How many times have you heard, “You need to create systems for your business”?
But what does it actually mean?
Where do you start?
Where should you have systems?
How do you create them?
A system is basically a set of procedures, and a procedure is just a checklist or a step-by-step way of doing things.
Best Course of Action
I have a side gig as an accountability coach, but my day job is flying a medevac helicopter in Alaska. (Cool, right?) Pilots have been using checklists for years. They ensure nothing is overlooked or forgotten.
I constantly rely on procedures and checklists to keep me safe. There are checklists and procedures for pre-flight, starting the helicopter, before takeoff and before landing.
I’ve practiced the emergency procedures over and over again. They are so automatic, when I have a mechanical issue in the helicopter, I can complete them and still have enough brain power (and calm demeanor) to assess the problem and decide upon the best course of action.
I first learned to fly in my dad’s 1961 Cessna Skywagon. It was manufactured before the FAA required checklists. My flight instructor had me create my own checklist explaining, “You’ll never find a checklist more valuable than the one you create yourself.”
Critical for All Business Sizes
Now 15 years later, well into a successful career as a pilot with multiple streams of income from writing and accountability coaching, I couldn’t agree more. None of this would have been possible without creating systems and procedures for achieving my goals.
I realize not everyone has a life-or-death job like mine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t operate your businesses like a badass.
Systems and procedures are critical for success regardless of your business size. Here’s why:
Quiet Your Inner Critic
Our inner critics get really scared any time we put ourselves out there and do creative work. As an entrepreneur and innovator, you will often operating outside of your comfort zone.
Having well-defined procedures in place will help you soothe your inner critic by providing a structure for how you do things.
People often procrastinate because they don’t know what to do next or where to start. Procedures define your next steps.
You may not know exactly what you’ll write in your next blog post, but you’ve created a process for completing one. This also prevents overwhelm — procrastination’s pesky twin.
The Impossible Becomes Possible
If you had told me I was going to be a medevac pilot one day, I would have said, “There’s no way I could ever do that.” I didn’t think I’d be good enough.
But step-by-step procedures for achieving my goals ensured success. Your first goal might be just generating $500 a month of side income from your business. Then $5,000 a month. Then …
Identify Areas to Improve & Outsource
The business growth of many soloprenuers business owners is limited by the amount of time they’re able to put into their business.
Developing procedures and systems will allow you to identify areas of your business you can outsource, thus freeing up more time for you to do the creative thinking rather than rote, repetitive tasks. You can also find areas where you can work smarter or more efficiently.
So we know that procedures are great — what’s next? Developing one. Here’s how you can do that.
1. Decide Where To Start
Ask yourself this:
- What do you want to run more smoothly?
- What are tasks you do each week?
- What tasks feel overwhelming?
It is often useful to use someone else’s checklist as a starting place. Customizing it to your needs is the where the magic happens. In my accountability coaching business, I have a procedure for email, blog posts and planning my week.
2. List All the Steps In Order
Everyone has methods for doing things, but usually they are haphazard and willy-nilly rather than specific and systematic. This leads to spinning your wheels and hours surfing social media rather than using your time effectively.
Once you choose where you want to develop a procedure, write down all the steps involved in completing the task. This will help you identify unclear areas, any bottlenecks and areas for improvement.
Don’t get hung-up on trying to make it perfect, just make your best guess for now. I probably had five versions of the checklist for the airplane before I had it in an order that made the most sense.
Make each step specific and concrete. Starting each step with a verb will ensure it is actionable. If your procedure is longer than 15 steps or takes more than several hours to complete, break it into smaller chunks.
3. Test Your Procedure
When you first get started, the procedure can feel a bit awkward and slow. When I’m first transitioning to flying a new aircraft, I might spend extra time locating the switch or learning the instrumentation to set up my navigation.
Later after I’ve practiced the procedure multiple times, I use a method the FAA terms “do then verify.” I do the procedure automatically and then read over the checklist to ensure I’ve completed all the steps. You will get more efficient as you practice your procedure — don’t give up.
4. Evaluate & Modify Your Procedure
After testing your procedure, ask yourself:
- What needs to be more defined?
- What steps need to be rearranged for efficiency?
- What didn’t work?
Reflecting on why you are doing what you’re as well as determining how to improve your process is critical to success.
Now that you’ve taken some time to reflect on your procedure, modify it as needed.
5. Use Your Procedure
When you repeat your procedures over and over again, they become a habit. When I use my own weekly planning process, I set myself up for success.
The weeks I skip my own procedure are the weeks where I feel constantly behind.
6. Repeat the Process to Create Systems
Now that you’ve created one procedure, add in another and another until you develop a system. You will probably want system for things like:
- Client management
- Product development
Once you create procedures for your business and life, you’ll free up time and mental energy for other things.
This isn’t about doing more — it’s about doing more of what matters.
(Photo by Steve Buissinne / CC BY)