Updated: Feb 11
To Maximize Growth, Develop Strategies
“Most people allow their lives to simply happen to them. They float along. They wait. They react. And by the time a large portion of their life is behind them, they realize they should have been more proactive and strategic.” — John C. Maxwell
Have you ever played a game of chess?
In order to win, you need to grasp the purpose and rules of the game, understand the characteristics of each piece, think ahead to strategize your moves, and be able to anticipate the potential obstacles or setbacks brought on by your opponent.
Our lives are a bit like a game of chess.
In order to “win” — to be successful, reach your potential, and live life to the fullest — you must first understand the purpose of the time that you’ve been given and the rules of engagement based on your values and priorities. Next, you need to have a good understanding of yourself — what is your personality, what are you good at, where do you need support, what motivates you, etc. — and you should have at least a basic understanding of the people around you so you can better understand how they will move and why. And if you really want to get ahead, you need to establish goals and strategies to achieve them, but you also need to be able to anticipate what obstacles you might face or ways that you need to pivot depending on the season of your life.
The key difference between chess and life is mindset. Chess is a finite game, meaning that there are a limited number of players, the rules are fixed, and there is a clear endpoint. But life is an infinite game; there is no limit on how many people can play on the board, the rules are constantly changing, there is no end to how we can grow, and our definition of success becomes more vibrant as our potential expands. And, most importantly, there are no winners or losers in an infinite game, there is only ahead and behind which means it’s never too late to start moving forward.
But if you want to be ahead in the game, you need to develop meaningful strategies. There is an abundance of famous quotes about the importance of planning and strategizing in life, but my favorite is simply, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
So how can you be strategic about your life and your growth?
According to John C. Maxwell, the best way to be strategic is by designing and using systems that are meaningful to you because “a life without any systems is a life where the person must face every task and challenge from scratch.”
1) Effective Systems Take the Big Picture into Account
Stephen Covey once said, “we may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.”
What is your big picture?
In what areas must you grow to achieve your purpose?
What systems can you develop to advance yourself today and every day?
One of the systems I put in place for myself was that for every fiction book I read, I read at least one nonfiction book that expands my thinking and growth in the areas of personal, professional, or spiritual growth because I understand that while I love to read, if I’m not intentionally reading with my big picture in mind, then I’m not stewarding my time as well as I could.
2) Effective Systems Make Use of Priorities
A system has limited effectiveness if it doesn’t align with your priorities in this season of life.
What are your priorities right now?
When are you most productive and how can you best utilize that time?
Are there things you need to say “no” to that don’t align with your priorities?
What systems can you design to help you maintain your priorities?
One of my priorities right now is to build my coaching business and part of that is getting this newsletter out to my subscribers on time — same day, same time, every week — and I have put a system in place that means that I don’t schedule appointments on Mondays so I can make sure that I have plenty of time to do my reading, research, and design before my Tuesday launch deadline.
“Unhappiness is not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it.”
3) Effective Systems Include Measurement
H. James Harrington, IBM executive and performance improvement expert, observed that “measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand id, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
Are your growth goals specific enough that you can measure them?
How can you use these growth metrics to evaluate your progress, diagnose obstacles, and course correct to get you back on the right track?
What systems can you put into place to measure your growth?
As previously mentioned, I love to read books, but if I don’t have a system in place to measure my reading, I can easily lose track of what I’ve read and when I’ve read it. So I have put together a reading list on my phone, tablet, and computer that tracks the book titles that I am reading (or want to read), who the author is, and who recommended the book to me so I can make sure to follow up with them once I’ve finished it, what date I started the book, what date I finished the book, and why I wanted to read it (i.e. enjoyment, personal development, professional development, spiritual development). This allows me to stay on track and ensure I’m achieving my goals (i.e. reading at least two books per month and making sure that I’m reading equal, if not more, nonfiction than fiction), and adjust if I’m not reaching my goals.
4) Effective Systems Include Application
The founder of Nestle Purina, William Danforth, once said, “no plan is worth the paper it is printed on unless it starts you doing something.” Planning and taking action go hand in hand. The plan creates the path and the action provides the traction.
What steps can you take now to implement your growth?
Do your systems have application built-in or do they need further refinement?
In staying with my reading goals, I could create a system that helps me determine what I want to read, when I want to do my reading, and track my reading progress, but if I don’t actually pick up a book or I fill my Mondays with other events or tasks, I’m still not going to reach my reading potential even with the systems. This is why I have reminders and motivators built into my systems to push me towards reading, not just thinking about it.
5) Effective Systems Employ Organization
According to John Maxwell, “how you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected. But once time has passed, it’s gone forever.”
How can your systems help you stay organized?
What tools are you already using that you can apply to your systems?
For myself, I use software and apps that I can access from my phone, tablet, or computer so that I have full access to my systems no matter where I am. I use a Google calendar to keep track of all of my events and tasks including when I set aside time for reading and I use a note-taking app called Notion to record my reading list information.
6) Effective Systems Promote Consistency
Any system you develop needs to promote consistency because the secret to your success is found in your daily routine.
How do your systems promote consistency in your routine and growth?
Are there additional steps you could take to stay consistent?
John Maxwell says that there are five things he does every day — he reads, he writes, he files, he asks questions, and he thinks. He calls this his Rule of 5. My personal Rule of 5 is that I learn, I read, I ask questions, I review the day, and I plan the next day. These are five things that I consistently and intentionally do daily that help me grow and move ahead to my big picture.
Throughout this review, I have shared with you some of my practices, but the thing to remember is that you can’t simply adopt someone else’s practices as your own. You need to take these principles and customize your systems and practices to fit your needs and build your strengths to reach your goals.