Most people never look at their personal routines and habits in order to identify ways to improve. They may see something they want and set a goal to get it, but it is usually driven by the reward or prize at the end of a journey.
Because we tend to work backwards from what we want and then start looking at what to do to get it, we often ignore the mundane systems in our life. Instead we try to identify one or two things that we can do differently.
The systems and habits approach to improvement is different. Instead of just looking at one or two things to change to reach a goal, it focuses on constant tweaks to the systems in our lives. Many times this is a change to a habit that we have formed or some part of our daily routine.
Looking at life systematically, most people have tons of inefficiencies in their lives. The average person in the U.S. spends 4 hours per day watching TV. Since TV doesn’t provide much benefit beyond entertainment and distraction from our lives, this is 4 hours that can be used in more productive ways.
It isn’t difficult to find other inefficiencies in our lives. The other day I was walking through the mall and was astonished at the number of people on their cell phones. Cell phones can be a great way to improve efficiencies or even find better sale prices on items but I would guess that many people are aimlessly searching or playing games.
But we all have inefficiencies like this. Some we can identify easily and some are a bit more hidden from our awareness.
With the ability to stay connected to friends and family through social media, it is easy to let it build up and consume our lives too much. Or maybe we are the type of person that craves interaction with others and can spend hours chatting on the phone with friends or going out for coffee.
One point I want to make here, any of these activities could be productive, efficient activities. If you are a professional video game player, then playing video games becomes more like training than wasting time. If you use TV or chatting with friends to help you de-stress, those could be beneficial things to do.
But most of the time, we deceive our self by saying that they are important, necessary elements of our lives when they are not. I know because I have done that many times. It often takes the replacement of those activities to something more productive to realize how much more we could accomplish without them.
But in our society, we aren’t usually focused on increasing efficiencies in our personal routines and habits. We aren’t focused on small, incremental improvements. Instead we just want some big win or major reward.
When we start to use systems thinking to reach goals, we start to break down the routines and systems in our lives to see how we can slowly improve them. By doing this we reduce inefficiency by improving the system.
In Work the System by Sam Carpenter, he says, “Without question, I know inefficiency and its attending pain occur because of rare and isolated component problems within otherwise perfect systems.”
He then goes on to say, “By fixing your life’s individual systems – by identifying them one at a time and then rebuilding them one by one – order, control and peace accumulate incrementally.”
That is the benefit to improving your life systematically. You start to gain order, control and peace. You start to be able to move in the direction you choose for your life. You start to be able to handle all of life’s unpredictability by having the right things in place to help make it through the unexpected challenges and obstacles. You gain peace by confidently knowing that life isn’t about everything happening to you, it is about what you are choosing to do.