Is there a System for That?
When my husband began a new position that required travel to several counties each week, I
said, "You're gonna need a system for that!" With administrative duties that would pile up, and
a required number of county visits each month, I suggested he plan to work in his home office
on each Friday. He wasn't sure at first, fearing he'd neglect the people he needed to see if he
designated a day every week to be in the office doing paperwork.
I get it. Systems seem constricting. Especially if you are a creator! What if I'm not feeling
inspired? What if doing something the same way over and over destroys my vibe? What if I like
re-inventing the wheel? Or, what about flexibility! Isn't that a premium character trait I need to
I grew up in a very "systematic" household. My mother had a process for getting things done.
She highly valued accomplishment. If she didn't accomplish something every day, she felt like
the day was a complete waste. Her work ethic was incredible. At 70 years old, she could work
circles around me and I was thirty years her junior!
The week she died, she mowed her own grass. With a push mower. Half an acre. I'm like,
"Mom, your 14-year-old grandson is next door, and he can do this for you!" "He won't do it to
suit me." "Teach him!" I say. "No, I'd rather be independent, I'll do it myself." So she mowed
her grass on Monday and went home to Jesus on Thursday with an aortic aneurism. She
wouldn't have had it any other way. She maintained her independence, and she didn't suffer
when she died. A win/win for her!
Mom's systems were like clockwork. She woke the same time every day. She enjoyed easing
into her day, so a cup of coffee and quiet time with Scripture and prayer at 5 am preceded farm
work and housekeeping. Laundry Day was Tuesday, every week. She put a kettle of pinto beans
on the stove to cook all day. They'd cook down, and she'd add water a little at a time to keep
them from scorching and to keep them rolling so that they were tender and flavorful by supper
time. The kitchen was next to the laundry room, so she kept a steady back-and-forth from early
Tuesday until the laundry was finished.
After supper, she'd scrape and stack the dishes, and promptly wash them. Every single meal.
No waiting, no sink clutter, no left-overs on the stove or in the oven. She had a system.
Laundry was a system. She washed things in a particular order. She didn't have an automatic
washer 'til very late in life. She said her old wringer washer-the kind that has the rollers that
squeeze excess water out, that have threatened many a finger and hand of kids without
supervision! speaking for a friend-the ringer washer, like Grandma used on The Beverly
Hillbillies! washed clothes cleaner because you could agitate them as long as needed. So whites
were first, bleached to keep them bright, then lights, then colors, then jeans, then Daddy's diesel
mechanic uniforms. She'd let his blues work and work in the washer until they were clean.
Then everything was hung on a line. In order. Like things together. Socks hung by the toe so the
tops wouldn't stretch out. Sheets with corners even, shirts pinned shoulder to shoulder, jeans
crisply starched, and underwear hidden behind the grapevine so passersby wouldn't see our
One of her bits of wisdom repeated over and over to my sister and me was "Take pride in your
laundry!" It meant do things in order. Do them with excellence. The way you do even the most
menial task is an indication of your attention and character. Systematic wisdom that is still a
soundtrack in my mind after many decades!
I'm convinced that God loves systems. It's in His creative process! Think about how many
things He set up with systems: The Solar System, Ecosystems, weather systems, seasons, and
time. Ecclesiastes 3 (and Pete Seeger & the Byrds in the 1960's) reminds us there is a time for
every purpose under Heaven. In our bodies, He gave us a nervous system, circulatory, digestive,
pulmonary, and reproductive systems. All running behind the scenes without our consciousness.
A system is defined as a "set of things working together, an organized framework or method."
The etymology of the word is interesting, orginating from the Greek sustema meaning set up
with, or an organized whole.
Not only do we live in systems set up by our Creator, we operate simple systems that we are not
even aware of.... I put the kitchen scissors in a particular drawer. When I need them, they are in
the framework of my kitchen, and I know where to look for them when the need arises. Toilet
paper is in the linen closet. When the master bath needs a refill, I don't wander around the
house looking for more rolls! I have a system for that.
We tend to think about systems in a complicated framework. They don't call my computer an
"operating system" for no reason, right? But success systems don't have to be complex.
I implemented three systems that were simple and gave me great results. One is the "Touch It
Once" system. I'm still very much a paper gal. I have paper receipts, and scribbled notes, and
find paper copies easier to read and process than reading from a screen. The system is when I
touch a piece of paper, I only touch it one time. If it's a bill, I pay it and file it. If it's an article, I
read it and file it with like articles. If it's a sales receipt, I input it in my computer system, file it
with that month's receipts which I total at the end of the month so I don't have to do it again at
tax time. You wouldn't believe how much this system reduces clutter on my desk and in my
office and saves me precious time.
Another simple system is meal planning on Sunday night. I find out when my husband will be
home for lunch and/or dinner, and I plan a menu that keeps us on track financially (eating out
costs big bucks!) and with our weight management. A simple grid with the days of the week,
lunch and dinner marked off, and a list of what we're eating. Solves the problem of "What's for
Dinner" and "I don't wanna cook" and "None of that really sounds like what I want"
The third is that I removed social media apps from my phone. My screen time decreased by
80% the first week without easy access to the apps. I was super productive without the constant
distraction of scrolling and commenting.
There's just one little problem with these awesome systems...
I stopped doing them!
WHY? WHY? WHY? do we stop doing the things that work?
1) Our brains LIE to us. LIE! We cannot trust the brain to give us the best information about
systems. Did you know that brain science reveals that our brain is ALWAYS looking for
ways to conserve energy!? Something may come out of the woodwork and eat you, so
best conserve all the energy you can in case you need to survive! This is the reason habits
are so powerful! The brain literally looks for ways to not think. Thinking requires energy.
One very busy day, my brain said, "You don't have time to input that sales ticket. It'll
take forever, and you need to focus on something else." The input and filing would have
taken less than a minute. But my brain balked. Probably because I was feeling stressed
about a project or deadline, but there WAS time. Boom! Return to the former system.
And my Touch It Once system experienced systemic failure.
2) The second reason we stop doing things that work? I forgot. Hooo boy. If you have kids,
you know the deep level of irritation that little sentence brings with it! But if I haven't
allowed enough time to "inbed" or "imprint" the new system or habit, I will default to the
old way of doing things. I have a file box in the corner behind my desk. For the Touch it
once system, I should have removed that old piece of the previous way of doing things-
you know, slinging the paper/bill into the "To Be Filed" pile. But I forgot for a hot
minute, and slinging paper over my shoulder was quick, easy, brainless, and now, I have
a pile to file that will take longer than a minute.
My new social media system? I forgot I wanted to avoid scrolling. I could still get there
through my browser. And eventually I started accessing it there, without the app. Funny
how quickly we fall back into the old pattern.
3) Third reason we default on systems that work? I'm not good at delayed gratification.
There. I said it out loud. It's difficult to convince the me that a new system is better,
particularly if I won't feel those benefits for a while. My filing? Come March when I start
working on taxes, I will remember why I needed the Touch It Once. My food? 10 lbs on
the scale and a "where did the money go" conversation with my husband, and I will
realize the error of my ways and will wish I'd done more meal planning. Hours gone with
social media scrolls, and I realize how much I could have accomplished if I'd stuck to my
system. The ability to delay gratification is a secret sauce for success systems.
When the church at Corinth was experiencing chaos in worship, the Apostle Paul wrote to them
with a systematic way they could worship together and build the church. Too much going on,
he said, and unbelievers would bail! Can you imagine? People would be like, we like your
Jesus, but y'all are a hot mess up in here! Paul concludes his advice to them with "But
everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way." (1 Corinthians 14:40) Wise advice!
If God and the Apostle Paul love systems, I suspect we should, too. We're quick to say, "I'm
not that organized," but organization is a skill that can be cultivated.
Look for things you do over and over. How can you systemize them, so they are done routinely,
on time, without piling up or procrastinating. Do you have tasks that are irritating? Could they
be part of a system? Is there an easier way without re-inventing the wheel every time? How can
you reinforce the activity when the reward for doing it is delayed? Are you constantly looking
for something-a favorite pen, a note to self, the scissors, a book you want to finish?
These are places systems will serve you and give you more time for creativity and productivity.
Then, have I given a new system time enough for my brain to recognize it's here to stay, and
Brainy doesn't have to think about it anymore!? After decades of showering, I always always
dry my face first, then my arms, then my legs and feet before I step onto the rug outside the
shower. I started that way to keep from getting the rug and floor so wet. Now I don't think
about it; I just do it!
Ecclesiastes 10:10 says "If the ax is dull, and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but
skill will bring success". That's what systems bring to the table: skill for getting things done, for
delaying gratification, for remembering the value of doing it regularly and doing it now.
What system can you implement or revive today?
I have only to look up to see Your beautiful system of creation... Stars and planets, sun and
clouds, the whisper of wind through the trees. Thank you for being steadfast and for the Laws
of Nature and Science that You control completely with your systems. Show me ways I can be
more faithful to systems that make work easier and be better organized so that I can serve you
well. The precious time I waste by looking for things or re-inventing the wheel could be spent
creating and being a blessing to others. Help me work in a fitting and orderly way for my good
and Your glory.
In Jesus' Name,