I recently read Scott Adam's book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. In chapter "Goals Verses Systems", he talks about how "goals are for losers" and that systems create better results and are a more effective way for you to manage your personal energy levels. While he acknowledges that every system has a goal to some extent, which by his earlier statement, could lead you to the conclusion that systems are for losers too, the chapter convinced me that a systems approach to achieving goals can be very effective.

Scott starts the chapter by sharing a chance encounter with a business man who explained that he had a system for career success. Rather than having a specific next-step career goal, his system was to take a job that was "better than his current job and allowed him to learn something useful for the next hop". Implied in this story is that the business man had some end-goal in mind, but he was also flexible around the journey to the goal. This allowed him to say “yes” to opportunities that presented themselves along the way that moved him forward in the right general direction by following a simple system for success. Reading this example made me think about how systems can be helpful even when all you have is a vision of the future rather than a solid goal. Sometimes, we are between goals and systems are a good way to ensure that we move in the right general direction until we are ready to lock in on a specific goal.

Scott then goes on to share his view that managing your energy levels should be a top priority for everyone. One factor that influences our energy levels is willpower; current thinking is that willpower is a finite resource; each day we wake up with a quota of willpower and it progressively gets depleted as we go through the day - when it's gone, it's gone. It's also widely accepted that when tasks become habits, they require less willpower to perform. Systems lend themselves to becoming habits due to their repetitive nature and the frequency we perform them. Therefore, if managing personal energy is a priority, and it should be, a systems approach makes a lot of sense.

Scott also talks about how people who take a goals approach to success are "perpetually in a state of pre-success failure" whereas those who take a systems approach succeed each time they execute their system. I do not fully agree with this statement as progress towards a goal can and should be tracked along the way. I do however agree that if you have an effective system, your energy levels should be boosted by executing it, whether you can readily and accurately measure your progress towards the end-goal or not. Knowing that the system leads to success, will, in and of itself, provide you with a feeling of moving towards the end state.

Each time you set a goal, stop and ask what is the purpose of the goal. Why are you investing time and energy achieving it. Do you need to achieve the specific goal or would it serve you better to replace the goal with something a little fuzzier. In either case, defining and refining a system to get you there should move you in the right direction while helping you manage your energy levels along the way. Over time, you may find that the satisfaction and energy boost from achieving the end-goal, becomes less and increasingly fleeting, lending increased importance to the journey and the system that helped get you there.