I used to wonder how friends of mine seemed to be able to get so much done in a week.
We’d work the same number of hours, yet lo and behold, at the end of the week they had a lot to show for it and I . . . didn’t.
Recently, I re-launched my online course Instant Bestseller. It reminded me of how any kind of launch, whether for a book or some other project, is a huge undertaking. There are so many moving parts, and always some unexpected moments.
On top of the launch, here’s a rundown of other responsibilities I had that week:
- First full week of school (I homeschool my kids)
- An all-day homeschool co-op meeting on Tuesday
- My normal full-time work with clients
- First Cub Scouts meeting of the year
- Three separate meetings with lawyers to get a new business venture up and running
I don’t mention this to brag that I’m so busy (I actually hate that word—that’s an upcoming article).
I say it to point out a fundamental truth I’ve learned—one that enables me to get more done in less time than 99% of the people I know.
The Incredible Value of Using Systems
In the first chapter of my book Your First 1000 Copies, I talk about the importance of using Systems—it’s such an important term that I capitalize it.
I make the assertion that Systems, when used correctly, free you up to do the creative work that: 1) only you can do, and 2) you most enjoy doing.
I define a System as: a set of actions done repeatedly to get a predictable result.
My favorite example is finding your keys. We all have keys—car keys, office keys, house keys, mailbox keys.
Every day when I walk into my house after work, I put my keys in a silver dish that sits on a small blue table just inside our front door. If you come to my house when I’m home, that silver dish is where you’ll always find my keys (if my kids haven’t stolen them).
Putting my keys in the silver dish every time I enter the house is a System—something I do repeatedly that gets a predictable result.
I find my keys every morning with no effort. And what does that do for me?
It saves me the time I’d lose searching my house for my keys when I could be at my desk writing, which is the thing that: 1) only I can do, and 2) I enjoy doing.
If you learn how Systems work and how to use them in your life, you’ll be amazed at the amount of things you can get done in a day. Your friends will look at your life and wonder how you get it all done.
This Systems 101 article is designed to show you how systems work and how you can start applying them in your life, so that you can get more writing done.
The Two Types of Systems
I use two broad categories of Systems:
Checklists are a list of every possible step you need to complete to get a task done. If you’re new to Systems, start by creating lots of checklists.
Delegation is the second category. Anything you can have a person or computer do for you instead of doing it yourself. “Automation” is another word for this, but that word is scary to me, so I stick with “delegation.”
This is the best kind of System, because once you set it in place, you don’t have to touch it again.
Before you can figure out how to build a System, you need to identify where you need one.
Here’s your cue for when you should consider building a System:
Whenever you find yourself doing the same task more than once, consider turning it into a System.
The second time you lay your keys in a random place and then spend 20 minutes the next morning looking for them—that’s your cue to create a System.
If you’re going to publish a new blog post more than once, you need to create a System.
If you’re getting ready to publish a book, you need to create a system—because hopefully more books will follow that one.
Any time you do something that you know you’re going to do again, consider creating a System for it.
The 3 Steps to Creating a New System
Once you’ve identified an area that needs a System, start taking these steps:
1. Write out your checklist
Even if we’ve done something 50 times, it’s easy to forget some vital component on the 51st time.
At one time in my company, every time we launched a new website, we would forget to do something important.
We’d forget to change all the links, or that we needed to add the Google Analytics tracking code, or we’d forget to move all of the DNS records.
So now we follow a New Website Launch checklist. Every time we launch a new site, we go down that checklist and make sure everything is done.
The result? We now quickly and easily get new sites up and running—without the mistakes that used to plague us.
Now the question is, How do you know what items to put on your new checklist?
The checklist needs to contain every necessary step involved in completing a project or phase of a project correctly and thoroughly.
In-house, we try to create checklists that are so complete that we can hire an intern, walk them through the process once, then have them do it on their own from then on, following that checklist exactly.
The idea is to create a system with easy-to-follow steps that you can then hand over to someone else, who then does the job for you.
2. Go through the checklist yourself several times
Practice using your checklist several times, to ensure you haven’t missed anything important. Look for anywhere you’ve neglected to list an action because you always do it easily, without thinking.
If you were hospitalized tomorrow and needed to have someone else do this task, would they be able to easily follow your checklist, performing all necessary steps with little or no prior knowledge of the process?
Creating checklists for even just a few processes will make your life demonstrably better.
Think about the ways your life is improved by using checklists:
- You’ll stop forgetting things. My kids have multiple checklists: one for packing their book bags, another for chores, another for packing their bags before a family a trip. These lists ensure they won’t forget to do something important. (And it works just as well for adults.)
- You’ll stop worrying that you forgot things. This is the real upside. You’ll no longer worry that you forgot to do something, bring something or turn something off before launching any process. When I was growing up, my mom constantly worried that she’d left the dryer running, her hair curler on, or any number of other things that would surely burn our house down. If she had simply taped a small piece of paper to the inside of our front door with a list of everything she could possibly have left on in the house, and taken five seconds to check the list before leaving the house, all of those worries would have disappeared.
Even if the only System you ever use is checklists, your quality of life will be greatly improved.
But if you want to move to the point where you don’t even have to do the checklist system yourself, you must learn to Delegate.
There are two ways to Delegate:
1. Have another person do the job for you.
Here’s a familiar scenario: One of my super-busy author clients decides they need to hire an assistant.
So they hired an assistant, then about a month later they’re complaining that the assistant isn’t doing anything and isn’t helping.
That’s because the client didn’t have any Systems in place!
Once you have your checklists of exactly how things get done, passing it off to an assistant or someone else becomes much easier.
All you have to do is give that person your detailed checklist, walk them through it once, and lo! You don’t have to do that process anymore!
Once I started delegating tasks in my business that I had been doing myself for years . . . it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.
2. Have a computer do it.
Computers are great at doing the same tasks over and over. That’s part of what they are designed for. So let them do it!
As you create your checklists, look for any opportunity you can find to have your computer take over at least part of the process.
Examples of using computers for Systems
- I’ve created a MailChimp email template that lays out exactly how I want all my emails to look. The font, spacing, sizing, etc. are already done for me. Every time I want to send a new email, I just grab that template, insert new content, and it’s ready to go.
- I often have to write the same emails over and over. So I use software called TextExpander that lets me create shortcuts that automatically recreates long blocks of text. This allows me to quickly answer emails without typing the same information over and over again.
- I never remember when it’s time to change my water filter. So I signed up to have one automatically sent to me every six weeks.
- My developer is always having to setup new WordPress installations. There are several tedious, annoying steps involved in getting it set up correctly. So one day he wrote a little programming script that does it all for him automatically, from start to finish. He just types one line into his computer, and presto! A new WordPress website, set up perfectly.
- With all of the author websites we work on, we’re constantly needing to create book cover images. However, if I want my designer to create a 3-D image out of a book cover, it’ll take hours of work using Photoshop. So a few years ago, I purchased Cover Action Pro. It turns that multiple-hours process into less than 30 seconds’ worth of work.
- I wanted to save all of the Instagram photos of our kids that my wife posts. Each time she’d post a new one, I’d have to remember to go online, find the picture, download it onto my computer, then put it in my backups. Now I use a free service called IFTTT that automatically downloads each new Instagram photo my wife posts, and uploads them to my backup files—without me having to do a thing.
- I was getting really frustrated with the constant back-and-forth emails it took to setup meetings with people. So I signed up for YouCanBook.Me, a service that allows people to see when I’m available for meetings, and to select a time that works for them. Now all I do is a send a link to someone, and they can schedule themselves in. I’m done with all the scheduling back-and-forth, and the time it wastes.
I can easily say that nothing has impacted my professional life more than learning how to use Systems effectively.
Learn to identify where you can use Systems, then start implementing them.
It’s the best way to move your work life forward in positive ways—so you can free up more time to focus on writing.
September 10, 2014