Systems? Creativity? There’s no way these two things go together.
And yet, as I see it, to not have systems is to waste a lot of time.
Now, I will say at the outset that systems should exist to serve you – not the other way around. To serve systems, unfortunately, is to become a slave to them. And, that works about as well in business as it does in creativity.
The purpose of systems is to boost your productivity. No, scratch that – the purpose of systems is to boost your effectiveness.
Increase Your Effectiveness with Systems
My business coach, James Schramko holds that the obsession with productivity is generally misguided. This is because productivity is all about getting things done.
This is akin to using a hammer to hammer nails, drill screws and saw through two-by-fours. A hammer was intended for one of these tasks, but not all of them.
What I’m saying is this – in productivity, every task looks the same. You can’t differentiate one from another. You can’t help but see all of them as being equally important.
In practice, that’s never the case. Some tasks and projects are always more important than others.
What matters is effectiveness – prioritizing things that will move the needle in your business.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. If you can identify the 20% that’s making a difference in your business, you’ll be miles ahead of most.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
If you’re focused on urgent tasks, you’re probably not dedicating enough time to important tasks. You see, low priority tasks are almost always urgent, while high priority tasks rarely are. That’s an easy way to distinguish whether what you’re working right now is high value.
What is a System?
Now that you understand the difference between productivity and effectiveness, it’s time to define what a system is.
Systems are processes, procedures and policies. Some people know them as Standard Operating Procedures (or SOPs).
Ever since I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, I’ve been using a yellow legal pad for my to-do lists, and a desktop calendar to keep track of my schedule. That is now a system embedded in my business.
Systems enable a business to scale and grow. You may be able to take your business to a certain point without systems, but inevitably there will come a point when you simply can’t expand any further. To lend credence to this point, I’ve interviewed over 100 successful business owners and they all told me the same thing.
Systems help you identify the steps involved in every task you need to carry out, which can help you speed up your work. And, if you want to hand tasks off to your volunteers, community members or employees, you can simply give them your procedure documents and they’ll be able to take over (assuming your documents are easy to understand).
The goal of this section is to introduce you to the concept of systems and not to help you earn an MBA, so for our purposes systems are checklists.
All Repetitive Tasks Should be Turned into Checklists
Nothing could be simpler than a checklist. It starts at step one and sequentially outlines every step necessary to complete a specific task.
Despite its simplicity, it’s an elegant solution to help you improve your effectiveness.
Let me ask you a question:
Do you ever find yourself doing the same things in your business repeatedly?
I’m sure you can think of a few things, whether it’s setting up your camera, answering emails, posting to social media or otherwise.
All these tasks can be – and should be – turned into checklists.
Why do I say that? Well, repetitive tasks may not exactly be sexy. But if you find yourself doing them all the time, there’s probably a good reason for it. There’s a strong chance they’re important to your business. And, if you find a few that aren’t, then you can take this opportunity to eliminate them.
There’s nothing glamorous about posting to social media. But it needs to be done. So, you should have a checklist detailing each step that needs to be followed. Your document should contain information like when to post, what to post, what platforms to post to and so on.
Then, once you have your checklist, follow it. Not only will tasks be completed in less time (try timing yourself) – you’ll also be able to achieve consistent results every time. So, with systems your overall effectiveness increases.
Harness The Power of Tools
Every task you need to do should ultimately be subjected to delegation, automation or elimination.
I’ve covered the delegation and elimination pieces already. Now it’s time to look at automation.
Does this mean that some tasks can be put on autopilot? Essentially, yes.
Now, I’m not necessarily talking about using AI here, although that could certainly be a part of the equation. What I’m saying is that there are plenty of apps and tools out there that can help you minimize time spent on repetitive tasks and maximize time spent on creativity.
There is almost always a setup process and sometimes a maintenance process with tools like these. But if it eases your burden and allows you to spend more time on your art, it would be worth investing into automation, would you agree?
I’ll offer a couple of examples.
I’ve used a variety of social media scheduling tools through the years. Then, I found Meet Edgar. Meet Edgar allows you to create a library of posts and have them go out at specific times according to your calendar. Assuming you have a lot of posts queued up, your social streams will stay fresh without you constantly having to manually post to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Similarly, I like to use a tool called Repurpose. Among other things, it will take your podcast episodes and turn them into YouTube videos automatically. Once you’ve connected your accounts, this all happens automatically. Incredible.
This is just the starting point. There are so many other great apps out there depending on what you need to automate, so don’t be shy about Googling solutions that could make your life easier.
You May Not be Able to Systematize Creativity – But You Can Systematize Everything in Between
There are many aspects of creativity that can be systematized.
Consider the example of a painter. Every time they go to paint, they need to set up their easel and canvas, their paints and brushes, water jar and paper towel, and anything else they need.
Do you see how this process could be boiled down to a checklist? Even though you’ll probably do this dozens, hundreds or even thousands of times as a painter, having a checklist for your process can speed things up and help you get to the important part – painting – faster.