Systems aren't difficult to understand, and the best systems are usually the simplest.
Not sure what a business system is? To boil it down, let's just say a system is a set of tasks that are repeated in pretty much the same way at the same time in order to accomplish the same end.
That's the best kind of system, though there are other, haphazard systems which are formed by default. You know the kind I'm talking about. It's the "scramble to find the receipts and the invoices and do the taxes before the due date goes by" system. It's not good, or conscious, or planned; if it's something that happens with any kind of repetition, however, it's your system.
Since you're going to have systems, put a little effort into making sure they work for you instead of against you.
A simple approach to systems
First, make a list of any work that you have to do on a regular basis. Next, go through that list with the following list of questions.
- What are the work items you put off? Systematize so you don't keep procrastinating; you just stay plugged into your system and things happen.
- What are the tasks you're not good at? Systematize them so they become as streamlined as possible and you spend as little time as possible on them.
- What are the tasks you avoid or forget? Systematize them so they get on your schedule and get done with a minimum of hassle.
- What are the tasks you love and do best? Systematize the detail work that accompanies them so you can focus on your strengths.
How systems help you save money
Use systems to keep from making the same decisions over and over again. Instead of thinking through a routine task again, put it on autopilot with a system. Use the time and mental energy saved to come up with creative marketing ideas, contact prospects, make a sale or negotiate better prices from distributors.
Use systems to automate routine tasks. Avoid the money lost due to late taxes, late bill payment, and other losses that can be chalked up to procrastination and oversight.
Use systems to simplify delegating or outsourcing tasks. When you can hand off a routine task to an hourly employee or outsourced worker, you free your time for your core work, the work that actually makes you money.
Use systems to keep mundane, administrative work organized and accomplished. You can pay a professional organizer, or you can use systems and be your own professional organizer.
Why you avoid systems
People hesitate to set up systems because set-up requires a little time and conscious effort. For routine tasks— the kind that most benefit from implementing a system—it's easy to mistakenly think that the effort of creating a system is more effort than the task deserves.
These routine tasks may be simple, but they're important. Neglect them, or allow them to be done haphazardly if at all, and your business will suffer.
How to set up systems that work
To set up a system, choose one task to systematize. Then walk through these seven steps.
Step 1: Ask "What needs to be done to complete this task?" Then list each action required, from start to finish, to get the task to completion.
Step 2: Ask "How does it need to be done?" Then list any special methods or criteria required to get the task done correctly.
Step 3: Ask "When does it need to be done?" Don't default to the deadline; choose a time that gives you the ability to correct mistakes or deal with last-minute issues, if applicable.
Step 4: Ask "What resources, tools, or supplies are required to get it done?"Then list what is needed.
Step 5: Ask "What people need to be involved to get it done?" List the people and assign roles/action items.
Step 6: Ask "Is there anything that could be improved to get this task completed more effectively?" List any steps that could be eliminated, people who could be freed up to do more important work, or portions that could be outsourced. Good systems allow you to find the most efficient way to do the simplest tasks.
Step 7: Make it a system by a) creating a System Sheet, b) putting it on the schedule, and c) gathering the necessary supplies in a single, designated space.
- A System Sheet should list all the steps to be taken from start to finish. Include any pertinent information (methods, criteria, contact info of the person responsible) next to the corresponding step. Don't skip this step! Even if it's a simple task and your system sheet is two lines long, create one. Doing so will enable you to hand off the task to someone else and be sure it's done the way you want it to be done.
- Put the system (or task) on the calendar of the person responsible for it. If that's not you, put it on your calendar, too, in order to follow up and ensure that the system is followed.
- Finally, if possible, gather together all the supplies needed and designate a space for them. Keep the supplies in that space and be sure that one of your steps on the system sheet includes a supply check, so you don't run out.
Does it take some time to set up a good system? Yes, it does, more than the task itself might take. However, that time invested in building a system will enable you to breeze through the task every subsequent time it has to be done. If you invest 60 minutes in building a system, and save 10 minutes every time you use it, it doesn't take long for a system to start paying you back in moments gained and money saved.
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Annie Mueller writes about all aspects of productivity in life and at work. Her work can be seen at numerous on line publications. She blogs at AnnieMueller.com. Find her on twitter: @anniemueller.