Last year, I read a mind-blowing concept. It was goals vs. systems. I heard it from two places. I don’t know who came up with it first…or if the idea has been around for ages, and they both just managed to enter into my world in the same month.
Apparently, this concept has taken the productivity/achievement world by storm. I don’t hang out with those people. I’m a homemaker and blogger currently living in Georgia. Not a business woman/CEO in New York. But I read plenty of news articles about this concept in Medium, Forbes, and Quartz.
It was the concept of goals vs. systems, which means making systems instead of setting goals. If it worked for those big, fabulous people in New York, it should work for little old me? Right?
So I gave it a try. And I’m sharing my results. What I’ve learned, what worked, what didn’t. And best of all, how you can apply it to your life. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur trying to break 1 million in sales or a best-selling author. Though that’s who you hear about in the media. This method of goals AND systems works for people like you and me. Keep reading to see how to improve your life.
Examples of Goals Vs. Systems
• Instead of setting a goal to run a 5K, you set up a system where you start running and increase it by one minute each day. You start with just 10 minutes. The next day 11. Etc. Etc. You follow the system and eventually hit your goal.
• Instead of setting a goal of $30K in income from blogging for that year, set up particular systems to achieve it. Examples: work on building traffic via comment links and guest posts 1 hour every day. Work 1 hour every day to release 3 new products throughout the year.
• If your goal is to write a book, you dedicate yourself to 5 pages or 1,000 words a day.
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What Is Goals Vs. Systems?
Scott Adams, in his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” pushes the concept of systems, not goals. In his words: “Goal oriented people exist in a constant state of failure or waiting for the goal. Systems people win every day just by sticking to their systems. The systems focused people tend to perform better and be happier.” I embraced this and completely understood. I always felt like I would happier when I achieved fill-in-the-blank. But in the meantime, I was miserable.
James Clear, in his article about his book “Atomic Habits” says “If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? I think you would.” He points out that winners and losers set the same goal. It’s not the goal that separated them, but the systems they used to achieve it.
James Clear also points out that goals leave you with a feeling of unhappiness- you’re always putting off happiness until you achieve your goal. At the very end of the article, he does mention that goals aren’t useless. But when I first read the article, I didn’t fixate on that. I fixated on the concept of SYSTEMS being the key to success.
I LOVED this concept of “systems, not goals.” So I embraced it. I broke out my goal planner worksheets (they’re available in my 2020 Free Printable Planner). Since I had already broken down my goals into small steps, I started looking at specific action steps that could be converted into systems. Then I set up systems for my various goals for the year. I have a tendency to jump into ideas whole-heartedly, if you can’t tell.
What was my experience with the goals vs. systems concept? It was mixed. Here are three examples of my efforts:
I really took this heart with my blog. I embraced systems. I heard advice to leave useful, insightful blog comments on other blogs. It would drive traffic and build relationships (supposedly). So I set up a system to do this regularly. And did it for weeks. Results? Yes, I got a little bit of traffic. I’m talking maybe 10 page views per week. Since I get an average of 50,000-75,000 (depending on season and it’s growing), that little bit of traffic didn’t really do anything for me. And I wasn’t building relationships.
Instead, I was getting closer to fellow bloggers in my EBA facebook group, my mastermind group, and my Blogging By Design facebook group. THAT was building relationships. And helping me learn. So this system I chalked up to a failure. It not only didn’t achieve my goal, but wasted my time.
James Clear in particular emphasized micro-habits. So for starting to get in shape, I set a very small micro-habit. I started out with walking for 10 minutes. I set up a system. But it didn’t PUSH me. There was no motivation. It was “okay, I’m following my system”. And those little 10 minutes didn’t result in any weight loss or increase in fitness level. But it did get me moving regularly. I’ll chalk this one up as neutral- neither a win nor a loss.
However, my last system was fabulous. When working on my blogging course “Blogging By Design”, I set a goal of completing it by the end of 2019. I set up a system of doing a lesson every other day (a lot of research goes into each lesson), 5 days a week. Anyway, that one worked out perfectly. It was small enough I could attack it everyday. But over time, it built up to reaching a giant goal.
My verdict? It’s systems AND goals. All the systems in the world won’t achieve anything if they’re ineffective systems. That’s what this printable is for. You can tackle this whole goals vs. systems thing by embracing both. I specifically designed this worksheet to maximize the use of the systems, while still holding you accountable to achieve your long-term goals.
Example of How to Use Goals Vs. Systems Worksheet
Here’s a brief example of how you would use the worksheet and apply the goals vs. systems method to your life.
Goal: To lose 52 pounds this year.
Breakdown: Lose 1 lb. per week.
Your micro-habits need to cover what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. For example, let’s say you read in Science Daily that food journaling leads to weight loss. If you pick food journaling as your micro-habit, you need to specify when you’re going to hold yourself accountable. Every time you put food in your mouth? 3 times a day? At the end of the day? (I don’t suggest the last one…if you’re a grazer, you’re going to forget something you ate).
Your micro-habits also need to account for set-backs or instances when you might lose motivation. Let’s say you’re traveling and don’t have time to log your food in three times that day. You need a back-up plan. Such as opening a note on your phone and jotting down what you eat (don’t worry about the calories right now) so you can input your info into your food tracker at the end of the day (and figure out the calories then).
Weekly results check & adjust as needed:
The first few weeks, any adjustments we make are going to be maintaining our system. You might have noticed things that get in the way of keeping up your system. During these first few weeks, you’re going to be overcoming obstacles.
In our tracking food, you might have noticed that you eat mindlessly at work and don’t remember to track. You might set up a rule that you only snack ONCE during the workday and you have to write it down in a note on your phone to add it to your diary later.
Or you might have noticed that you have a tendency to not accurately estimate. For example, you cut off a slice of cheesecake and just “guess” at how big it is. If you’re using an app like MyFitnessPal, you can easily see that even an ounce of cheesecake has serious calories in it. So you might adjust your system to include weighing food that is high in calories even though it takes a little extra time.
Monthly results check & adjust as needed/Continue to do this every month:
Setting up your systems is only the first step. As you read in my story above, some systems aren’t going to have the results you’re aiming for. You also need to assess if your system is making progress towards your goal.
In our example of weight loss, let’s say you’ve been tracking your food. But in the first month, you gain 3 pounds. Clearly simply tracking isn’t working. You might have noticed during the first week or two that your system wasn’t working, but you really need about a month to see if you’re seeing results.
At this point you might have to adjust your system. Instead of just tracking food, you might need to start limiting calories. So your system is now not only to track your food, but to stop eating once you hit 1,750 calories. No matter what.
After another month, you check again and see that you’ve lost those five pounds. Clearly, THIS system is showing progress. So you continue it.
And check after the next month. Adjust as needed.
^^^Click on the download button above to get your free printable goal setting worksheet
Apply It To Your Life
Goals vs. systems is an amazing concept. And one I’m glad I learned. While not every experiment with it was successful, I learned how to use it to achieve my goals.
I hope you learn from my experience and apply this amazing goal setting system to your life. I want you to improve your life and achieve all the goals you’ve been dreaming of.
Why don’t leave a comment below telling me how it worked out? Or jump on The Housewife Modern Facebook page and share your current goal and systems.