You’ve probably been told that in order to be productive, you should set goals. Big goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals. Stretch goals.
The thinking goes that in order to achieve anything meaningful, you need to turn it into a goal.
While goals can be really helpful, they aren’t always ideal.
The Problem with Goals
Goals have one big problem: they have a termination point.
In other words, you’re not successful until you’ve actually reached your goal, and until you’ve reached the goal you might feel like:
- You’re spinning your wheels, not going anywhere.
- You’re a failure.
- You haven’t achieved anything since the goal seems so distant.
Measuring success this way can make you feel defeated, especially if you have big, ambitious goals.
For example, if you want to own a Fortune 500 hundred company, nothing you do until you reach that goal will make you feel like you’re succeeding. You may be making incredible strides in your business, but they will fall flat compared to your hard-to-achieve goal.
Since goals have an “end”, you never feel like a success until you’ve actually achieved your goal. And even when you achieve your goal, you simply have to start all over again with the next goal.
And the reality is, you might not even know what the “next” goal should be. So, you feel aimless. You know you should be seeking to accomplish something, but you’re not sure what that something should be.
Even worse, you might feel like since you already accomplished your goal you can go back to your old habits instead of pushing and growing. You lose all the forward progress that you made.
It’s a setup to make you feel like a consistent failure.
The Power of Systems
There is another, better way.
They’re called systems.
Systems allow you to:
- Make progress on your goals every single day
- Guarantee your success
- Help you reach your milestones
- Avoid the feeling that you’re just spinning your wheels
What are Systems?
Scott Adams, who you may know as the author of the famous Dilbert cartoons, 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 like this: “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 the house from top to bottom. You’ve spent the whole day cleaning, and you momentarily feel satisfied with what you’ve done.
However, if you have no system in place, your home will quickly go into disarray shortly thereafter.
After a few days…
…the dishes will overwhelm the sink, the laundry will pile up, and the floors will be a mess.
A system, on the other hand, would be a cleaning routine. Instead of cleaning the entire house in one day, you train yourself to do small tasks each day. The result is a house that’s tidy for more than a few hours.
Here’s a business example:
- Goal: Generate $50,000 in revenue over the next two months.
- System: Every morning you make three cold calls (or however many is necessary) to potential new customers.
The system ensures that you reach the end result.
Using a system doesn’t mean that you have no goals. It just means that you start to focus more on the process than the final destination.
A year from now you will wish you started working with a great coach today
John Lawson – Business Coach
You’ve probably been told your whole life to set lofty goals and work really hard to achieve them.
On its face, there’s nothing wrong with having goals. Goals can inspire, motivate, and challenge us. They give us something to look forward to and a reason to continue striving.
But goals can also be rigid and unmoving.
Let’s imagine you’ve set a firm goal for your company. You would like to make X amount of sales by a certain date.
You really hustle to make those sales. Likewise, you push your employees to do the same. Furthermore, you may make many sales.
But what happens when you don’t reach your goal amount?
…you’ll feel like a failure.
All the sales that you did make won’t bring you joy because you didn’t sell enough. You’ll feel unproductive and you may even want to quit.
What’s really unfortunate about this scenario is that you may have missed many opportunities along the way.
Being overly focused on a distant goal can easily give you tunnel vision.
Your determination to complete a singular goal may have kept you from taking the time to develop a new product that could be sold for twice as much.
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.”
Goals Limit Your Threshold for Happiness
The big issue with goals is that you’re so narrowed in on a future time that you aren’t happy until you hit that mark.
Once you reach a goal:
- The feeling of happiness will likely fade quickly.
- You’ll then feel the need to achieve the next goal and the next.
- You’re continually chasing something that is, at its best, fleeting.
Productivity expert James Clear has also written extensively about systems versus goals.
In his book, Atomic Habits, he explains:
“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 forms, not just the one you first envision.”