AG 098: Building Simple Systems

Episode Details

In Episode 98 of the After Gambling Podcast, Jamie delves into the significance of constructing simple, effective systems. Drawing on personal experiences and insights, he emphasizes the transformative effects of organization on productivity and mental clarity. Jamie shares how small, consistent efforts can lead to substantial long-term benefits, comparing it to the pitfalls of gambling and the allure of “heroic efforts”. He provides actionable advice on systematizing tasks, both in professional settings and personal habits, such as social media usage. The episode concludes with a call to prioritize self-improvement and seek professional guidance when needed.

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Full Episode Transcript

This is Episode 98 of the After Gambling Podcast. In this episode, we are going to extend our discussion from last week into building simple systems. [Music]

Hey there, and welcome to the After Gambling Podcast. My name is Jamie. I am a former problem gambler, and now I do this little podcast to help other people that are on a similar path that I was on. I also get a lot of great feedback that this is really helpful for friends, family, researchers, and treatment professionals. So, hopefully, we bring as many people into the mix as possible to talk about gambling addiction so that we can all better understand it and better treat it, better prevent it. All of the above would be a good thing in my book.

So last week, we were talking about the five benefits I saw from cleaning my room, getting organized, cleaning up emails. So if you haven’t listened to that, go back and listen to that one first before you listen to this one. I think it would be helpful. But I will recap for everyone those five benefits that we talked about, things that I see in my day-to-day life from keeping my spaces cleaner.

First off, I’m more flexible; I have more freedom. The second one was decreased procrastination. The third one is a more sense of accomplishment. The fourth one improves mental state or clarity, and then the fifth one was increased productivity. It’s a pretty solid list. I think we all want those things, and I think we all are challenged to get those things.

So today, I promised that I would talk about some of the things I’m doing to help keep this system going, keep the train moving down the tracks. This is really an important concept because how many times do we get started, and we get out of the blocks, and we’re starting to get some momentum, and then we get tripped up, and we fall back into bad habits, and all of a sudden we’re right back to where we were? So today, this episode hopefully will start to eliminate some of those things or to create some tiny little systems that we can then use in all areas of our life. And that’s really the goal, is to build these tiny systems.

I’m reminded of a thing called Gall’s law. I forget where I came across it. I think I’ve talked about it actually on the podcast before. But John Gall was actually a pediatrician, but he also did a lot of stuff on systems, and he had this quote that just really resonated with me. He said, “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”

Now, I’m the type of person that, as I said, when I’m unorganized, all of a sudden, it takes these heroic efforts. Heroic efforts! I have to go in and clean out 10,000 emails at once. And I think that’s kind of probably plays to that addictive part of my mind, or that part of my mind that when things are completely unraveled, I need to go in and try and fix them all at once. And obviously, that’s a problem.

Now, the solution is to have a system in place that doesn’t allow me to get to that place where I need these heroic efforts. Just do a little bit every time, do a little bit each day, get a little bit better day by day by day. It’s the stuff that I preach to all the kids that I coach, and yet, for me, obviously, it’s still the thing that I have to work on. But the thing that I focus on is going back to this Gall’s law.

And for me, right now, I’m at the primitive stage. And as you said in the past, I’ve always tried to create these big systems. I have some fancy software for my business which tracks a project from start to finish, and I would often sit down and try and draw it all out and come up with a perfect way to do it. And ultimately, I’d abandon it, probably because there was work that had to get done, and I had to go jump in to do that work. And I didn’t have time to sit around and design these fancy systems. It was always a project I was going to do someday, right? How many times? That’s the procrastination. It’s a very important thing that I will do, but just not today.

So one thing that I’ve tried to implement, and it’s not perfect, but I’m getting better and better, is anytime I’m doing anything in my life, I try to look and say, “Is there a little system here that I can document, that I can write down? I can start to create some step-by-step actions?” Now, again, for a lot of people listening to this, this is going to maybe sound like basic 101 stuff that hopefully you learned in kindergarten. Well, I’m 40, and I’m just picking up on some of these things. Or I knew they were valuable things, but hey, I could get away with it. And I think that’s really what happened. When you get away with it, when you can get away with doing these heroic efforts, then you just decide, “Well, what’s the sense in doing these small little things where I can just do it and bundle it all together?” But then we get older and wiser, and we see the problems in our ways, the errors of our ways, as we try to improve.

So what I’ve really been doing, everything from doing the podcast to doing anything in my work, to my writing, I’m just trying to just write down the notes. Anytime I see myself doing something and something that I know that I’m going to do again in the future, I use that sophisticated software, but I just go in, and I just add the section. If I’m working on a website and updating the forms, I just go in, and I type out a little note: “Okay, add the form. Second, add the notifications.” By no means am I building the entire system. But as John Gall pointed out, I can’t design that entire system at once; it’s going to fail. What I need to do is design these tiny systems, these little things that I can do. And I can go in, and all I have to do is document it, write it down. And then next time, when I want to do it, I can go back and look at that list, and if I do something else that’s not on the list, I can add it, and I can modify it. It can be this living, breathing thing that I continue to improve upon.

Now, while it’s still early, I’m already seeing a lot of benefits coming from this. Those benefits I talked about last week are there. When I go in and look at the project, and I’m seeing all of a sudden this system’s getting more complex, I’m adding layers to it day by day, week by week. And I’m going to wake up in a year from now, and all of a sudden, some of these things are going to be really polished. And I imagine my productivity on these projects is going to go up, as well as the output is just going to be better. I’m not going to forget things, or I’m going to do things in the optimal order. And I’ll slowly be moving things up or down that order chain within the project list to the point where there’s just an ease and flow in my work.

And while these systems are great for our work, our occupational stuff, it also works in personal life. I’m starting to document and write down things like how I’m going to use social media. I, like all of us, can get into these stages where I’m just doom scrolling and scrolling through things. And I open it up for one reason, all of a sudden, I wake up, and it’s 30 minutes later, and I was just in kind of a trance taking in one thing after another. And that’s not the optimal way for me to use those things.

So now I’ve been starting to take notes and observe my behaviors and write down the things that are best for me and the best ways that I can use them. And it’s literally becoming kind of basically a policy that I will then follow in the future. Or I can review in the future if I start to notice that my output or my use is not what I want, I can go back and look and say, “What was the best way to use this?” So I’ll have something written down, and I can just work on and modify and improve.

A good example is my ideal thing is to use social media to share ideas and then to get feedback on those ideas. But if I’m constantly checking them, I have to set up some kind of system so that I can audit them, and it’s not just a constant check to see what’s this post, what’s this post like. That’s in the situation where it clearly makes sense to batch responses together. So if you set up and say the system is you post something at a certain time, and then so many hours later or the next day, you go on and review and see what feedback there is and reply to the feedback and have a system in place for how to handle each situation. Then all of a sudden, I can make decisions that are optimal because let’s face it, we do what feels good in the moment. And without a system, without a policy in place, we’re just going to kind of be tossed and thrown with the tides.

And we’re really up against it on the social media front and just on the technology front. Our primitive brains are going up against the best software designers in the world, the best marketers in the world that can identify what keeps us paying attention to something. And so it’s either going to be we follow their objectives, or we follow our own. And so I think this is true in social media, it’s true in work. The same thing, I mean, a boss is going to dictate down to you all the things they want you to do. And if you don’t think that is the right way to do it, but you don’t have any way documented to prove it and to put out the work that will show that your way is better, then you’re going to end up having to follow theirs.

And ultimately, I think this whole idea of systems is another thing that it just gives us the freedom that we want. And that was the first thing I put on my list of benefits last week about being more organized is it gives us freedom. And there has always been this belief for me that systems create like a restraint, and that that was a bad thing. But ultimately, I should have known this because this is a core principle in design. Restraints actually breed creativity; they breed innovation. It is so much easier to work on a campaign when a client gives some guidance, some walls, some things that they like, some things they absolutely don’t like, and they share their ideas and their thoughts, versus when they say, “Well, just create something.” It’s just endless, and our minds can go in so many ways, we end up just spinning our wheels. So this fear that I always had of restraints from these systems, it’s just not real. And it’s like so many things. Hopefully, this is something that will continue with age. Maybe I’ll continue to realize and speed up the process of seeing the value in a lot of the things that I just shunned in the past.

Alright, so now, if you’re on board with this and you want to start creating your system, the question is probably, “How? What software do you use?” And for me, that’s the wrong question. Really go back to Gall’s law. Whatever the simplest way is, start off with a pen and paper, start off with the note app on your phone. Pick one place. I would say get a notebook or get a phone. The phone’s probably one of the best because it’s always with you, and the notes apps on all the phones are great. And just start writing your stuff down and start it there. And then you can move it over into somewhere else if you get to the point where you need a more complex system. But really, the key is just to write these things down, to get them out of our heads. How many times have we talked about the thoughts in our heads are limiting, and they really kind of hold us back? Once we get them out and get them into the world, all of a sudden, we get feedback, and we’re able to act on those thoughts and those ideas in a completely different way. And that’s what I’m finding from trying to build these tiny little systems, from writing down step-by-step things that I do at work, step-by-step things I do around the house. All of the above are just really freeing my mind up and allowing me to be a lot more productive and just have better peace of mind.

I had a great week this week where I just didn’t have a bunch of pressing things that were on my radar because I had taken care of so many of those last week. So I’m seeing the benefits. I think you’ll see the benefits. And yeah, build a tiny system. Don’t try to build it all at once. Heroic efforts, they’re just like the gambling, just like trying to go and get it all back at once. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t work anywhere. It’s just a terrible strategy. We need to focus on small, little improvements. And then all of a sudden, you wake up, and it’s 12 years later, and you’re no longer at a 400 and whatever credit score with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and life is just so much better.

So hopefully, these last two episodes have been really helpful, some actionable things that you can take into your life across every aspect of your life. Building tiny systems, keeping things neat and orderly, these are habits that I just saw in myself and observing others in Gamblers Anonymous and other support groups. And just getting to know a lot of people, it’s something that I think we all sort of struggle with. And beyond those walls, I see other friends, family members, and other people that have similar issues. We all have it. There are so many things that we humans do alike. We’re not as unique as we’d like to believe.

So that’s going to wrap this one up. Remember, this is for informational purposes only. Please seek out the help of a professional because, well, you deserve it. Listen to this podcast and other podcasts and go on the Reddit forums and do all those things as ways to get you started down the road. But always make sure that you continue to grow and develop, and getting professional help is an important step in the process. Finally, music for the show is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free and is licensed under the Creative Commons license. My name is Jamie, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode.