Why Having a System is Essential to Increasing Your Creative Output


One of the patterns you’ll likely notice if you study nearly every prolific creator is that they utilize systems. Mason Curry’s book Daily Rituals also explores some of the systems used by creators throughout history.

  • James Clear utilizes a system of 2 articles a week for his writing
  • Seth Godin’s system is to publish a piece every single day
  • In David Kadavy’s recent post about how he increased his creative output, he might not have explicitly stated it. But he’s using a system.
  • My personal system for the better part of the last few years has been 1000 words a day combined with this 8-step daily routine

Having a system results in habitual rather sporadic creativity.

Systems vs Goals

My problem with goals is that they are limiting. Granted, if you focus on one particular goal, your odds of achieving it are better than if you have no goal. But you also miss out on opportunities that might have been far better than your goal. Systems, however, simply move you from a game with low odds to a game with better odds. With a system, you are less likely to miss one opportunity because you were too focused on another. With a system, you are always scanning for any opportunity. — Scott Adams

It’s not that you shouldn’t set goals. However, the problem with goals is that many of them are largely out of our control. For example, if you’re an author, “Make the New York Times Best Seller List” is something you have almost no control over. With a system, you’ll benefit from your effort in some way even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to the goal you had in mind. Now, let’s talk about how to develop an effective system for creative output.

3 Elements of an Effective System for Creative Output

1.It’s something you Control

The first and most essential element of any system is that you have control over it. Ideally, it’s some sort of action you can take:

  • Write 1000 words
  • Take 25 pictures
  • Go to the gym twice a week

What you’ll notice about the above is that they are not dependent on any external forces like another person or the weather. Whether you follow through or not is entirely up to you.

2. It results in output/progress

For a system to be effective it has to result in both output and progress. If it’s not resulting in either you might consider revisiting step one and see if your system depends on something out of your control. My system of 1000 words a day has been instrumental in writing 100s of articles and multiple books.

3. It can be measured

Measurement improves performance and therefore an effective system is something that allows you to measure your progress. If you’re not measuring your progress, it’s hard to know whether your system is actually effective in helping you reach your goal.

Systems Free up Your Cognitive Bandwidth

If you have to think about things like what time, for how long, and what your output is every day, you’re waisting cognitive bandwidth and depleting your willpower by making low-value decisions. By developing a system for getting your work done, you reduce decision fatigue and free up your cognitive bandwidth for more creative insight.

Systems Create Momentum Over Time

As I’ve said before, momentum is the lifeblood of any startup or creative endeavor. And over time an effective system creates a ton of momentum. As Steven Pressfield said when you convene up on the same space day after day, the muse notices your dedication.” The muse and momentum are star-crossed lovers. Your job as a creator is to ignite their romance.

What an effective system looks like is different for everyone. It will likely require some experimentation to discover what’s best for you. Once you’ve developed an effective system or systems for your life and your work, you’ll start to make incremental progress which eventually leads to quantum leaps.

Before You Go…

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, you’ll love my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.

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