I am a systems Nazi. You should be too.
For Want of a Nail, A Shoe Was Lost…
I once read about a famous NFL coach who, on the first practice of the preseason, sits down and shows his players how to put on their socks.
Oh, you don’t know the best way to put on socks?
It’s very simple. You scrunch the cuffs up your thumbs until you’re about three inches from the tip. Then, you put it over the ends of your toes, making sure that the end seam is aligned with the tips of them and that the toe of the sock is fitting squarely around your own. Then pull the sock over the rest of your foot, making sure to set the heel where it out to be. Then, pull the cuff all the way up.
If you put your socks on right, you’ll avoid soreness and blistering. You’ll be able to play longer with less pain. And perhaps most importantly, your level of attention for details is indicative also of your level of attention for larger matters.
Focus is all you have.
Even aside from the wisdom of learning to do things properly (by the way, do you know there’s a right way to tie your shoes, too?) proper attention paid at the granular level means that when crunch time comes, you’re not distracted by sore toes.
The ability to concentrate, to bring your will to bear upon a project or problem, is to my mind the most crucial aspect of self-management. You simply cannot run a business without it. Focus is all you have.
That is why, (although I swear I have other stuff to teach) my work with clients begins with the design and construction of supportive systems. My last course was about bookkeeping (one of the easiest systems to maintain once you know what you’re doing) and the next one (due out right after American Thanksgiving!) is about creating systems to develop plans for your business that you’ll stick to and won’t make you crazy.
Be Choosy About What Gets Your Attention
My absolute favorite quote is by Gustave Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be wild and original in your work.
When I was younger I wasn’t convinced of the truth of that quote, but more and more I find that the more orderly and dependable other aspects of my life are, the more I can stretch professionally. That also ties in with what I’ve learned about neuroscience and decision fatigue.
Furthermore, the more that you practice a routine (or a system!) the more that it becomes ingrained into your neural pathways, making it more automatic and freeing up more cognitive bandwidth—ensuring that you never start the second half of a big game and suddenly realize that you have a wrinkle in your sock.
The diffusion of focus will crush you. As a solo entrepreneur, you know what it is to try and keep the plates spinning. You know how many different aspects of your business you have to pay attention to. Marketing, administration, client work, client relationships, planning, finances, outreach, etc. And that’s just to stay in one place. To progress towards something, you need to do market research, testing and implementation, professional development, and strategic initiatives.
Doesn’t it make you anxious just to read that list?
And worse, don’t you feel helpless, like you don’t know where to start?
Decision fatigue strikes again.
Decision fatigue is what keeps you from creating these systems. They’re dead simple—but simple does not mean easy. It requires you to be thorough, methodical, and clear-headed throughout the entire process of setting them up, and vigilant throughout the first couple trial runs to make sure you got them perfectly right. Because these are your neural pathways you’re setting. They’ll be annoying to change later.
Systems are not one of those things that would be “nice to have”. They’re crucial to get set up, because until you get them in place, it’s nearly impossible to get to ‘level up’ because you simply can’t compete at a higher level before you get supportive systems in place.