Some Updates, and Goals vs. Systems

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The last month…well, even just the last few weeks…have been an absolute whirlwind.

Let me start with a history lesson.

WaltersWorks has been a long time in the making…I first got the entrepreneurial bug back in 2006, but I was tinkering with web design as early as 2000 or 2001. Back in the days of Tripod and Trellix. I never put a lot of effort into it, however, and even through 2010, I wasn’t working on any big projects or anything, just goofing around. But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

2015 and 2016 were hard years for me professionally. I wasn’t happy with my day job and so every now and then I’d get the urge to take on more web design clients. Then I’d take one or two on and realize just how little time I had for anything else, and I’d panic. Those were herky-jerky years. I’d get really busy, freak out, and then take some time to get things back under control before pushing again. It was stressful – having one foot in and one foot out at two different jobs. To be honest, I hated it.

2017 rolled around and I went all in. Really, I started in late 2016 but by 2017 I was adding multiple clients every month and my income from the first couple months of ’17 surpassed my entire annual side income from ’16. Of course, this meant less time for everything else – including my growing family. And I struggled to keep my work worlds separate.

SO

My reason for sharing all of that is to say that I have officially left my day job and I’m now devoting 100% of my work time to WaltersWorks. It feels awesome and scary, and ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. I’m picking up work via word-of-mouth and freelancing sites like Upwork. So far it has been good, but as with any self-employment, there is always the reality that there will be good times and slow times. It’s a big change in how we think, how we budget, and how we live.

ADD TO THAT the fact that we just bought a new house! My “office” in our old rental was the corner of an attic that had been converted into a bedroom. I sat on a backless stool, hunched over, peeking around my mic to see my laptop and my notes which were often stacked on top of one another. In our new home, I have a dedicated office/library room and it is wonderful to be able to spread out and work in semi-comfort. I still need to get some new furniture but for now, a fold-up table and a folding chair are better than the old stool. I’ve also got the room for a 32″ monitor on my desk which is amazing.

I’m excited about the new possibilities.

So enough about all of that life-changing stuff. As I consider the new possibilities that self-employment offers, I also do a lot of thinking about the new challenges. In particular, losing my steady income and trying to replace it with irregular income has led me to reach out for financial advice. I just started reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and I’m hoping I can get my wife on board. We’re liquidating my pension to pay off most of our debts and eliminate revolving credit, but as Dave alludes to on his show and in his writing, that’s often a temporary solution. Changing attitudes and habits is the key to long-term success.

I think that is true for many things.

Dilbert author Scott Adams wrote something a while back about the difference between goals and systems. I was struck by the idea that systems are more valuable that goals because they speak to action, not to an end result. Coming from a corporate background, “goal” was a buzzword we used often. Goals, however, are elusive – for example, I can say it is my goal to lose 20 pounds but unless I provide the “how” it’s a pointless statement. Systems, however, are based on habits and lifestyle changes…I’ll let Mr. Adams do the talking:

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.

Source: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/102964992706/goals-vs-systems

Brilliant. True story – I lost almost 50 pounds from 2013 to 2015. NOT ONCE did I “set a goal” or pick a number that I wanted to get down to. I did it by finding exercise activities that felt good and then doing them many times. I also came to peace with being hungry and eventually I trained myself to avoid most of the really bad foods and drinks. It worked wonderfully.

So consider how the difference between goals and systems unfolds when you get outside of weight loss. Say you want to build wealth – you can say “I want to save $1,000 for a rainy day,” or you can create a system that you *enjoy* and change your spending and saving habits accordingly. The guy who sets the goal…he might save that $1,000. Or he might not. If doesn’t have a plan for *how* he’s going to do it, chances are he’ll never take the first step toward accomplishing the goal. But if the guy creates a system and puts his spare coins and change in a big ol’ jar and enjoys watching it accumulate over time, he’ll eventually get that money saved up, and then maybe he’ll even go on to save more because WHY STOP THERE?

That’s one of the big differences I found – a goal is the end of the road for a lot of people. Even those who attain their goals probably wind up feeling aimless once they’ve reached them. Who likes the idea of goals leading to more goals, leading to more goals, on and on forever? This is where systems win again. In a system, you’re changing habits and lifestyles to create long-term success. And you can *have* a goal too – let’s just call it something else. Perhaps we’ll call it a “milestone”. So your system’s end result is to “be active every day by running at 6 a.m.” The idea is that you’ll enjoy this, so if you don’t like the idea of running early in the morning then use your imagination and come up with an example you like. You can add a milestone to your system – say, if you do this activity for six months you’re going to adjust your mileage from 2 miles a day to 3 miles a day. At that point it’s more of a good thing, right? Or perhaps you find that you’re losing weight and you hit a point where you don’t really want to lose more – time for a new milestone. Adjust the system.

I’ve got a lot of areas in my life that I need systems for – physical wellness, emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, financial peace, better parenting, satisfaction with self-employment…so I’m going to try to create systems rather than goals, and we’ll see how that goes. Heck, writing on this blog can be a system too.

Have thoughts about anything you read here? Leave ’em in the comments!