If you’re younger than thirty, it might be hard to believe this, but not too long ago, you could walk out of your door with some cash in your pocket and your car key, and that was about it. Over the years, we’ve added a lot of stuff to our lives—stuff we’re expected to travel around with. Since I’m always busy and have a lot on my mind, this created daily problems for me.
The more things there were to keep up with, the more likely it was that I would forget something. I would walk out of my door, get to my car, and then remember that I didn’t have my wallet. Or maybe I’d make it down the street before I realized I didn’t have my cell phone. It was always something and it was incredibly annoying. It also ate up time that I had to spend going back and forth to the house and created those daily moments of stress when it would suddenly dawn on me that something was missing.
I needed a basic system, one that would help me walk out my front door with everything I needed. After giving it a little thought and asking, “What’s the one thing I almost always do before walking out the door,” my system became clear.
That evening, when I got home, I put my baseball cap on the table near the front door and put my wallet, cell phone, and keys inside it and bigger things under it. You see, I travel a lot, and I almost always wear a hat. I can always put that hat near a door, whether it’s in a hotel room, in Colorado, or in Florida. It’s the one thing I almost never forget. Now, before I leave I grab my hat, and with it, everything else I need to take with me. It became a simple system that solved an almost daily problem.
What are the daily problems or annoyances that eat away at your time and energy? What are the small things that give you electric jolts of stress on a regular basis? What are the things you just don’t like to do and want to spend a lot less time on? Give yourself the gift of a system to get rid of them or to get through them as fast as possible.
Not long ago, I invested in a bit of a renovation in my condo in Aspen. I had a small laundry area that didn’t fit a full size washer and dryer, and it was annoying. I don’t like doing laundry, and I certainly didn’t want to do more loads than I needed to. I spent $7,000 making room for tools that I thought would solve the problem—but it didn’t. It didn’t take away the thing I really don’t like to do.
A few weeks later, I was driving to a friend’s house and saw a laundry service. It was a busy week, so when I got home, I bagged up my laundry and dropped it off. When I picked it up, it was beautifully folded. It was like a miracle. The folding doesn’t take much time, but I just don’t like doing it. Turns out, I would do just about anything to avoid it. As soon as I found a way to get out of it, that became my new system. I have dropped my laundry off every week since.
Don’t invest time or money in creating a system that depends on you doing something you really don’t like to do. It just won’t happen. Create systems that help you use your strengths and leverage the things you most like to do as much as possible to get through the things you don’t like to do as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Because every time you create a system that takes away daily stress and annoyance, your life gets a little better.
We all have ways of doing things that work for us. It might be how you keep your daily schedule. It might be how you clean your bathroom. It might be how you launch a new project at work. Think about the areas of your life where you feel successful or efficient. It’s a sign that you’ve got a system in place that is working for you.
Take a moment to study that system.
Then take what you’ve learned and build a system for whatever it is you would like to get done more efficiently. All that matters is that it works for you.
I know a woman who hates tidying up her house and herding her children through the process. She’s a busy professional and resented the fact that she was spending four hours trying to get the family to pick up dirty socks and everything else. She was miserable, and her family was pretty miserable too. When mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy.
One day, while preparing for a trip, she discovered her family had a great system for getting ready to travel. In the last hours before leaving, everybody had a job and they got it done in a short amount of time and under pressure. She realized what they needed was a tighter deadline. She rescheduled their weekly professional cleaning from Monday to Friday. That meant they had to tidy the house on Thursday so they would be ready for the cleaners the next day. Because of work and school and bedtimes, they would only have an hour to get it done.
It worked perfectly. It was a frantic hour of racing around, but everybody was focused and on task. The promise of 4 hours on the weekend was absolutely motivating. There’s nothing like compressing timeframes to get the most tedious tasks done efficiently.
My nephew used to come down to Florida to visit me and play golf. He was playing on some of the best courses in the country at high-class clubs with wealthy members. I’m sure they all had their golf cloths professionally cleaned and pressed before teeing up. My nephew certainly didn’t lead that kind of lifestyle, and yet, he always looked just as sharp as they did.
Every day, before leaving for the course, he would carefully iron his golf clothes, and it always looked like a professional job. Every time, he ironed each part in the same way and in the same order. One day, as he was ironing the collar of a shirt, I finally asked him, “Where did you learn to iron like that?”
He replied without looking up: “YouTube.”
You can always learn a system from somebody else if you need to. Or you can learn about a few systems and use the parts that make the most sense to you to build your own.
Check out my other posts about systems here: