Are You a Slave to Your Process?

I am a big fan of process. I have designed various systems/processes in my everyday life that help me do things without thinking about them. For instance, I’ve consolidated my monthly subscriptions and review them once a month to evaluate the ones I want to keep or stop using. Similarly, I have set up reminders to pay my bills. That way I don’t have to keep track of various bills and instead pay them all on the same day each month. I have committed to doing creative work every morning for at least a couple of hours, so I don’t have to keep thinking about when I am going to do that every day. I plan and review my week each week. That’s how I stay in control of it as opposed to letting it control me. I do a quarterly purge of my closet to keep it relevant for me while giving away things to others that I have no use for any more. I think you get the idea. There are fewer things more satisfying to me than setting processes in motion (and forgetting about them), whether it is for myself or with organizations with which I work.

I completely believe that having processes for things can save you precious time and attention when making everyday decisions, leaving that energy to make decisions for things that actually matter.

There is a flip side, though. It’s easy to become a slave to your processes if you don’t evaluate them once in a while. It’s easy to keep doing what has worked for you, but should that alone be the reason to keep doing it? Just because things aren’t broken doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve them. You can always optimize and make things better. At the very least, you should review your process infrequently to make sure you’re on the right track.

There might be times where you aren’t getting the results you want from the systems you’ve designed for yourself, and it’s easy to keep doing what you were doing despite that. For instance, I was reminded of this when I had a weekly fitness plan set, which I had been following for months. I thought it was the perfect plan (it still is in the long term). It’s just that I wasn’t seeing (noticeable) results from it in the short term, so I decided to make small changes to it. Guess what, it didn’t take long for me to see results from the small change I made to the plan.

So the lesson here is nothing should be set in stone. You always learn based on the feedback you get from yourself or others. Had I been more aware that I wasn’t getting the results I wanted despite putting in the work, I would surely have made some changes earlier. Regardless, I think it’s a good idea to review your life from time to time in terms of your self, work, and relationships.

Here are some more examples that come to mind:

I routinely review my goals and processes every week. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. It never will be, and that’s not the point. The point is I am always learning and making things better. I am getting feedback from myself and applying it.

Another good example is that my copyeditor and I have a process that works for us, which we review once a quarter to ensure it’s still working well and whether we could improve it. The point is there is always something that can be improved.

For instance, in your organization, you might have weekly status update meetings to keep yourself and your team abreast of things. Maybe sending an email would have sufficed in its place, saved everyone time while still achieving the goal. I don’t know. I am just saying we need to question our processes once in a while to make sure they are working for us (rather than against us). Besides, it’s easy to get sucked into the everyday grind without thinking about why you are doing what you are doing.

It’s also easy to go overboard with creating processes for oneself and in organizations. In particular regarding the latter, you must be careful about reviewing the processes you have set up before introducing new ones (kind of like Hire Slow, Fire Fast philosophy).

Relying too much on process without the involvement of people may lower trust, which will work to your detriment. Process has its place, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of its people. I think it’s important to remember that process exists for (the benefit of) people, and not vice-versa.

Take time out at least infrequently to evaluate your process. For instance, I’ll go through the less-viewed items in my trusted system to see if they are still relevant and/or current as there is no point in working from an outdated list.

Remind yourself why you do what you do. Are you working on the right things right now? Why did you start doing this in the first place?

My work concerns the people and process side of things. If there is one thing I know, it’s better to have (the involvement of) people without process (which is inefficient at worst) rather than process without people (ineffective at best). People will always trump process, though you will always need both.

It’s easy to keep doing the same things without reviewing them because it’s easy to get caught in the process, but we are humans after all. We have the ability to think and introspect, so we should make use of those faculties. We spend a lot of our time doing and not enough time thinking, reflecting, and defining our work.

Don’t be a slave to your process. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t improve things to make them work better. You design your processes for your benefit, not the other way round.

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