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Introduction

Imagine a person who is trying to save money but really enjoys coffee. Every morning, when they're walking to work, they pass their favorite coffee store. Every morning, they ask themselves "is it worth if for me to buy coffee today?" and they make a decision whether to save money or buy coffee. They make this decision every single day. Every. Single. Day. Doesn't it seem like something has gone wrong?

Making decisions takes attention. Attention is a conserved resource. Attention can be traded for:

  1. Focus/thinking
  2. Quality decision making
  3. Enjoyment
    • This is a little unintuitive, but in order to enjoy eating good food, you have to pay attention to what you're eating.

Systemization is the art of using tools/technology/money to conserve attention.

Unfortunately, many of the most powerful systemizations require lots of money, so they might not be accessible to everyone.

Systemization

There are a couple ways to systemize things. Probably none of them will be new to you. Part of the power of CFAR is that they give cool-ish names to things people like me actually do standard productivity things.

Automation

Automations comprise of the simplest, yet most effective forms of systemization. Usually, what an automation entails is paying some amount of money for a task to be completed on a regular basis. Sometimes, you can write some code/sign up for a service to automate a task, but usually there is money involved.

Examples of quality automations:

  1. Pay someone to clean your house.
  2. Pay someone to do your laundry.
  3. Pay someone to buy your groceries.
    • You can even pay for food that's already cooked!
  4. Pay someone to tend to your lawn.
  5. Pay someone to buy your clothes for you.
  6. Write a script to do a task that you do manually.
  7. Automatically move money into your savings every week/month/year.
  8. Automatically donate money.
    • This might be bad because giving Tuesday exists.

Warning: don't automate stuff you enjoy. If you like grocery shopping, you probably shouldn't pay someone to do it for you.

Set Procedures

Set procedures are systemizations where you "decide once" how a certain thing will get done, then do that thing mindlessly for the rest of time.

Examples of quality set procedures:

  1. Checklists
    • Why would you remember what to pack/do during surgery/how to land an airplane when you could just write it onto a checklist?
    • If you ever find out that your checklist failed you, just add that thing to your checklist. The power of your checklist waxes with every failure.
  2. Deciding to always put your phone in a specific place
  3. Deciding to always wear the first item of clothing in your drawer.
    • For even more extremity, only own one type of clothing.
  4. Always hang your backpack on the command hook by your door.
  5. Do your laundry every Saturday and no other time.
  6. Writing an email template for emails you have to send a lot.
  7. Having a filing system for papers.
  8. Put up 1000 command hooks and just hang everything from your walls.

Looking lower

Being annoyed by small sub-optimal things in your life saps your attention. Generally, you can talk to people/pay money/move things around to prevent these small irritations from occurring. I'm not sure some of these are strictly "systemizations", but I think improving your general life experiences means you have a lot more attention that isn't going towards "ignore how this thing is bothering me."

In my experience, the way a lot of people approach life problems is they have some threshold, and if the problem doesn't cause irritation that exceeds the threshold, they don't bother trying to solve it. This ignores both the ease of the solution and the quantity of such problems. Finding bugs isn't just about finding big, important bugs, it's also about finding things like "I have to fill up my water bottle twice a day when I would prefer to fill it up once a day" or "my keyboard is at the wrong angle" or "sometimes I have a thought and I can't write it down within 5 seconds".

Examples of irritations that I've removed from my life:

  1. Buying nice noise-cancelling headphones so I don't have to hear.
  2. Putting up a lumenator so I could actually see.
  3. Putting up blackout curtains so I could actually sleep.
  4. Having lots of paper next to my desk so I can actually think.
  5. Rearranging my tiny college dorm so that I actually have space.
  6. Putting my phone charger outside my room so I don't use my phone in bed.
  7. Getting a bowl to put my ear plugs in so they don't end up on the floor.
  8. Getting a flat water bottle so it fits and my bag so I actually drink water.
  9. Going to the gym so my flesh no longer feels like as much of a burden.
  10. Buying food and putting it in my room so I no longer starve from 10pm-12pm.
  11. Having a really large monitor so I don't have to use my working memory to remember things.

To rephrase Jung:

Modern men cannot find God because they will not {exercise enough, hydrate enough, eat healthy enough, sleep well enough}.

Inspired by alkjash.

This principle is one that I think Marie Kondo understands well.

Meta systems

A powerful form of systemization is a systematic way to generate systems. How to construct these is beyond the scope of this post, but I just want to take a moment to shill Getting Things Done as an amazing meta-system.

You can think of a lot of systemization as a series of TAPs, with a meta-system being a TAP for TAP installation.

Exercise

Systematize your entire life! Look at the space around you and notice all the ways that it fails to automatically solve all your problems for you. Go about your day and notice all of the small annoyances/irritations and then fix them. Notice any decisions that you make on a consistent basis and think of ways to only make them once.

Also, buy a 1000 sheets of paper and leave them wherever you might have thoughts. Paper is wonderful.

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2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:15 AM
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Thanks for this, it's a good unifying summary on systemization that I felt was valuable in addition to reading the Systemization chapter in the CFAR Handbook.

Another thing that falls into the 'spend your money to conserve attention category' is hiring a personal assistant. A fellow CFAR alum convinced me to try it out, and it's definitely effective. I fell out of using my PA, but that is something I want to revisit, possibly when I have more money.

Automatically donate money.
This might be bad because giving Tuesday exists.

Is this out of fear of missing out on matching donations? If so, you could just set up your recurring donations to coincide with giving Tuesday. Like you say later in the article, find ways to make the decision to give only once (or as few times as possible).

Checklists

Neat, I had 'search for what LW has to say about checklists' on my Todo list, but I'd never made an explicit connection between them and systemization. I've added some checklists to my list of candidate systems, as well as systemizing updating them when they fail (of course, you could incorporate techniques like Murphyjitsu in writing your checklists too!)

Always hang your backpack on the command hook by your door.

Great idea, ordering a command hook now.

A powerful form of systemization is a systematic way to generate systems. How to construct these is beyond the scope of this post, but I just want to take a moment to shill Getting Things Done as an amazing meta-system.

It's not obvious to me how GTD generates systems. Could you elaborate here?

The process I have in mind for GTD is: "notice some problem -> capture -> accumulate into projects -> spawn a new system." Not quite exactly a meta system, but is a system that applies to all aspects of life and can help you decide which new systems to spawn.