have you kept any of them in the past?) why not focus on a different approach. Focus on the top three to five major elements you want to see happen this year and develop an actual system to make those happen. Sound like work? It’s worth it, and if done right, you only have to do it once (with a little tweaking) for it to deliver benefits every day. Some suggestions:

Start by Tracking Your Time

If you’ve never done it, it can be embarrassing, but revealing, and totally necessary. For a week or at least three days, make a sheet that divides the day into 30-minute blocks from 8am to 5pm, and actually write down how you spend your time. No, not how you should, but how you actually do (no cheating). Include breakfast, lunch, breaks, how long you spend on email and social media, etc.  It might just log how we got so bogged down that we lost over an hour and didn’t do anything really important? Menacing distractions. It might show most of this could have been left to the end of the day after we had already performed Rockstar-type work.

This exercise in honesty can serve as a clarity mirror to identify the hidden trolls that kill true efficiency. You might be amazed at the picture it paints. According to the experts in this area, it’s vital to start here, because if you don’t know where you truly are (not just where you think you are), how do you establish a base for what needs changing?

Scrutinize the Snapshot  

With the time tracking sheet, look to see how much of what got done was really important in the big picture and how much was…let’s be blunt…just wasted time or rabbit trails. Hint: The conclusions might be a bit painful in places. As you look it over, act as if you were consulting someone else. What would what you see prompt you to advise them? Ask “big questions.” As I look at the time tracking, how much of what I’m doing will truly matter in a year or two, or even six months, or even this quarter? Am I being driven by the tyranny of the urgent so all I do is react and put out fires, or am I focused on the truly important that will measurably matter?

Isolate Your True Priorities

Try isolating your true priorities to five or fewer vital elements that would give you a strong sense of strategic accomplishment and satisfaction if you were to solidify those into reality. Write them down in bold. The more specific, the better.

Retool Your Systems

Start from the endpoint of what must happen with each priority and then work backward asking, what do I need in place at each step to make sure each priority happens and is doable? This is about the process. Looking at what the tracking reveals, what if you thought, how can I change what I focus on and what I do to develop systems that will carry me there if I follow them and make those practices habits? Which mechanisms that if faithfully repeated will deliver the results?

For example, if I need to write an email to send to nine favorite clients, then what must I do from 8 to 8:30 to make sure this result happens? What is the next step from 8:30 to 9? And so on. If you need help here, consider an effective business coach to clarify the picture more objectively and model the process. Also remember, breaks are not brakes. Many experts suggest planning a five-to-ten-minute break every hour (actually schedule it and stick to it) then get back (without compromise) to your written schedule again. Chances are you will be surprised at how much of significance you actually accomplish.

Reap the Benefits

Repeated studies suggest, on average, only about two to three hours of critical work gets done in an eight-hour day. What if you could simply double that productivity? Ideally, that means twice the accomplishments, fewer hours, plus more remaining time to yourself than you might have thought. Well-planned systems can deliver that.

For business guru Seth Godin, developing effective systems is vital to the Holy Grail of productivity.

“Resolutions don’t work. Habits and systems can. Most of us are so stuck on the short-cycles of urgency that it’s difficult to even imagine changing our longer-term systems….Changing the system changes everything…. Improving a system returns our effort many times over.”

Most of the time, that’s the key we often miss.

Got other ideas on being your best self in 2021 and making permanent changes that matter? Please share them.