Three Steps to Turn Single Tasks into Strong Systems

When it comes to being more efficient in life and at work, start by asking yourself whether you’re task driven vs process driven. Both have benefits when you’re trying to turn healthy habits into strong systems. And, by combining the best of both, you can create systems that help you do more with less effort.

And as luck would have it, habits and systems nurture and support each other, making it easy to sustain the flow that results from cultivating both parts.

If you think of healthy habits like the gears of a clock, then strong systems are the design that makes the clock work. The system delivers the right steps, in the right order, to arrive at the desired outcome…the correct time.

Strong systems, built with healthy habits, ensure that your most essential tasks can be done efficiently and with precision over and over again, creating reliable processes…often with less and less effort on your part.

Systems In Action

I have a simple system for taking care of my dogs and making coffee each morning. And, one for getting these articles written, edited, and posted.

But, one of my favorite examples of how effective a strong system can be is from my first year as a teacher. During my very first week, the school principal asked each member of the staff if they had any special requests for their classroom.

I was a music teacher so I was lucky to have a classroom at all, let alone special requests. Imagine his surprise when I asked if it would be possible to remove all the desks!

He looked at me bewildered AND, to his credit, he trusted an oddball plan from a brand new teacher and said okay. He might have also mentioned that it would be my responsibility ENTIRELY to put all of the desks back should there come a need for a plan reversal.

Systems Need Steps

Whether you’re task driven or process driven, strong systems rely on having the right steps in the right order. Here’s my three-step process for turning multiple good habits into a strong system that can be repeated on auto-pilot again and again.

1. Spot the Strengths
The desks were NOT what had caught my attention. Sure, they took up way too much space and were not a high priority for a music classroom. But, they weren’t my real focus.

What I was after was the chairs! By some quirk of fate, I had been given the most magical chairs in the universe. The bases were solid with comfy cushioning. And the backs, well they folded down flat against the seat so, not only were they stackable, they could double as desks in a pinch.

Those chairs were everything I needed!

2. Systems Need Steps
Now, the tricky part was how to teach 400+ kids from 14 different classes to move the chairs in a way that gave them room to move around, have fun, and explore WITHOUT wasting a ton of time or causing a full-on catastrophe.

No small task.

In order to get the chairs out of the way, there were three distinct steps that I could see. As it turned out, there were actually four, but systems need tweaking and we’ll get to that later.

Step One: The Flip Each class had an activity that required them to flip down the back of the chair and use it as a desk. We all got used to flipping!

Step Two: The Slide As a trial run toward ultimately arriving at step three, the kids did a practice activity that taught them to flip and then slide the chair toward the back wall…without collisions, damages, or bodily harm! This was a bit messy, but gave us all a ton of useful information.

Step Three: The Stack The flip and slide method worked okay as a transition step, but didn’t quite give us the room we were hoping for so we needed the stack. And, this required some patience which is a tall order when you’re a kid and the only thing standing between you and a heap of fun is stacking a chair. But, they rose to the challenge and so did the stacks of chairs.

3. Shimmy as Needed
Within a few weeks, the kids and I had the system down to a science. It took less than two minutes to calmly clear the floor of all obstacles and get down to business with xylophones, maracas and all sorts of other fun stuff.

As I mentioned earlier, I had missed a step in the process which was how to put the chairs back! Getting 40 chairs back into a shape that even vaguely resembled three curved rows was not in the unassisted wheelhouse of elementary school kiddos.

Enter…a $4.99 roll of turquoise duct tape.

We taped off three guide lines on the floor (with the blessing of Mr. Arnold, the world’s best custodian) and never looked back! That was all they needed to complete the system. And, it no longer mattered whether a class was flipping, stacking, or resetting. Every class knew the steps. Every class was comfortable with the system.

Second Nature Systems

When the principal first saw this in action, he was speechless. He happened by during a class with third graders who were just getting ready to play a rhythm and movement game for which they needed open floor space. The kids had practiced this so many times that the flip, slide, stack system was simply a way to get to the next fun thing. It was second nature.

“How did you teach them to do this?” was his only response.

And, I can see how nine year-olds doing anything in concert with precision and grace would shock even the most seasoned educator (or parent for that matter). But, for us, it was a means to end.

By creating and practicing a system that saved time, energy, and aggravation, we were all able to spend more time on what we really loved.

It was intrinsically motivating.

Unexpected Benefits

What I didn’t know about this whole process is that it was being observed. I had forgotten that the giant window in my classroom faced the giant window in the main office. The secretary and custodian (who’s kindness, humor and expertise 100% kept me afloat my first year) had been watching this process develop for weeks. They couldn’t have cared less about task driven vs process driven, but the entertainment value was priceless.

And, because they’d had front-row seats to the transformation from frenzy to focus, they each offered a thoughtful suggestion or two that really helped to strengthen and streamline the process even further.

Turns out that the accidental sharing of the process resulted in really useful collaboration. And no doubt, they shared some helpful nuggets with others. And, so on and so on.

From Single Task to Streamlined Systems

The right steps in the right order. That’s all it takes. And, it turns out it’s not so much task driven vs process driven as how to leverage the best of both.

What habits do you wish to bundle together to form a system? Is it a morning or evening routine? Is it the process of “unplugging” in order to be more present with those you love?

Whatever the goal, identify the exact set of habits that are needed to get you there and start strengthening them.

Then it’s on to part two: the right steps in the right order. And, that’s where the magic happens and you really begin to see a shift.

Take the time to practice the steps together. How might you tweak the order? Should you consider editing the pace to slow down one step or speed up another? Is there a gap that needs filling due to a forgotten step?

Be bold enough to reflect and adjust as needed and you’re well on your way to cultivating a strong system that helps you finally accomplish more using less time and energy.