Supercharge your goals and systems

Table of Contents

Introduction

If you’ve understood the table above, you’ve already understood what this article is about. Thank you for checking in and hope you’ve got some value from it, see you next time.

If you’re choosing to stick with the rest of it, thank you. We’re going to spend some time deep diving into the framework pictured above. The article serves as introduction to a mental tool that helps you map your goals and match it against the systems that help you pursue them. In the process you gain perspective on the necessity and sustainability of certain goals. This allows us to audit modify and/or eliminate goals which are redundant

Understanding the elements of the framework

The 2×2 matrix above brings together two widely written about topics into a relationship framework. 

Finite vs Infinite Games

The X axis refers to finite vs infinite outlooks. First brought into attention by James Carse in 1987 and then made popular by Simon Sinek through his series of TED talks and books on the subject.

Put simply, the principle tags all our endeavours as games. Writing a book, Running a company, Getting a perfect math score, any number of new year resolutions are all games. But the distinction here arises from the virtual timescale and how we define the success of each game. 

The game of writing a book ends when the book is written. Acing a test ends when the test scores are revealed (good luck on that). Winning the Club Chess championship ends when the medal is around your neck. These are finite games. Each of these projects have a known timeline and definition of success.

Running a company, choosing a life of conscious fitness, becoming a lifelong learner are games that can be practiced as long as you live. In the case of running a company it can be a legacy that outlives your life. These are, short of the keynesian implication, Infinite games. 

I personally made early conceptual errors of taking the word literally. Infinite games are not to be minimised on just timeline implications. Endeavours that have constantly changing objectives and participants qualify too. Infinite games can even have shifting or nebulous definitions of success. Examples include Marriage, Friendship and Financial stability. How do you win at friendship? Win at marriage? (at Work? Life? Win. Repeat)

Success in infinite games would revolve around continuous improvement. Raising the game rather than closing it, evolving the ecosystem rather than extinguishing it. 

In that context, let’s talk about the adjacent concept.

Goals vs Systems

Serving as overt implications for many researchers and foundational principles for many books, the subject of Goals and Systems are quite popular in the self-help genre. The trending source being that of Atomic Habits and its author James Clear

You do not rise to the level of your goals.You fall to the level of your systems

James Clear

The author implies that Goals by themselves are passive statements that do not materialise unless supported by a system or collection of systems that propel you towards them. To “win the inter-school tennis championship this year” is a goal. So is to “lose 25 lbs in the next 6 months” or “Start a company”. 

Goals are declarations of intent. They can serve as your north star and a collective study of them would reveal much about your personality and character. 

Systems in this context are consciously crafted habits or routines that incrementally contribute to  each of the goals you’re committed to. So, in practice, this is what creating a scaffolding of systems would like for the earlier example:

Goal

Win the inter-school tennis championship this year

Systems

  1. Clock 2 hours of practice on weekdays
  2. 4 hours on weekends
  3. Play at least 3 different league-ranked opponents every month
  4. Complement with 30 minutes of weight training 3 days per week

Following the path set by each of those habits comes together to create positive progress towards the goal it serves (tennis joke?)

Bringing them together

The takeaway here is obvious at first. Make some goals. Back it up with systems. Just do it! Easy peasy. But there’s more. Some goals are finite and require systems that are optimised for the known time-frame, parameters or outcome they are defined by. 

In the above example, the date of the tennis match, the venue, scoring system, opponents and metrics for measuring the outcome are known.

But what if my goal is to “Be a lifelong learner”? To start with, you might object, that’s not even a goal! 

“It’s not very S.M.A.R.T” someone quipped “But it is desirable” they added, grudgingly, when I ran it by them. 

The above statement is both a Goal as well as a character trait. It still requires conscious effort from the one choosing to pursue it. So why shouldn’t it be a goal that deserves our attention?

This is a classic definition of an Infinite Game and needs systems optimised to push us in that direction over an indefinite period of time with success defined as “How long did we keep at it?”. What would that look like?

Goal

Be a lifelong learner

Systems

  1. Read 2 books per month (Use Goodreads or similar for recommendations)
  2. Each book to be supported by personal notes on the same
  3. Transfer original observations from the notes into a networked note-taking environment
  4. Upload at least 1 article per month into your blog based on your original content

There’s one more example provided at the introduction of this article. It compares the finite approach of coaching my child for a test versus cultivating a positive attitude towards learning. As vague as it looks, the latter contributes to the former. Even the simple act of getting the child to play the teacher plays into the science backed protege effect described in the linked article.

Systems built around Infinite Goals may not look as S.M.A.R.T. as that of their finite counterpart. But they can be practiced and tracked, nonetheless. Done right, they will become a subconscious routine that will contribute to the kind of success that learning and the attitude towards it delivers. What we need to remember is that the systems match the goal they serve. This knowledge then prepares us to create our own goal matrix and then assess how well our systems are prepared to meet them

Adopting the Goal+System framework

A straightforward implementation of this principle would look like this:

  1. List all your goals 
  2. Break them up into finite vs infinite in scope 
  3. Match each goal with an ecosystem of routines designed to deliver the outcome 
  4. Audit the framework matrix to see if there are redundant or clashing goals 
    • Assess the platform this goal is mounted on, is it defined well? Cognizant of the domain it is in? (Is “hit the gym 4 times a week” effective without “eat right” and “sleep well”? ) 
    • If it is too narrow then achieving it may not give you the lasting satisfaction you’re looking for
    • For example “Lose 50 pounds this year” vs “Prioritise physical and mental fitness” is the difference between looking good by summertime to making a healthy lifestyle a part of your personality

Guide to assess your Goals

The aim of the article is not to discourage you from having goals or even trying whatever a New Year’s resolution is. In fact, it prompts me to add this list and tell you that it is more than a footnote. It is a caveat of things this article should not be interpreted as.

  • Infinite goals aren’t always better than finite ones
    • Finite goals are a reality of life
    • Many of them are thrust upon us. Sports, Tests, Job Interviews all have defined players, objectives and success definitions.
    • The ones that matter to you have to be identified and supported with an action path to achieving it
  • Defining an infinite goal shouldn’t be at the cost of diluted underlying systems
    • Infinite goals can have loose definitions as they have inherent uncertainty
    • But that does not mean that we cannot have a series of finite games that contribute to them (perhaps as a subset)
    • These finite games can be supported with well defined systems that, when combined, contribute to the infinite goal
  • Test a finite goal
    • A lot of finite goals have an infinite counterpart, try to identify it. Use examples given in this article
    • If the systems that can deliver on the infinite goal are sufficient to handle the finite goal as well, then the latter is redundant
    • All you need to affirm is that the infinite goal is desirable as well

This conceptual approach to qualifying your goal setting exercise yields purpose-built routines that would sit well within your Life OS. Imagine a ladder of finite goals supporting an infinite goal that defines conscious traits you are trying to build. Is this a topic you’d like to read more about? I would love to hear your feedback

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links. Which means that, at no cost to you, I get a small commission if you choose to buy through my links. Please go through my Disclaimer notes for more info

Share this post:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp
Work Life Popup

become part of a journey of continuous productivity

sign up for a free DOWNLOAD!
The "work-life IN time blocks" system

Thank You

Thank You for signing up! Please head over to your email to confirm and receive your FREE copy of the “Work Life in Time Blocks” system