Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

Shawn Dill originally published this article on LinkedIn on September 19, 2019, here.

Every successful individual on the planet agrees that setting and achieving goals is essential to success. Without goals, how do you know what you’re working towards, and when you’ve achieved it?

Recently, however, a conversation with Nathan Latka challenged that perspective. Nathan’s book, How to Be a Capitalist without Any Capital, challenges a lot of conventional business thinking, including around goal-setting.

He argues that it’s too easy to create goals without putting in place a system to reach those goals. When we struggle to reach our goals, we lose sight of the passion that motivated us in the first place, and we lose interest in pursuing those goals.

The solution? Create goals that are backed by solid systems. People get tired, bored, depressed, and unmotivated. Systems don’t. If you put goals in place without a system to achieve them, you will be stumbling in the wilderness.

The question is: do you have the systems in place to support your goals?

Are Your Systems Fit for Purpose?

Take a good look at the systems you’re using to run your life. Now, compare that system with the results you’re achieving. A system consists of a series of processes, which you need to follow on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in order to reach your goals. When you adhere to your processes, you will make progress. When you don’t, your goals will seem further away.

How can this work for you? Let’s break it down. There’s no single way to be successful, but there is a way to do everything. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” In this case, can you weigh up two or more different paths to a goal and determine which is the most likely to yield success?

Whenever I have a goal, I ask myself “how can this be done?” Without fail, there’s always a way. Imagine that you want to bring in $120k in the next year. How can you do it? First, break that down. $120k in a year is $10k per month. How many new clients does that equate to? At what price point? What churn rate can you tolerate?

Then, break it down further. What do you need to do to accomplish that goal? Let’s say that you need to bring in ten new clients per month to hit that goal. Based on your existing conversion rates, how many emails do you need to send? How much new content do you need to create? How many sales calls do you need to hold?

At some point, as you break your goal down, you’ll shift from thinking about systems into thinking about processes. To create an article, you need to follow certain processes. You may need to listen to podcasts or read books for research. Then you need to switch on the computer, open Google Docs, think about the client’s needs, and start writing. A process is a series of steps you use to create an article, and the article is part of a larger system.

You may want to build in processes related to meditation or going to the gym because when you’re in great shape mentally and physically, you do better work. As you build out your system, you may want to focus on eating and sleeping habits, or on enjoying one date night a week with your partner.

Whatever processes you create, they are part of a system. The beauty of this approach is that when you follow processes linked to a system, and your system is linked to a goal, you don’t need to spend all your time obsessing over the goal itself. As long as you execute your processes, you know that you’re moving closer to achieving it.

Matching Goals and Systems

When I share this concept, a lot of people tell me that they have great systems in place but they’re not achieving their goals. This points to a mismatch. The systems may be great, but they’re not appropriate for the existing goal. If you’ve plateaued in your business, you may need to upgrade your systems.

Your systems could be adequate for bringing in five new clients per month. If that’s your goal, great. What if your goal is ten new clients per month? Twenty? In that case, you need more efficient systems. You may have systems in place that have worked for you in the past. What if your goals have changed? Your systems need to change with them.

The great part of this approach is that it takes the emotion out of not meeting goals. If you’re not where you want to be right now, it’s not an indication of personal failure. It’s because your systems aren’t set up to get you there. Want to change that? Review your systems and ask yourself honestly whether they’re bringing you closer to your goals. If they’re not, ask yourself what you need to do to bridge that gap. Then execute.