The Lever #005: Systems vs. Processes + How to Map Yours
Updated: Mar 10
Leverage your skills to get maximum results in time available. Doing this requires having the right processes and systems in place. But what's the difference between a system and a process?
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Systems vs. Processes In the first issue of The Lever we looked at what systems are, some core ideas, and how to create a positive self-reinforcing loop. To quickly recap, a system is an interconnected whole. It is the sum of its parts. Inputs go in, outputs go out, and those outputs go back in as the next input - known as feedback. If the output is positive (greater or better or more than the input), then the reinforcement is positive and you can expect the system to progressively get better and better. If the feedback is negative then you are staring down the barrel of a downward spiral. A "system" then is a collection of relationships and interconnected parts that create a complex whole. Processes then are the interconnected parts. They are the things that you do that drive the system results. Every process will have some form of "trigger" that starts the process up. Good process = good results. And if you remember nothing else, remember this: You already have a process in place for the things you do. You just probably haven't written it down or evaluated it for effectiveness. But it's there. Example System
Let's look at a system near and dear to the hearts of serious online creators: Content Creation. A strong system of content creation will help you make more content, in less time, that resonates more strongly with your ideal audience, and then drives specific results - such as follows, signups, and sales. Getting down to the nitty gritty you'll see there are a number of standalone processes required to make this happen. • Idea capture • Creation • Delivery Each process will have a totally different set of tasks and requirements, but all are needed to achieve the goals of the system. Capturing ideas can be as simple as writing them down on post it notes. But then what? How do you change that idea from a yellow square into a newsletter sub or a sale? How do you choose which to develop further? How do you capture ideas when you are in your car? Your post-it notes is a collection process, but it is probably not the most efficient. As one of the goals of this newsletter is to help you become prolific, ie a content creation machine, I'll do a deep dive into each of those three processes in future issues. For now let's look at how you can start designing your own processes from scratch. How to Design an Effective Process A process is simply a series of steps that produce a result. The first step to making it efficient, is mapping what you already do. From there you can tweak the steps, test the process, and make improvements based on the results. Documenting these is a powerful and necessary step to improving them. Here is how: Step 1 - Define the process and result Open a document and name it for the process. In this example we'll call it Idea Capture. Next, at the top write "Objective". What is the process supposed to do? What result do you want? My objective for my idea capture system is to have a storehouse of well organized ideas, complete with references, in one place (that is easily captured anywhere, at any time). Step 2 - Brainstorm Write down all the steps you currently use. The order isn't important yet, just write out what you do. Step 3 - Consider Triggers What triggers your idea capture process? These will often have a location or activity attached. For me I get a lot of ideas from: • Podcasts (that I listen to in the truck) • Books (Kindle highlights for the win!) • Internet (at my desk) I also like to dictate ideas while biking or driving. Each of these different triggers requires a modification to the system, to account for the specifics. Step 4 - Sequencing Its time to turn ideas into action. Remember that part of my objective is having everything in one place. I use Microsoft OneNote (Love it!) The simplest sequence then is when I get an idea out of the blue: Idea --> Open OneNote --> Create a new Page --> Write the note This can be done on my phone or computer. Where things get trickier is when additional processing is required, such as after collecting ideas out of a book or podcast. These also require a step for active collection while consuming, and organization after. I do all my reading on a Kindle, so I can use the highlights function. This is a considered requirement of my process. Consume (while highlighting) --> Export highlights --> Import into OneNote --> Edit for core ideas That final processing is an important step for me to consider the idea "captured". Step 5 - Visualize The final step is to accurately visualize the process. In simple cases like above, a numbered list or flow diagram like I created will be enough. In other cases, a flowchart diagram will be required. Process elements are visualized using standardized Unified Modeling Language (UML) symbols, which is the international process mapping standard. The basic symbols needed are: • Ovals - the start and stopping point • Rectangles - an operation or activity • Diamonds - decision points • Parallelogram - inputs / outputs And arrows are used to guide the direction.
Process Symbols Define --> Iterate --> Improve With your key processes clearly defined you will start to see bottlenecks that slow you down, and begin incrementally improving each of your work flows. Eventually you'll have a well oiled system with interconnected processes all running smoothly. Remember, you already have a process in place. Whether you created them mindfully, or they developed haphazardly over time, will impact how well they function. For something important its best not to leave it to chance.
Tl;dr • A system is the whole. • Processes are the parts. • Define the process • Brainstorm the steps • Consider triggers • Sequence the steps • Visualize the process -- Thanks for reading today. If you enjoy this newsletter I'd really appreciate if you forwarded to just one person who might like it. And tell me about it on Twitter. Your feedback is important to me. Yours in productivity, Sean
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