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Simple Processes And Systems, But Outsized Results
Part 2 of How to build a personal operating system
A goal without an action plan is a daydream.
Processes are codified actions.
In the previous essay, I talked about building the first part of your personal operating system - the WHAT. In this article, I will cover the HOW to make those WHATs come true.
A couple of baselines descriptions for specificity
A process is a set of actions to realize a task.
Habits and Routines are ingrained processes.
Systems consist of lots of processes working in tandem.
This essay will focus on processes.
You want your processes to provide direction on what you must repeatedly do to achieve your desired result. The entire point of having processes is to remove the mental burden of deciding what steps to take daily while countering the ever-infinite distractions around us.
Omar Itani describes in well:
Goals are the targets you want to achieve, while systems are the processes you put in place to help you achieve them.
Systems tell you what you need to do every day to get there; they’re focused on today.
Effective processes support your goals by taking care of everything surrounding the actual work you need to do.
It is your one-hour hike every weekend that is your 'me' time; it is the half an hour you spend reading to your daughter every night at bedtime; it is the diet plan you follow to reduce your cholesterol.
In this article, I will cover examples of processes I use to show you how you can use them in your own life.
Add, subtract, edit, and adapt any of these to suit your workflows.
I'll cover processes across four key areas.
Work (both personal and professional)
Bookends (and starts) for your days:
You're going to go to bed and wake up every day. Creating an enjoyable wake-up and sleep routine that reduces stress and helps you progress toward your goals is worth it.
I've wasted a lot of time staying awake till 5am, but I have never regretted waking up at 5am to get started with the day
While there are different sleep archetypes, I've found I perform at my best when I wake up early and exercise in the morning.
Some routines that I've found helpful if you're looking to set up an optimal morning routine.
For nighttime, a couple of things seem to work best.
Light dinner, warm bath, prior exercise in the day, and reducing blue light (ideally no screens). I love warm, yellow-colored lights in the evening.
Matt Walker's Why We Sleep is a comprehensive source for learning all you need to know about optimal sleep.
The biggest unlock is figuring out the intersection of what you enjoy and can become world-class at. Then just work on that.
The best way to figure out the unique mix of skills you're great at and enjoy, is to work on many different projects and determine what you like.
Regardless of what you’re working on, you might frequently find yourself handling a barrage of work (including personal projects).
Here are a couple of processes I've found useful for this:
2.1 Use GTD for tracking action items
David Allen's Getting Things Done has endured for over two decades because the process works.
Using it has eliminated a lot of unnecessary stress from worrying if I've missed something that needs to be done.
Matt Mochary has the simplest write-up1 on it to get started.
2.2 Weekly reviews and planning
I have a recurring event on my calendar every Sunday to review the week gone by and plan for the next one. Sometimes I forget to do this, but having it on my calendar reminds me to do it the next week.
I take notes in Obsidian and use a combination of Google Tasks and Google Calendar (they work together seamlessly) for planning the next week. I add all action items to the calendar to block time to work on them.
There are two big benefits to the weekly reviews and planning.
You learn from the week past by reflecting on it and making changes as needed.
The planning part provides a solid head-start for the next week.
I use a combination of the frameworks mentioned in the previous essay for planning.
You can extend the same process to Quarterly and Yearly reviews (and planning).
2.3 Weekly emails to your Boss
One of the best things you can do for your boss is to reduce uncertainty by providing clarity. The best way to do this is by being proactive in your communication. At my previous job, I would send 2 emails to my boss every week.
Monday - What I plan to do that week.
Friday - What I actually got done that week.
We follow something similar at OSV as well.
Bonus: At the end of the year, you will have a detailed list of what you've worked on. This will make filling in your annual performance review much easier.
2.4 Use the maker v/s manager schedule to your advantage
Paul Graham has an excellent article on the difference between how makers (like programmers, writers etc.) work and how managers work.
If you’re a creator, the key takeaway of the framework is this:
Schedule meetings on certain days at certain times (if possible)
Batch meetings together (as far as possible)
Have long periods of free time on your calendar for deep work
2.5 Use deadlines as forcing functions
Depending on how you work and respond to deadlines, this is a helpful hack. If I add a deadline to something, I usually get it done.
This current newsletter is reaching you due to the weekly deadlines I've set for publishing the essays I've been sitting on for years.
Deadlines force you to overcome the inertia of starting something new and prioritizing it over multiple other things that are already going on.
Deadlines are best used in a minimal dose, usually when you're starting new projects and need some momentum.
You're already too late if you ignore health issues until they become a significant problem. If you focus on health before it becomes a problem, it won't become one.
The best course of action I've found is to hire a personal trainer for 6 months to teach you what you need to know about fitness. If you can't hire one, I've also found virtual fitness coaches helpful if you already have some experience in the gym. The other options are Youtube, joining a fitness class, and/or playing sports.
My health processes are simple.
Exercise ~5 days a week for ~30 Mins + Walking + Sports wherever possible
Eat healthy home-cooked meals 80% of the time
Get 7+ hours of sleep 80% of the time
Sleep is my canary in the coal mine. If I get under 7 hours of sleep consistently, that's a sign I need to change something.
My processes for relationships are limited to ensuring boundary conditions so that I don't let other parts of my life crowd out the meaningful relationships in my life.
Calls/dinners with closest friends once a month or more (scheduled beforehand, since it helps co-ordinate time)
Reply on Instagram/Twitter/Whatsapp stories to stay in touch with other friends etc.
Everything else is organic or already ingrained.
The above processes are some of the ones I've used personally and found to be the most effective. But you don't need elaborate processes to succeed.
The key is to figure out what works for you and do that.
Note: On a personal level, not having processes can be great if that is how you work best.
Here are a couple of more examples of very different processes followed by some very successful people.
Immanuel Kant - The One Rule for Life.
Benjamin Franklin's daily routine.
Rob Dyrdek - Probably one of the most extreme examples of quantified tracking that I've seen