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  4.  | The Productive Solopreneur – Systems Over Goals

Welcome back to the Productive Solopreneur Series.

In the last video, we went over how you are in a battle for productivity and how productivity may help you feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment in your business and your life.

In this video, we are getting the ball rolling with Key #1 Systems Over Goals.

The Productive Solopreneur - Systems Over Goals Systems Over Goals

Systems Over Goals

You’ve probably been told that in order to be productive, you need to set goals. Big goals. Stretch goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals.

The thinking says that to achieve anything meaningful, you need to turn it into a goal.

Well… perhaps.

While goals can be very helpful, they aren’t always ideal.

The Problem with Goals

Goals have one big issue: they have an endpoint.

That means you’re not considered successful until you’ve actually reached your goal. Until you’ve reached your goal, you might feel like:

  • You’re a failure
  • You’re spinning your wheels, not going anywhere
  • You haven’t achieved anything since the goal seems so far away.

Measuring your success this way can make you feel defeated, especially if you have big and ambitious goals.

Goal Problem Example

For example, if you want to run a $1M business one day, nothing you do until you reach that goal may make you feel like you’ve succeeded.

You may be making crazy strides in your business, but they may feel flat compared to your hard-to-achieve grand goal.

Since goals have an “endpoint,” you may never feel like a success until you’ve actually achieved your goal. And even when you achieve the goal, you have to start all over again with your next goal.

And the reality is, you may not even know what your “next” goal should be. So, you feel a bit aimless. You know that you should be trying to accomplish something, but you’re not actually sure what that something should be.

Even worse, you might feel like since you have already accomplished your goal, you can go back to your past habits instead of pushing forward and growing. You may even lose all the forward progress you made.

It’s a setup to make you accidentally feel like a failure.

The Productive Solopreneur - Systems Over Goals The Power Of Systems

The Power Of Systems

There is another, better way.

And they’re called systems.

Systems allow you to:

  • Make progress on your goals every day
  • Reach your milestones
  • Guarantee your success
  • Avoid the feeling that you’re spinning your wheels

What Are Systems?

Scott Adams, who you may know, is the author of the famous Dilbert cartoons. He wrote about systems in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.  

He explained the difference between systems and goals this way: “Losing ten pounds may be a goal, while the system is learning to eat right.”

Here’s another example. Suppose your goal is to clean up your house from top to bottom. So you spend the whole day cleaning, and you momentarily feel satisfied with what you’ve accomplished.

However, if you don’t have a system in place, your home will be a mess again in no time, especially if your house is like mine with kids and dogs.

After a couple days…

…the dishes fill the sink, the laundry piles up, and the floors again are covered in footprints and dog hair.

A system, however, would be having a cleaning routine. Instead of cleaning the entire house in long one day, you train yourself to do a few small tasks each day. The result is your house is tidy for more than a couple hours.

Here’s a business example for you:

Goal: Generate $60,000 in revenue over the next three months.

System: Every morning, you reach out to 3 potential customers (or however many are necessary)

The system is what ensures that you reach the actual goal.

Using a system doesn’t mean that you don’t have goals. It just means that you focus more on the process than on the final destination.

So, What’s the Problem with Goals?

You’ve probably been told your whole life to set grand goals and work really, really hard to achieve them.

On its face, that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with having big goals. Goals can motivate, inspire, and challenge us. Goals give us something to look forward to and a reason to continue moving forward.

But goals can also be quite rigid and unmoving.

Let’s imagine you’ve set a strict goal for your business. You would like to make a certain amount of sales by a specific date.

You go into full-on hustle mode to make those sales. And you may make a lot of sales.

But what happens when you don’t reach your desired amount?

Chances are…

… you’ll feel like you failed.

All the sales that you did make won’t bring you happiness because you didn’t sell enough. You’ll feel unproductive, and you may even want to throw in the towel.

What’s most unfortunate about this scenario is that you may have missed so many opportunities along the way while your head was down working on that one thing.

Bottom line?

Being overly focused on a singular distant goal can easily give you tunnel vision.

Your determination to complete a single goal may have kept you from taking the time needed to develop a new service that could have sold for double the price.

Scott Adams writes:

“…if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal…With a system, you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity.”

The Productive Solopreneur - Systems Over Goals Goals Limit Your Threshold for Happiness

Goals Limit Your Threshold For Happiness

The issue with setting goals is that you’re so narrowly focused on a time in the future that you aren’t happy until you hit that exact spot. I

Then when and if you reach your goal:

  • The feeling of happiness will likely fade.
  • You’ll feel the need to chase the next goal.
  • You’re continually working toward something that is, at best, fleeting.

Productivity expert James Clear has also spoken extensively about systems vs. goals.

In his book, Atomic Habits, he writes:

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.”

What Actually Happens When You Reach A Goal?

You may also realize that once you’ve attained a specific goal, it’s kind of a dead end.

For example, let’s suppose you set a goal to run your first marathon.

In order to reach your marathon goal:

  • You forced yourself into the gym five times a week.
  • You ran even if you didn’t want to
  • You cut some things out of your diet you didn’t want to

You worked very hard, but you didn’t even enjoy the process that even got you there.

After a while, you’ve dropped your running routine, and you’ve gone back to your former life. Your muscles eventually soften, you put the weight back on, and you can’t bear to look at your running shoes.

So what went wrong?

Sure, you were focused on your goal, but the system you created was unbearable.

You probably started training for your marathon because you wanted to be stronger and healthier.

Scott Adams explains that though you can set a goal to exercise three to four times a week on a strict schedule, if you’re not enjoying it, it’s more likely that you’ll give up on it.

You may do it for a while, but in the long run, you’ll lack the willpower to continue because it feels like you’re punishing yourself.

Instead, he suggests finding ways to be active each day that actually feels good for you.

This way:

  • You’ll get a psychological lift from your exercise.
  • You’re training yourself that being active is a positive.
  • You’re slowly training yourself to enjoy exercise as opposed to feeling like it’s a punishment.

You’ll want to challenge yourself as you continue enjoying being active more. Your beginning activity may start with short, slow walks, but you may eventually find that you like to run, as well. Or maybe you don’t, and you discover tennis or Zumba.

But you’ll do so because you want it and not because you’re forcing yourself to.

The Productive Solopreneur - Systems Over Goals Goals How Do Systems Help Solopreneurs?

How Do Systems Help Solopreneurs?

Most importantly, systems are more flexible than goals, and for a solopreneur, that is essential.

If you’re more of a type-A personality, this shift may make you feel a bit uncomfortable at first. It may feel like you’re giving up control by not focusing all your energy on a future goal.

The question you must ask yourself is: What would happen if you shifted your focus from a singular goal to a process that still gets you there?

If you’re instead focused on the system, does that mean you’re abandoning your goals and wandering around aimlessly?

The short answer is: no. And here’s why.

Suppose a football coach chooses to focus on choosing great players, developing amazing plays, and creating more effective practice routines instead of the goal of just winning.

What do you think would be the result? They’ll probably win.

James Clear explains:

“Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers…The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.”

For your business to be successful, it’s important to understand what is working and what’s not working with your current systems

Think about the parts in your process that are working and the parts that are not.

What does your client generation process look like? 

  • Do you have clients that fit your overall vision?
  • If not, what can you change to find clients that are a better match?

Think about your marketing campaigns and the systems that drive them. 

  • Is it working?
  • What changes can you implement in your marketing system to reach more customers and drive more business?

Now think about your services or products and the systems you have in place that support them. 

  • What can you do to improve your services?
  • How can you streamline your process and make it more efficient?
  • Are your services and products testing well?
  • If they aren’t, what can you do to improve upon them?

These small, day-to-day incremental improvements will make you feel successful, fulfilled, and more productive. Learning how you can push through daily struggles will bring you more confidence and happiness in a way that these hard-to-reach grand goals never will.

A system shows you how to become better at what you do, and it greatly enhances your skill level. If something isn’t working, you have the flexibility to change it and move on.

You still have the skills that you developed, but you can now use them in a new direction.

That’s the gift of a system.

In the next video in the series, we’ll dive into Productivity Key #2: Early Risers Get it Done

The Productive Entrepreneur Series

The Battle for Productivity 

Systems Over Goals <- YOU ARE HERE

Early Risers Get It Done

Destroy Your Distractions

Slay Your Dragons 

Productivity is Yours

About Digital Marketing Expert Torie Mathis

Torie Mathis helps entrepreneurs, like you, use digital marketing to grow your business without wasting time, money, or your sanity.  She is a best-selling author, Army veteran, speaker + trainer, and your digital marketing coach. You don't need crazy tech skills, buckets of cash, or dedicated staff to market your business. In fact, you don't even need a lot of time. What you need is to be SMART.

Learn from Torie at the Smart Arsenal and on her channel.

Torie hosts SMART AF, a show for non-techy entrepreneurs looking to grow their business, with her husband Sean and is the creator of SMART AF Magazine.

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