If Systemization is So Effective Why Doesn’t Everyone Do It?

At first I thought I was the problem. When I encountered clients who didn’t do weekly reviews, at first I was like, “Okay, well, I guess as long as everything’s getting handled, I suppose it doesn’t matter.”

But when we start working together, I get to know people’s businesses almost better than they do, because I have a perspective that they don’t have. And I started noticing that it wasn’t the lack of a weekly review that bothered me— it was the lack of an oversight process. It was lack of reflection. It was the lack of any kind of systematic method or process to run a business.

It severely hampered my ability to help them.

It was like trying to put new parts into a classic Mustang only to discover that the chassis was rusted out.

It’ll look better. It might even run better for a while. But it doesn’t cover the fact that whole thing is held together by a coat of paint.

And that’s a problem.

I might go so far as to say it’s the problem.

The Problem

Look, I know it is deeply unsexy work to sit down and figure out your intake process. If you sit down and create  a dozen customer service templates and put them in your ‘canned messages’ gmail folder that doesn’t feel like a big win at the end of the day. I’m aware that it feels much better to spend that time ‘networking’ on Twitter.

But here’s the thing:

Do you think 6 hours on the putting green, practicing practicing his short game, felt like ‘a job well done’ to Tiger Woods?

I know it’s not as satisfying. It’s definitely not ‘fun’. And unfortunately, people are deeply resistant to doing it.

But there’s no reason why you should be.

People Aren’t ‘Just Lazy’

I don’t think it’s because “people are lazy.” That’s too simplistic an answer.

In the first place, I think it’s because discipline is invisible. When we look at the people we admire, we often don’t see it, or if we see it, we ascribe it to something else.

But mostly, we just see the sexy stuff. We see the TED talks, but not the rigorous oration practice. We see the awesome launches, but not the prep-work. We see the big deals, and never the failures. 

So because we don’t see it, we conclude it’s not very important. 

People Don’t Realize Discipline Is a Habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

The second part of the equation is that this sort of discipline quickly becomes invisible even to the people who do it. And that, I’m convinced, is because it’s just like any other habit. Habits don’t require much willpower, so we don’t pay much attention to them. 

That’s the same reason why in my free course Be The BossI tell people that because of all the habitual tasks that have become second nature to them, they’re probably doing between 60-100% more work than they think they’re doing. Track your time sometime. You’ll be amazed.

People Think Systems are for Sell-Outs

Finally, the biggest reason that people resist the discipline of systematization is because of a profound misunderstanding about what it means to be great. Whether you want to be a hero, an A-Lister, an expert or a guru, people tend to feel that greatness is somehow bestowed. 

It’s not that they don’t think great people worked hard. It’s that they believe that the seed of greatness was already within them, and was revealed by a combination of perseverance and luck. 

Contrast that with the way we look down upon the merely mediocre who managed, through sheer brass balls, and yes, hard work, to achieve success on their own terms. We call them ‘hacks’. Or ‘popularizers’. Or ‘sharks’. 

Somehow, these people managed to violate the story paradigm we tell ourselves about greatness, and we refuse to forgive them for it. 

And that’s the problem with the discipline of systematization and procedures– we figure that the systems are cheats. That a truly great person wouldn’t need ’em. Great people are great without props.

Or so the story goes. 

And that’s the biggest, deepest source of resistance. 

The idea that implementing systems makes us a hack.

A faker. 

A poser. 

A wannabe.

Greatness, we think, should be, if not effortless, at least pure. It should be without artifice. It should come straight from the heart, like art. 

What a Bunch of Bullshit

That’s the fairy tale version of “greatness”. 

Real greatness is about living up to your potential and using every tool at your disposal to do so. 

Including systems. 


Who’s the better superhero, Superman or Batman?

Everybody agrees, Batman, of course.


Because Superman is perfect. Too perfect. He’s bulletproof, practically invincible, and he’s a farmboy from a sweet, tightknit family. Fuck Superman.

Unlike the Man of Steel, Batman does not have superpowers. What he does have is money (and a thirst for vengeance) and a desire to use those assets to the greatest effect. Hence, the Batmobile, the Batcave, the Batsuit– and Albert. 

All the other superheroes have superpowers: Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. The list goes on for miles, but I’m not that geeky. Batman, however, is the best superhero of them all because he wasn’t born with some imaginary gift or bitten by a radio-active spider. He does it all with human ingenuity, willpower, and dedication to the outcome: keeping Gotham City safe.

So what does this have to do with you?

Be Batman. Fuck Superman. 

To hell with the expectation that you can just keep ‘working hard’ and one day things will break for you– your greatness will be acknowledged by all. 

Be disciplined. Be methodical. Be dedicated to reaching the limits of your potential.

“When I die, I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live” ~ George Bernard Shaw


34 thoughts on “If Systemization is So Effective Why Doesn’t Everyone Do It?”

  1. Here’s a little story about discipline: The internet, unmitigated, has the power to rip the discipline from my brain, chew it up, and spit it on the ground. In other words, I end up surfing google reader and facebook when I’m supposed to be doing real work. So, I finally installed Self Control. I literally disable Facebook, Twitter, and the NYTimes for 3 hours every morning so I physically cannot go.  It’s my new system!

    1. @ethanwaldman I do the same thing! Blocking all the things is the only way I can get any writing done. 
      Using *all* the tools at your disposal. That’s the key, remember.

      1. @Shanna Mann  @ethanwaldman I haven’t gone the Self Control route yet. I actually spend more time checking my email than on social media or checking blogs. And email is one thing I feel like I shouldn’t block! The other thing I do is wander to the kitchen for a small snack or another mug of tea. And, well…Self Control doesn’t really help with that 🙂
         @joeyjoejoe That’s just mean!

        1. @remadebyhand  @Shanna Mann  I am married to someone who once gave me a time management book.  I sold it back to Half Price without reading it. 
          I want to comment on everything as I am late in the game but for a good reason.  I was implementing my system!  Walk, write/coffee with CJ, prep for lessons, lunch, then read Shanna’s post I have wanted to read for two days!
          Shanna, you mentioned that we don’t see the systems in place for those greats like Tiger.  I find this to be true with young children when they learn to write.  So often teachers say, It’s writing time, and wonder why everyone is up sharpening pencils, asking to go to the restroom, or picking their nose.  Children need to see a proficient model – teacher, peer – engaging in the whole process:  coming up with an idea, drafting, revising.  Once we show them, they realize it’s not magic after all.  For the adults, there’s you, Shanna!

        2. @tammyrenzi  That’s a great point, Tammy. Being able to SEE someone do it makes a big difference. I always thought I was odd to insist on watching someone do what I wanted to do before attempting it myself. Now I know why 🙂

  2. If by “deeply unsexy” you actually mean “glorious,” then I am with you 🙂
    As someone already very much converted to the systems mindset, I agree. It’s WAY better to be Batman. And I think it’s not just that you appear cooler to everyone else. It’s that you feel better, too. You didn’t just fall into greatness. You don’t take some superpower for granted. It’s your hard work, your thinking and planning, your own handmade systems that keep you on track. And silly as it may sound, that’s a pretty cool feeling.
    To the world: Listen to Shanna! Systems are the best!!

    1. @remadebyhand It’s reassuring to hear that someone likes them as much as me! Really, as soon as you realize the results of systems, they *do* become glorious. But until that point, I don’t blame people for dragging their feet. It’s really hard to articulate the difference– but I could never go back.

      1. @Shanna Mann Yes! I’m becoming a bit obsessed, in fact. Creating a system or checklist has become my go-to solution for a ton of things. Yesterday, for instance, after realizing I try to read way too much nonfiction without really absorbing or implementing anything I read, I created a book evaluation form, basically a short series of analysis questions to help me decide if it’s worth my reading a particular book at a certain time and whether I have enough time and energy to devote to it. And if the answer to the last two questions is no, well, the title, author, and my short notes are entered into a GDocs spreadsheet for future reference. And if it’s yes, then I’m way more committed to the book than I would otherwise have been. I used to just stare in dread at the pile of books I’d checked out from the library and wonder why I didn’t feel like reading any of them. I cleared my stack out in no time using my new form and now have a single book on which to focus. And I am THRILLED about it 😀

        1. @remadebyhand That is AWESOME. One of the things I do is, having realized that books are a real energy drain (so many books– and I’ve either read them or don’t feel like reading them!) I decide to pare my collection down to 50 books, which, if you have to box them up, is only about three boxes. I keep a list on my private blog of the books that I really need to keep on hand. So far, I have less than 20… the rest are just “nice to have.”  I keep them pared by selling them or listing them on Paperback Swap regularly.
          I also have a spreadsheet for clothes. I hate shopping. I go in with the image of exactly what I want and walk out with exactly that thing.

        2. @Shanna Mann I’m working on my book collection now. At this point, there are a lot of books left, but I do actually want to read them all. What’s silly is that of my 15-ish shelves of fiction (3 bookcases’ worth), not even a third of those are books I’ve read and want to keep. So, I know my collection will shrink as I read books and enjoy them but don’t need to keep them around. I love the idea of keeping a list of books to keep around. There are actually some nonfiction books in particular i’d love to acquire, because I know I’d refer to them or reread them. I should start a list. Do you like Paperback Swap? I’ve never tried it.
          Clothes spreadsheet! Whoa! I hate shopping too. I used to just buy the closest thing to what I needed as I could find, especially if it was cheap, since I preferred to get the shopping over with. But I just ended up with a lot of stuff I don’t really like because it wasn’t just what I was looking for. I’m getting better, though, and have started not buying things unless they’re right.

        3. @remadebyhand After years of searching I finally found the perfect boots– a little heel, flat enough for everyday use, not too chunky or motorcycle-y or cowboy-y looking, and made well (sewn together, not glued). They were worth the effort: http://ow.ly/fdDDG

        4. @Shanna Mann Ooh cute! And quality, it sounds like — always nice to know you won’t have to replace the things in a year. Boots are the biggest thing on my list right now. I have really wide feet, and NO one makes wide boots. Maybe I should start shopping on Zappos.com, since they have free returns 🙂

        5. @remadebyhand  @Shanna Mann I am so happy to find others that hate shopping that I could weep. When I enter a dept store or mall, god forbid, it is a sting mission and I do not take prisoners. Amazon is just fine for most of my misc needs.

  3. Perfectly selected quotes at strategic times: check.
    Excellent photo selection that plays well with the post: check.
    Writing that makes you stop and think about how inadequate your systems are AND want to do something about it: check.
    Shanna, if you were sitting next to me right now, I’d turn to you for a high-five and playfully say, “We got a hot one!” You totally lit this one up.
    But don’t assume that people who have inadequate systems or no systems believe that to have robust ones would be tantamount to cheating. I’ve found most people without quality systems would LOVE to have them in place and feel like a wannabe for NOT having them. They just don’t know how to create them, which ones they should start on first, and where to find the motivation to get cranking on them.
    Everything else here though: spot on! I predict this hot one is going to get some social media love.

    1. @joeyjoejoe I mostly got the idea from The Checklist Manifesto… it was ridonkulously difficult to persuade physicians to use them, and I’ve noticed this attitude a lot amongst youngsters in the entreprenuerial sphere. It’s good to know that at least with one segment of my audience I’m preaching to the choir 🙂

  4. I think we can bring sexy back to being a monk. Usually I am just the monk of bunk, but after walking, coffee and writing each morning, I transform into the guitar monk. I pour iced tea, put on MSNBC and immediately mute it, tune, arrange my studies and books, set my timer on my cell for 30 min because that is about all it’s good for, and begin scale practice. It is glamorous to ME. I feel superior to my former self that used to mindlessly read through pieces. I practice in complete comfort. I have done this long enough to know that results are inevitable. Never is it drudgery, for me. @remadebyhand Or I could have just said, “And I think it’s not just that you appear cooler to everyone else. It’s that you feel better, too.” Well put, EK.
    Where, though, do we draw the line between laziness and “not seeing”? Some of us must see what needs doing and just toss it off as a waste of time. Can we call them lazy? Not that I have a need for name calling.

    1. @cjrenzi I think one has to reach a point where *not* doing what needs to be done starts to look like the waste of time. For a long time, I thought, “What? Weekly reviews?? I don’t have 3 hours to devote to getting my crap together every week. Who needs that, anyway?” But it got to a point where I had notes I never did anything with, an inbox full of emails I didn’t need, and no system in place for checking in with myself and figuring out where I could make improvements. So when the lovely @Shanna Mann suggested I try weekly reviews again, I did…and now I’m totally a convert!
      I also think it helps to have a toolbox of skills and techniques to play with and the assurance that it’s ok to do things your own way instead of trying to implement someone else’s approach out of the box. And that sometimes laziness isn’t laziness as much as resistance to figuring it out for yourself. If that makes sense 🙂

      1. @remadebyhand  @cjrenzi Erin, I think it’s a great point that you need to know that you can change things. One of my biggest fears about systemitization is that I’ll ossify and refuse to change because it will mean disrupting my precious systems– it’s the same process that happens in bigger companies, when they get mired in bureaucracy and TPS reports.  
        I’m reasonably certain that my inclination to try new things will mitigate that potential issue, but it is possible to go too far in the other direction as well.

        1. @Shanna Mann  @remadebyhand Yes, Yes!!! As new and better info become available we use it, right? My practice systems have been tweaked many times and will be many more before these little fingers top wiggling!

      2. @remadebyhand Personalities have an incredible spectrum. So funny that I am far more resistant to a boxed approach than figuring it out myself. I often trust myself even when it is inadvisable. I think I have been enabled for much of my life to have others do for me, so in my later years I am having a bit of an over-correction. What you say makes perfect sense, and thank you.

    2. @cjrenzi  @remadebyhand  I agree with the monk bit… but for some reason that’s not a huge selling feature. People want it, but they also look at the stuff they might have to give up to do it, and… it’s really hard to give up stuff. 
      I’ve never taken martial arts, but I envision it as being a student of the arts, showing up in the dojo every day, doing their katas. It doesn’t matter if yesterday the katas were perfect or if they sucked, but today, they need to be done again with all the effort at excellence and attention to form you can muster. 
      I think that’s a beautiful and deeply satisfying way to live life. I hope it catches on in my community.

  5. yes yes yes yes yes!! Thank you for unlocking a key point for me about letting myself come home. Hard to believe, but I was making exactly this mistake despite having been talking about proper and improper use of stories for weeks now. I was convinced that the sort of nomad character and life I thought I wanted to live was a superhero of a kind that I wanted to prove I could be… when in fact, I wasn’t looking at it 3 dimensionally at all… was forgetting about the kind of work required to build the systems needed. And how I was trying to just live up to the idea in my head, rather than deal with the reality of the tradeoffs required… you are brilliant as always, Shanna.

  6. I’m lovin’ the energy in this post 🙂
    I saw your comment below about “youngsters in the entrepreneurial sphere” – I can see how the younger generation that has been exposed to so many success stories online might not see the value of systems and might get caught up in how many successful entrepreneurs and artists romanticize their work.
    Makes me glad I grew up before the internet. Not that it’s a bad thing – the internet should be a great thing, but reading about success online and living it is two very different things. Reading about versus actually creating art is so different as well… not as sexy as one would fantasize about.
    It’s not just superpowers, natural talent, or the like.. it really is habits, beautiful systems (check out the book where women create sometime), and being willing to experiment with a ton of lame ideas… not just the good ones. 
    I think no matter what pre-conceived notions people have about greatness, once they go out and actually try to achieve it, they’ll learn what it’s really about.

    1. @deniseurena “I think no matter what pre-conceived notions people have about greatness, once they go out and actually try to achieve it, they’ll learn what it’s really about.”
      I couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂

  7. You’re totally speaking my language here, Shanna. I’m a comic book geek (and a fan of Batman), so this struck home – for more reasons than just superheroes.
    I find that I’ve fallen into systemization simply by feeling overwhelmed on a regular basis. One of my stabilizing habits in life is to take time on a Saturday and just list out everything that’s going on and everything that needs to be done. When I see it all on paper or on a screen, I feel like I can make much more intelligent decisions about how to spend my time instead of rushing off after the perceived emergency.
    After reading this, I’m thinking about how I can make that time more intentional so that it doesn’t feel like a last resort. Thanks!

    1. @michaelwroberts Batman FTW! Systems should never be a last resort, just because it takes a long time for them to provide an ROI on the time you invest. Like Batman’s R&D.
      It does sound like you could benefit from an oversight process. I explain how to do this in one of the modules of my course Be The Boss. You already have the backbone of a weekly review!

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