Dart board with setting goals versus systems

The Battle for Productivity [Part 2 of 5] Goals vs Systems

Last week I described a few of the distractions that many entrepreneurs face. This week let’s talk about goals and how they relate to your accomplishments and feeling productive.

I’m sure you’ve heard that to be productive, you need to set goals – SMART goals, BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), or even stretch goals. But does setting goals work?

Maybe? Sometimes? For some people? 

While goals can be beneficial, they may not always propel you forward as you anticipated.

Goals may hold you back!

The most significant detriment with goals is that they have an ending point. And until you reach that point, you have not reached your goal. You may find yourself feeling like:

  • You’re on a hamster wheel, running yet going nowhere.
  • Feeling like you have to reach the goal, even when it no longer serves you.
  • A complete failure!

When you measure your success in this way, you can feel defeated, especially if your goal is immense.

Let’s say you want to 10X your business this year. What happens if you only 7X your business? Or 5X it? Or 2X it? Will you celebrate your considerable accomplishments? Or will you feel like you’ve failed?

Goals can end up making you feel like a big loser, a failure.

As goals have an endpoint, you may not feel like a success until you achieve the goal. Then, when you reach your goal, you may flounder and stumble until you determine your next goal.

Or you may even decide that since you reached your goal, you have no place else to go and revert to former habits and thought patterns instead of moving forward and growing.

What’s wrong with goals?

Goals can undoubtedly help inspire, challenge, and motivate you, and they may give you something to look forward to.

But goals can also be inflexible, unmoveable, and detrimental to your well-being.

You may be so focused on reaching your goals that you miss an opportunity entirely.

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

Your determination to complete a singular goal may keep you from taking the time to develop a new product or service that you could have sold for more money or been the leader in a new market niche.

Scott Adams, the author of the famous Dilbert cartoons and author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life wrote

“…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…”

Mr. Adams’ example is that while you can set a goal to exercise three to four times a week on a rigid schedule, if you’re not enjoying the exercise, there’s a much higher risk that you’re going to give it up.

You may exercise for a time, but in the long run, you’ll probably lack the willpower to continue because it feels like a punishment.

Instead, he suggests choosing to be active each day to a level that feels good to you. You’ll naturally want to challenge yourself as you continue to enjoy being active. Your original activity level may start with short, slow walks, but you may eventually find that you like running as well.

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

If not goals, then what?

There is another way. Systems.  Systems enable you to:

  • make progress toward your goals every day
  • help you to set and reach milestones
  • Avoid the feeling like you are spinning your wheels, or even worse – moving backward.

Scott Adams states the difference between systems and goals is: “Losing ten pounds may be a goal, while the system is learning to eat right.”

Using a system doesn’t exclude goals, and in fact, it enhances a goal by focusing more on the process to reach it than the final destination.

How Do Systems Help Entrepreneurs?

Systems are more flexible than goals, and they enable you to see progress each day. Both of which make it easier to have a feeling of accomplishment. 

“…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.” (Scott Adams)

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 different forms, not just the one you first envision.”

In order for your business to be successful, it’s important to understand what works and what doesn’t work in your process. 

Think about your employees.

  • Are they strong A players? If not, what can you do to improve their game?
  • What hiring practices can you put into place to hire better members next time?

What about your products or services and the systems in place to support them.

  • What can you do to improve your products or services?
  • Can you streamline processes to become more efficient?

How about your marketing and sales systems?

  • Are you selling more and able to handle the increase in volume?
  • What changes can you make to reach more customers and have higher customer satisfaction?

By implementing minor, day-to-day improvements, you will feel successful, fulfilled, and productive. Learning how to push past the daily struggles will enhance your confidence and happiness in a way that attaining hard-to-reach goals never will.

A system will teach you how to be better at what you do and improve your skill level. You will have the flexibility to change what isn’t working well and move forward. 

And if you move in a new direction or toward a new goal, you will retain and use your new skills.

The benefit of a system is that it makes moving toward your goal more manageable, and with accomplishments that you can celebrate every day! 

If you need help with your goals and systems, click the button below to schedule a call to discuss how I can help you become more productive.

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