From a high level, we have already looked at how systems benefit our leadership. I’d like to go a little deeper by sharing specific systems that have aided me on my leadership journey. I trust the following tips will help guide your thinking as you build systems into your regular routine.
1) Systems Decrease Life’s Chaos
In the accelerated pace of the modern world, information bombards us from every angle. The best systems improve our productivity by cutting clutter and keeping us focused. Here are four suggestions to combat life’s chaos:
A. Create Systems for Everyday Activities.
Think of systems to keep your work in front of you. For instance, I put different several different-colored folders in my briefcase so that I don’t spend lots of time digging around to find what I want. Because I file by color, I immediately know where to look.
Search for shortcuts to save time. When I moved to Atlanta, one of the first things I did was to drive different routes to gauge the distance and time needed to travel them. Now, I generally know the quickest routes in the city, and I avoid the worst of its traffic as a result.
B. Plan Work Ahead
I plan a whole month ahead by looking at my calendar, considering my major projects, and scheduling out the time needed to get them done. Mapping out my month helps me to be strategic and intentional with each day. With experience, I have learned to put my family time on the calendar first. Otherwise, work creeps into my evenings and weekends and crowds out moments with my spouse or children.
C. Work in Blocks of Time
Finish one task before starting another. Every time I revisit an old project, I waste time trying to wrap my mind around it. If I had just concentrated on seeing it through in the first place, then I wouldn’t have the costly delays of restarting it.
D. Create a Place to Work Uninterrupted.
Studies have shown that the average manager gets interrupted every eight minutes! Find a place to work free from distractions. When you need to meet employees, go to their space. In doing so, you connect with their world, while also controlling how the conversation fits into your schedule.
2) Systems Delegate Your Load
The most productive leaders are the ones who have learned systems to distribute their workload to a trusted team. Instead of trying to do everything alone, they equip those around them to handle important assignments. Consider these ways to share responsibilities.
A. Keep Your Ball Carriers Nearby
Bring people around you so that you can very quickly hand off the ball. For example, my assistant, Linda, goes to meetings with me. By attending, she’s informed, and I don’t have to spend precious time bringing her up to speed. Following the meeting, I’m not pressured to remember all of the action items because I know Linda can be trusted to follow through diligently on every detail.
B. Delegate Everything Possible
Delegate everything possible by following the 80% principle. List your responsibilities, and only focus personal time on the most important 20%. Delegate the remainder to the leaders around you.
C. Train People to Handle Problems Before They Get to You.
My goal is to teach everyone how I think to the extent that they don’t even need me. For example, when I make decisions, I sit down with Linda, my assistant, and I explain why I made a decision. Not only am I instructing her on what to do, I’m teaching her how I think. By now, after several years of working together, Linda can make decisions on my behalf 98% of the time without consulting me.
3) Systems Designate Time for People
Good systems promote meaningful interactions with others. They leverage our influence by increasing the quantity and quality of time we spend in relationships. Here are a few relational systems that can benefit your leadership.
A. Set Aside Time to Connect with Others
Develop a system to work a room. For instance, I seldom eat at business picnics or banquets so that I can walk around and talk to people. Why would I waste valuable time loading up on food, when I could connect with others?
Systematically connect with key players outside of routine meetings. Maybe this means getting together for an evening meal or going to the theater or a ballgame. If you’re short on time, handwrite a note of encouragement. In this age of e-communication, it’s amazing how powerful a written card can be.
B. Make It Your Responsibility to Know New People
As a pastor, I instructed our ushers to take pictures of our people with Polaroid cameras. Then, the ushers wrote the person’s name on the back of the photograph and placed the picture on a key ring. During the week, I scrolled through the pictures and committed the names to memory. I was able to memorize 2,400 names in our congregation, not because I was brilliant, but because I had a good system.
C. Learn to Say No
Repeat after me: “It seems exciting. I would love to do it, but unfortunately I have another project that’s taking all of my time.” In other words, “NO!”
I have a “hatchet committee” to guard my time. They cut down my speaking opportunities so that only the best ones get my attention. These gatekeepers protect me from overburdening myself and burning out.
How to Start Systems in Your Life Today
1) Examine life to see where you’re losing the most time, and develop systems to minimize wasteful activities.
2) Devise ways to delegate where you’re weak; don’t do what you can’t do well. Get help!
3) Carve out time to work privately and connect publically. Then, make sure those times are kept separate.
4) Rearrange your work environment to gain uninterrupted privacy.