I love systems! I serve as a patient advisor on the Quality, Experience and Safety Team of an academic medical center. During a recent presentation, I was reminded just how much I appreciate detailed, methodical systems. They may not make for an entertaining meeting, but they don’t make me yawn so much as they make me feel calm. There’s something reassuring about having a defined process to guide you toward any goal.
Often such a process ensures safety. That’s the case with using two patient identifiers for every patient procedure in a hospital or using a series of checklists when flying an airplane. I promise you, you want both of these systems to be well-thought, in place, and followed 100% of the time. They are critical for safety.
Some systems help you stay on schedule, collect money owed, or get every dish in a meal to the table at the same time. Creating a system takes the ability to understand the interplay between the big picture and the details of which it’s made. A system doesn’t have to be formal, written down, or generated by an app.
In fact, you probably have a system for getting ready in the morning. It may begin the day before and take into consideration the fact that there is a lesser risk of a need to change clothes at the last minute if you feed the kids before putting on work clothes. It may take into consideration what will happen after work that needs to be prepared for in advance.
You may think of this as a routine. Many routines are personal systems of organization performed at the same time and in the same order each day. Because they are based on years of experience or trial and error, you probably don’t even think about them unless you make a New Year’s resolution that throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing. That will tell you how powerfully effective a system can be. Most resolutions change nothing.
The key to effectiveness is to create a foundation that keeps you from starting over all of the time. With that foundation in place, you can immediately determine the next step in a process by looking at the last one. You will also have a view of how what you do affects the next person in the chain. A good system reduces frustration and friction between departments and enhances the feeling of teamwork.
If you know me, my love of systems may sound ironic. I am somewhat rebellious, a bit contrary, and viewed by some as free-spirited. But if you know me well, you understand that all of those characteristics are strongly rooted in a foundation of reliability, work ethic, thoughtfulness, analytical approach, and mindful decision making. I may not be a rule follower per se, but I appreciate rules and defined procedures and I understand why some are critical.
Because of this, I value the freedom that results from taking care of business first. It’s that exhilaration of flight after you preflight the airplane, follow a series of checklists, taxi onto the runway, accelerate, and reach rotate speed. As the plane lifts and the ground falls away, I feel great!
Free-fall in a skydive provides a similar exhilaration. It also requires careful planning and preparation prior to that terrific moment when the wind hits you in the face. I can enjoy that feeling because I am not cloaked in fear. I trust the system that got me there.
I also love systems because they increase my productivity. Working systematically allows me to handle multiple projects simultaneously and ensure that the details will be handled. Relying on the system allows me to relax and do my best work. It also gives me the confidence to be flexible when required.
A working system makes me look like I have the best memory in the world. The truth is, when you allow a system to support you, you don’t have to remember as much because the information you need is always readily available and you know where to find it.
I don’t worry about trying to be fast. I just organize for maximum efficiency based on priority. The cumulative effect is that I can put together a number of items in a limited amount of time without ever focusing on speed. Hurrying takes away much of the joy of an experience. It also leads to inaccuracies and errors.
My use of systems extends to the kitchen. It’s what allows me to prepare a holiday meal from scratch without a last-minute rush. With meals, as with other projects, I begin with a backward timeline. Then I break down that timeline into smaller components and organize tasks in batches.
I often wonder why anyone would want to work any other way. I’m not saying your system should look exactly like mine. I’m just saying I’m not sure why anyone would want to work without one. I find them incredibly freeing.
Through the years, I’ve watched a lot of people struggle, feel overwhelmed, miss deadlines, and get the same details wrong on multiple projects all because they had no system or refused to follow one. A few of them worked for me…for awhile. In some lines of work, this is inconvenient and/or costly. In others, it’s dangerous.
Chaos is not freedom. Record keeping is not a waste of time. Organization is not the enemy of fun. Well-designed systems provide a foundation for teamwork, fairness, safety, productivity, achievement, and calm. I love systems!