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system as a concept

A couple days ago I wrote about a mind shift you needed to think in systems.

The idea was simple: everything is a system.

I want to elaborate on that a little more and show you what systems are really about (it’s not what you think it is).

Every System has an IPO: Input, Process, Output

When you look at any system, in its simplest form, it has 3 components. It’s what I’ll call IPO: Input, Process, Output.

Input – anything you do to activate the system or give the system to use.

Process – the actual steps and function the system will perform.

Output – the result after doing all the steps.

That’s really what a system is. Think of it as a factory. You give it raw materials, it goes through several steps on the conveyor belt and at the end it spits out a product. That could be an iPhone, a pair of jeans or a bottle of water.

The beauty of systems is that the Process gives you the same, consistent results that you’re looking for. It’s a repeatable process that allows you to scale and it outputs things with the same quality every time the system runs.

In the real world – especially when it comes to “personal systems” such as habits and rituals – it’s a little trickier. The above scenario assumes 100% ideal circumstances but that’s rarely the case.

The Process and Output are usually consistent and that can be repeated. The tricky variable here is the Input – this can vary sometimes (a lot).

Take for example your morning ritual:

Input – when you wake up

Process – steps in your morning ritual

Output – feeling ready and focused

The Input here can vary a lot. Maybe you woke up late and now you only have 20 minutes for your morning ritual. That affects the whole system (your morning ritual).

Or maybe you went out the night before and you still have traces of alcohol in your body. No matter how awesome your morning ritual is, you won’t get the same quality Output that you normally desire.

Or let’s say you slept only 3 hours. Same deal – no morning ritual can save your life here.

So here’s the interesting thing about personal systems: we are usually pretty good at wanting the “Output” but we are terrible at finding the right Process.

Productivity, or time management, is really about optimizing the Input (you) and finding the right Process to get to your desirable Output the quickest with the least amount of effort.

(Let this statement sink in. If you get this, you’re ahead of 99% of people.)

If you want to dive right into more advanced and practical examples of systems we use – we have a free online seminar where we go deeper on this topic.

This training is completely free. Join us for some fun and get to see which systems we use on a day-to-day basis to stay productive.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. I am working in a small volunteer organization that has systemic deficits and am researching ways to address them. Since your webinar is no long available, would you provide a link to the material it is based on, especially the lists of characteristics and cogs.

    Thank you for considering this request. Your response might enhance our ability to help people adjust their codependent behaviors.

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