Published: 3 weeks ago

Systems > Intentions

In his iconic book on productivity, What’s Best Next, Matt Perman delivers the following bombshell:

…systems trump intentions. You can have great intentions, but if your life is set up in a way that is not in alignment with them, you will be frustrated. The structure of your life will win out every time.

The key to effectiveness – putting the most important things first – is knowing what is most important and then weaving it into your life through simple structures and systems. This is the arena of personal management – that is, the practice of putting the most important things first in your life.

Perhaps you can relate to the intentions trap. I rarely experience a day where I don’t have great intentions: I plan to get started on that project. I want to write that note of encouragement. I am going to start eating healthy.

But without hard-wired systems, intentions fail. So how do we install a few systems in our lives?

In productivity: we take the time to map out our ideal week, and then check in with that map on a weekly and daily basis.

In spiritual growth: we have a dedicated time and place for Bible study and prayer. We set the timer on the coffee pot, refuse to hit the snooze button, and have a reading plan to work through.

In routines: we develop our checklists so we don’t forget the things we know we’ll never forget (but usually forget).

In communication: we create a plan to slay our inbox, without letting it take over the rest of our workday. We calendar time to write notes to people, without waiting on the inspiration to strike.

In leadership: we have a systematic and scheduled time of training for potential volunteers, even before we know how many potential volunteers may or may not show up.

Here’s the thing about systems: we can avoid them, too. We can ignore the pull of our hard-wired system and do something that’s more fun or mindless. But given the innate discipline of systems or the knee-jerk reaction of intentions, I’ll take a system every time.

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