Systems: Are You Missing the Winner’s Most Important Tool?

This one idea can skyrocket your efficiency, productivity, and focus.

In high school, I spent a summer as a busboy at a busy seaside restaurant—not fascinating work and pretty lousy pay. But what I learned about systems from the owner of the restaurant became one of the most important lessons of my work life.

We all hated cleaning up at the end of the night. All we wanted to do was get out of there as fast as possible, including the owner.

One night, I was cleaning up while standing near him, and he pointed to one of the waiters who was clearing a table. “Look at that,” he said, disgusted. “No system. Every table is different. Sometimes he starts with a glass, sometimes a plate. It’s going to take him all night doing it like that.”

Then he grabbed a tray and a cloth from me and said, “Let me show you how to do it.”

He went around the table in one smooth action and picked up all of the plates. Next, with both hands, he picked up all of the glasses using his individual fingers and set them on the tray.

He made a quick pass to grab the silverware, and then he wiped the table down. In a matter of seconds, the table in front of us was cleared and cleaned.

Cleaned restaurant table.“That’s how you do it,” he said. “You’ve got to have a system if you want to be fast.”

I realize I’m describing bussing tables, but that lesson affected the rest of my life.

For every project or task in front of me from then on, I have asked, “How can I turn this into a duplicable system that will help me get it done faster next time?”

If you’re going to do anything big in life, you’re going to need a system—a way to get things done efficiently, consistently, and well.

If you’re going to do anything big in life, you’re going to need a system. Click To Tweet

Winners use systems as a tool to increase productivity and focus. They are simply using a process or method for making things happen or reaching a solution. 

The owner of that restaurant hadn’t started out as the owner. To rise to the level of success he had achieved in his industry, he had found ways to be more productive and focused on the most important things.

With systems, you don’t have to think about the minutia as much. This Forbes article by Jonathan H. Westover Ph.D. continues the discussion on the value of having a systems-based mindset and the various ways it can strengthen your organization.

What are you missing in your life? Consider these questions:

  • Are you getting to the end of each week feeling like you should have accomplished more?
  • Are you making slow progress towards your most important goals?
  • Do you find yourself struggling with the same problem or set of problems over and over?

The best career advice I can offer is to start developing your own methods for overcoming obstacles.

The best career advice I can offer is to start developing your own methods for overcoming obstacles. Click To Tweet

Start with these four questions.

1. What’s The Problem?Business man thinking about problem.

Don’t confuse problems with symptoms. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the real problem you’re facing?
  • If you aren’t getting enough accomplished each week, what’s the hangup?
  • Are you letting your schedule be overwhelmed by unimportant commitments?
  • Are you setting clear goals each day and week?
  • Do you have the right support?
  • Are the essential but less critical tasks taking up too much of your time?

2. What’s Your Current Solution?

Once you identify your problem area, write down your current process—if you have one.

If you think you lack clear goals, how do you set them? Do you head into the week with a general idea of what it is you’re trying to accomplish, or do you write your goals down?

If your schedule is overfull, what is your approach to time management? Are you letting things just land on your calendar?

If so, this Harvard Business Review article may help you. The author, Erich C. Dierdorff, breaks down ways you can improve your time management and prioritize what is going in your calendar.

3. What’s One New Thing You Can Try Immediately?

These systems don’t appear like bolts out of the blue. They come gradually—with experience, trial and error, or advice from a mentor.

Don’t try to change everything. You won’t know what’s working.

Instead, look at what you’re doing now and change one thing.

If you need greater focus in your week, you could try setting one clear goal that will help you make progress. Or you could try using the always useful daily or weekly to-do list.

If you aren’t using your time strategically, you could integrate some time-blocking. This article by John Rampton shares more on how to start time-blocking but essentially it’s blocking out an hour or two each day to focus on the most important activities and nothing else. 

Start with the big things—like the plates on the table.

What are the big pieces of the project or task that you can make more efficient now?

4. Did Things Improve?

Try it out for a reasonable period of time. Did it help?

If it did, keep doing it. And then try another improvement. If it didn’t, try something else.

Winners keep looking until they find the answers and solutions they need to make fast progress. They use proven methods to capture the constant improvements they make, which allows them to do bigger things over time.

If you want to achieve bigger things too, continue to fine-tune your approach in every area and you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

Use Results As Your GuideMeasuring systems results.

Value is established by comparison.

Business comes down to doing things you get paid to do. The more you do, the more you get paid.

It’s a world of numbers and statistics but they have to be evaluated. 

  • What do these numbers mean? 
  • How do you know you are on track?
  • How do you know your systems are working?

What puts you in a position of confidence as a leader is when you know your numbers, and you know how they compare to the results you want.

Your goals, your targets, and your projections are your guidelines. Everything that happens has to be compared to them.

Are you on track for growth to hit your targets? Or are you lagging behind?

Comparing your production to the results you want gives you the information you need to make the right decisions.

We always had the attitude in our business that the way we knew we were doing enough of the right things was that our numbers were growing.

We had the attitude that if we weren’t growing, we were all accountable. That meant every system, every method, and every approach had to be questioned and improved until our numbers got better.

That’s because in business you are either growing or dying.

Whenever you stall out you have to spring into action so you can get things moving again. Runner about to spring into action at starting line

To be successful, you’ve got to get the right people in place on your team—and then you’ve got to give them the right systems. You don’t want them guessing what to do. You want them working, and systems allow that to happen. 

To be successful, you’ve got to get the right people in place on your team—and then you’ve got to give them the right systems. Click To Tweet

These are every bit as important as a railroad having tracks to run on. Having six locomotives and a hundred railroad cars is not going to do you much good unless you have a track to stick them on so you can get them moving.

There’s a reason why airlines have so many checklists.

They have many lives, sometimes hundreds, at stake every time they make a flight. They can’t leave anything to chance, so they have their systems and their checklists to make sure their systems are followed.

Take your life, your job, your career, and your business as seriously as the airline takes their responsibility and put systems in place so you can reach your highest goals.

Let me know in the comments what systems you’ve put in place that have improved your efficiency!


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