Monday, November 29, 2010

Can You Find the Key to Success and Personal Peace in Your Favorite Starbucks Drink?

By Rich Schefren

They're everywhere.

You come into contact with them from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep.

* Your alarm clock, for instance.

* The gas pumps at your local service station.

* Your order at your neighborhood Starbucks.

* Even the clothes you wear, the shopping you do, and the communication tools you use.

All of these - and many more - are systems. Some - like your alarm clock - are very simple. Others - like the gas pumps and your clothing - are complex systems.

Just take a look around, and you'll see that systems and the subsystems they're made of are really all around you.

Take, for example, a simple coffee order. Walk into a Starbucks and you'll see well-designed systems in action. The lattes, espressos, and frappuccinos are made exactly the same every time, from store to store. This is the result of many complex systems, from the laboratories that create the drink mixes... to the trucks that deliver the milk and coffee to the stores... to the cashiers who take your orders... to the baristas who make your drink exactly the way you want .

Those systems result in a practically identical experience - from walking in the door to placing your order to sipping your drink - whether you're in Seattle, Washington or Delray Beach, Florida.

Systems make it easy to produce the same results every time. They're responsible for efficiency... Consistency... And reliability. They exist to achieve a goal: to wake up a sleeping person at 6:00 AM on the dot; to produce the perfect latte every time; to manufacture thousands of identical sweatshirts.

But systems are useful in other ways.

Systems Aren't Just for Starbucks

In fact, adopting a systems perspective can radically improve your personal life!

You see, our lives are composed of countless systems. Taken together, your personal systems add up to you. These systems are the invisible threads that keep the fabric of our lives together. And if there's an outcome we don't want, we can change it by making an adjustment to the system responsible for that outcome.

Imagine for a moment that you could distinctly see each of these personal systems. Then, if you weren't happy with the results an individual system was creating for you, you could pull it out, perfect it, and then place it back where it belongs. Now, imagine you did this for each and every system that comprises your life.

Think about how different your day-to-day experiences would be.

Right now, how would you describe your typical day? Is it a complex mess of events or is it a relaxed sequence of well-planned activities? Are your days chaotic or under control? Do you have enough money? Do you get to spend the time you'd like with friends and family? Does your life seem like an endless race around a circular track, or are you steadily improving - getting better results with each passing day?

Since your life is made up of simple systems, getting what you want out of life is simply a matter of improving your personal systems.

Stated more simply: The essence of your work, health, relationships, and results lies within systems that compose your everyday existence. And your goal is to see life for what it is, a collection of individual systems. With this clarity, you'll be able to extract and perfect each of these systems one by one before reinserting each back into your life.

There are many systems in your life that you've already got down pat. The odds are high that they're efficient and quick because you've already honed them to perfection. You've probably systemized driving a car, checking your email, fixing breakfast, etc.

But there are also many important systems that you probably haven't perfected and you don't have down pat. Systems to stay in shape, systems to keep in touch with friends and family, systems to invest your money, systems that keep you organized, etc.

Personal Systems Put You in Control of Your Life

I believe that if we are to be truly happy, if we're going to experience success and personal peace, we must have control. There's a direct relationship between the happiness we experience and the control we have. And I'm not talking about control over others. I'm talking about the control we have over the trajectory of our lives - where we are headed, and what we experience on our journey.

And you'll have all the control you need when you take control of the systems that make up your life.

Your job is to avoid becoming caught up in the "drama" of your personal life. Instead, you step outside, look down, and isolate individual systems. After deciding what you want the systems to accomplish, you can identify defects. Then you go about improving the dysfunctional systems, before backing off and occasionally (but routinely) monitoring the results and making any necessary adjustments.

What I'm recommending is that you start approaching your personal life the way an engineer approaches systems.

If right now you (or the people around you) would describe yourself as "flaky," then think through what sort of system you would need to return calls promptly, to pay your bills on time, to remember important birthdays and anniversaries, and to make sure you do whatever you promised.

With the right personal systems in place, you'll become consistent and reliable. People will trust you. They'll call you dependable instead of flaky. You'll be seen as someone to have complete confidence in.

Or, if right now you're not as healthy as you'd like to be, think through the systems you'd need to get and stay healthy.

Look, I fully realize when you change a current system or develop a new one you'll often come up against old habits, simple laziness, and procrastination. But by paying attention, great results often come quickly. And with those successes it becomes easier and easier to stay on course and reap the ever-compounding rewards.

A Personal System in Action

For example, awhile back I was disappointed with my personal productivity. When I analyzed the root cause, I became aware that my sleep routine was responsible.

So I went about modifying my sleeping system. The positive effects of this one change spilled over into almost every aspect of my personal life, improving my health subsystem, my family subsystem, and my productivity subsystem.

Before the change, I used to stay up late (sometimes really late) and wake up at a different time each morning. But I realized that my personal productivity plummeted after 9 PM. So I decided to change my sleep schedule (my sleeping subsystem).

Now, I go to bed at 10 PM. And since I only need 6.5 hours of sleep, I wake up every morning (naturally, without an alarm clock) full of energy at 4:30 AM. I'm on the stair machine by 5 - and do an hour on the machine. My two daughters wake up at 6 AM and we play games for an hour, till 7 AM, when my wife Debi wakes up. From that point on, Debi takes over - getting the girls ready for school, making them breakfast, etc...

By 7:15 AM I'm out the door headed for the beach. I arrive at the beach by 7:30 AM. There, I write in my journal for an hour till 8:30 AM. Then I swim in the ocean for 30 minutes, relax for another half hour, and then proceed to the office for our daily 10 AM meeting.

The Life-Changing Power of the System Approach

The reason I'm sharing this with you is this: Ever since I modified my sleep subsystem to this new format I've been sleeping better, feeling better, spending more quality time with my daughters, getting more done, losing weight, and feeling a lot better about myself.

That's the power of the system approach: One small tweak to a single subsystem can radically improve the performance of the entire primary system.

Truth be told, I could write dozens of pages just on personal systems. If I did, I would have a lot more space to share my personal systems and suggestions for how you can immediately dissect your own personal systems and the best approaches to improve them. I may in fact do that in an upcoming report. But for now, realize I've just laid at your feet a real secret of success. Your overall level of happiness can be positively impacted by heeding the advice I just shared with you.

So why not take a moment right now and identify a new or modified personal system that would positively impact your life? For me it was changing the time I went to bed every night, coupled with changes in my morning routine. Now it's your turn...

Identify a systematic change you could make in your life. Implement that change. And watch as it makes a huge positive impact on your personal life.

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