You may have heard the idea that systems are better than goals.
This is only half the story.
It’s not an either-or question — systems and goals are actually one and the same. Let’s find out why.
The Problem With Goals
Goals have a bit of a bad reputation nowadays.
This is because most people just set “goals”. They write out single sentences like:
- I want to focus more on my work.
- I want to start a podcast.
And then they leave it at that.
These “goals” have no actions to take, no next steps and no definition.
And they don’t work, as there is no clarity on how to proceed with the goal.
Now some people do better, and add in actions.
They end up with a single sentence and some action steps.
But they still treat their goals as “once and done”… which is fine for some goals, but horrible for others where we need to be generative.
Someone may say, “I want to lose 5 kg” but this is not a once-and-done goal where you just drink a can of soda and eat a slice of pizza a day. To lose weight and maintain it, you need a system.
Reconciling Systems and Goals as Outcomes
The proper way to set up goals actually helps us reconcile both goals and systems and reveals them as the same thing.
For clarity, let us call this “proper way” an outcome.
An outcome has:
- A single-sentence goal, its title.
- A due date (optional).
- A target or targets. These are milestones or benchmarks to hit.
- A process. These are the steps that need to be taken to achieve the outcome and then go beyond. This is the system.
And this is why goals and systems are the same thing. You may set a “goal”, but you need to implement a system to achieve that goal.
Astute readers will note that this is not too dissimilar from using why, what and how for goal setting.
For example, in saying “I want to lose 5 kg”, you need a system for eating, a system for exercise, and a system for maintaining your weight once that 5 kg has been lost.
In saying “I want to start a podcast”, you need a system for producing episodes, including inviting guests, recording episodes, editing and mastering audio tracks, then publishing and promoting them — because you aren’t just producing one episode, you are producing many.
If you say, “I want to focus more on work”, you will need a system for clarifying what you want to focus on, and a system for removing distractions.
What Happens Once You Reach Your Goals?
So what happens once you’ve completed your goals, and reached the targets or benchmarks set?
If set up properly, the system that helped you achieve your goal keeps going.
You can keep on dieting, keep on focusing, and continue producing that podcast.
And that’s why systems and goals are the same thing. One is not better than the other. Your goals are basically saying, “Create this system to do X and then run it in perpetuity”.
What To Do Next
Don’t write your goals as single sentences.
Write them as outcomes, with a title, target, due date and process.
Make sure that the process is a system, and use it to get what you want… and beyond.
For more on how to do this, here is a guide to goal getting, which helps you set up systems to achieve your goals.
Photo by June Wong.