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Build systems and habits when you have too much to do

Blog

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Build systems and habits when you have too much to do

Scott Miker

We all have too much to do.  We have competing priorities and people around us seem to want more and more from us.

Life gets complicated and the natural reaction for us is to try and do more.  As things get added we keep adding to our to do lists.

Once at a seminar I saw a great representation of this.  The speaker called up a random audience member and asked him to juggle 1 ball.  The audience member easily did this. 

Then he gave another ball.  The audience member was not a great juggler but was able to keep up.  Then the speaker threw a third ball towards the audience member.  

The audience member didn’t just miss the third ball; he dropped all 3 to the ground.  The point the speaker was making was that when we keep adding more to what we have to do the more we risk dropping everything. 

It is unusual to be able to keep going and just drop the last thing added.  We think that is how it should work but too often it doesn’t follow that logic.  We end up splitting our time and resources and everything gets a little attention but not enough to execute properly.

But this limitation can be overcome.  It takes time to overcome it.  There isn’t an absolute ceiling to what we are capable of doing. 

The key to overcome this limitation is to rely on systems and habits.

Systems and habits is the shift in focus to work on solidifying the basic, fundamental elements and turn them into automatic responses.  Then as they become automatic we require less attention and devote fewer resources towards them. 

If we are working with employees we give them a clear and simple framework to accomplish their tasks.  We don’t just keep adding to their plate.  We help them build the necessary skills and work on improving the processes and then build from there.

This is how we finally gain control of our complicated lives.  We don’t have to think through everything.  We initially think through the problem but then work to build the habits necessary to sustain the behavior we are after. 

A great example is to look at professional football players.  They continue to focus on the fundamentals and doing the basic blocking and tackling.  Yes the plays they run and the game plans get more and more complex but it is because they have built the right habits. 

Hall of Fame Quarterback, Steve Young, calls this reflexive recall.  He says that it is important to build the right habits so that they will be automatic in times of stress when performance matters most.

How can we start to build reflexive recall in our lives?  What habits can we work on now and make automatic, so that busy times they just sort of keep going?

Exercise, health, nutrition, relationships, education, career, business etc. all can be looked at through this lens.  This is how you turn overcomplicated into simple without reducing the things that need to get done.  

The juggling example now makes even more sense.  If the audience member spent enough time learning to juggle the third ball would be easily added.  They could have continued to add more and more and make it look easy and natural.  But behind their ability to maintain so many balls in the air are many underlying systems and habits that they would need to build up. 

Take this approach and you will be surprised at how much control you can gain over your life.  Instead of things feeling like they are slipping further and further out of reach, you will start to see momentum going in the right direction.  Time will then be on your side rather than working against you. 

So when you have too much to do, take that as a sign to go back and build the right systems and habits rather than trying to just add more and more to your to do list.