Last year, I read a mind-blowing concept. It was goals vs. systems. I’ve heard of the concept- expressed by different names- multiple times since then.
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 run a small business and am 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 (or in addition to) 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.
Table of contents
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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.
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.
Jeff Olsen, in “The Slight Edge,” calls these systems the slight edge. “They are things that are so simple to do—yet successful people actually do them, while unsuccessful people only look at them and don’t take action. You could call these “little virtues” or “success habits.” I call them simple daily disciplines. Simple productive actions, repeated consistently over time.“
Why Use Systems Instead?
James Clear 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.
Scott Adams said something that I think is worth quoting in full. It really struck me and my paraphrasing isn’t going to give it its due:
Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do…
The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.
And Jeff Olsen points out again and again how small actions- repeated daily- lead to big results. And he has tons of examples from not only his (and his employees) own experiences, but those who have read the book.
I LOVED this concept of “systems, not goals.” So I embraced it. I broke out my goal planner worksheets (they’re available in my 2021 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:
Health & Fitness
I’ll start with the result. I’ve lost 35 pounds. In 5 months. And I’m still losing more (yes, I was very overweight to start with).
My system: under 1,200 calories per day. If I want raspberry sherbet for lunch, that’s fine. It just has to fit in the calories.
I’m calling this one a fabulous win. And something I’m going to keep doing.
And- I just started this one- I walk for 15 minutes a day. I’m doing 3 days a week this month. Next month I’m going to go to 5 days a week. And the month after, every day.
Since I just started, I can’t really report on this one yet. I CAN tell you I feel better. And have a sense of accomplishment. Even over something little like that.
Jeff Olsen, in The Slight Edge, pushed personal development. He suggests reading just 10 pages a day.
I have bookcases filled with books on history and religion. I need to read them. Then I need to discard those that I won’t read again.
So I set up the system of reading at least 10 minutes each day in the category of religion. And another 10 minutes in the category of history.
This system was FABULOUS! I’ve not only made it through multiple books, but I enjoy the time. As little as it is, it gives me a chance to step back from the hustle of life.
And I’m learning. And about two of my favorite subjects.
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 50,000-250,000 (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.
I think this shows that all the systems in the world won’t due anything if: 1) they’re not effective at reaching the goal and/or 2) there isn’t a long-term goal to achieve.
Verdict: It’s Both
My verdict? It’s systems AND goals. All the systems in the world won’t achieve anything if they’re ineffective systems. Or actions that aren’t going to have a payoff. For example, my system of making blog comments wasn’t effective. Maybe it was 5 years ago in the blogging world. But today it resulted in nothing. Except wasted time.
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.
Goals Vs. Systems Worksheet
How to use 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.
Why is this important: There are time you’re going to lose motivation. Now is the time to write down the reason this goal is so important to you.
First you’re going to brainstorm ideas on micro-habits/systems that will help you achieve your goal. Examples for losing weight might include:
• Eat under 1,500 calories per day
• Walk 15 minutes per day
• Lift weights 3 times per week
• Track all food intake in food journal
• Stop eating out
• Cut out all drinks that have calories
Decide which is going to work:
I’m reading a book called “The One Thing” right now. And it focuses on the importance of picking ONE THING that will help you achieve your goal. Don’t start on 10 different habits/systems at once.
Pick one (or maybe two-three) habits out of your list above and implement them.
Weekly results check & adjust as needed:
Check in each week and see how you’re doing. If you discover something that is derailing your habit on a regular basis, find a work around.
But don’t give up! You have to consistently practice your one thing for a period of time before you’re going to see results.
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.
Printable worksheet for goals vs. systems
^^^Click on the download button above to get your free printable.
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.