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Systems are Key to Increased Productivity

I got my Bachelor’s degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia.  People often think that the ‘systems’ refers to computer systems, but in fact it refers to large-scale systems.  I put my degree to good use working in Corporate America for 3 years before Brett was born.  When I left the work force to be a stay at home mom, several people told me I was wasting my education.

Systems Engineering Degree

I have to laugh at that.

My life is one huge large-scale system.  From the farm to the business to the garden to the house to the children to my husband, all aspects of my life have so many moving and changing parts, that it is all very interwoven.  A change in any piece of that framework has implications for all the other pieces.

One of the main reasons I am able to accomplish as much as I do is because I’ve set systems in place for how everything should work.  That doesn’t always mean that all the people in my life always follow all the systems I’ve set in place, but for the most part it’s easier to follow the system than it is to do something else.  Especially because I strive to make the systems as efficient as possible.

People often ask me if I have a lot of documentation for my systems.  I should, but I don’t.  (This drives Jim crazy – he spent three years as a trainer in Corporate America and he hates the fact that we don’t have written documentation for our systems.)

In my ideal world, I would write down all my systems and put together an entire manual.  And I may do that at some point in the future and turn it into a book.  But the reality is that I simply don’t have the time right now.  While written system documentation would be helpful because it would all be written down in one place for anybody to follow, the reality is, my systems are always changing.

And my systems are always changing because life is always changing.  I have to constantly revisit my systems to see what needs to be modified and improved.  And taking the time to improve my systems is more important than taking the time to document those systems.  Especially because I am interacting with my children and employees when I make those changes.

I think that everyone should have systems in place in their life.  Is it time consuming to set up the systems?  It can be.  But the time spent developing those systems will bring huge time savings down the line.

Let’s talk about some practical systems for the house.

Washing Dishes. In our home, all the dirty dishes go to the left of the sink and all the clean dishes go to the right.  All the silverware, plates, bowls, and glasses go directly into the dishwasher without being rinsed off (I’d rather hand wash a few afterwards that didn’t get clean than to rinse all of them beforehand).  All of our big knives* go closest to the sink to be cleaned first. The wooden cutting boards get stacked.  Pots get filled with water to soak if they are not being washed right away.  Big glass and stainless bowls also get stacked.  Cast iron* gets placed on the stove so it can be washed and oiled after everything else has been done.

I’d love to say that everything gets washed right away.  But it doesn’t.  We do a lot of harvesting, processing, and preserving from our huge garden.  This not only uses tons of pots and bowls, but it can also lead to quite a mess.  Having a system for where everything goes helps us to save counter space and keep the washing dishes system functioning really well.  It also gives me a way to divide the washing if there is a ton of it. (e.g. Indigo you wash the cutting board stack, Fletcher you wash the pots, Greyden you wash the cast iron, and Jade you wash the bowls).  And don’t forget the fact that you know where to look for that dirty knife you can’t find!

Systematic Dirty Dishes

Laundry.  We have two laundry rooms in our home (I’m blessed, I know!).  The children mostly use the upstairs washer and dryer*.  There was a lot of bickering going on because people would start their laundry and then abandon it.  The system I created now has every child having 2 laundry baskets.  I took a permanent marker* and wrote their names all over their laundry baskets.  When a child starts a load of laundry, they have to leave their laundry basket in the laundry room in front of the machine their laundry is in.  The rule goes that if you want to start a load of laundry, you have to “advance” everyone else’s laundry in the system.

So it would look like this:

  • Jade starts a load of laundry (using our laundry soap, of course) in the washing machine and puts her “Jade” laundry basket in front of the washer.  Then she goes to the soap room.
  • Hewitt finishes feeding the baby goats and wants to start his laundry.  Jade’s wash cycle is finished, so he puts her laundry into the dryer, starts it, and moves the Jade laundry basket in front of the dryer.  He then puts his laundry in the washing machine and puts his “Hewitt” laundry basket in front of the washer. He goes back to the barn and starts cleaning out a stall.
  • Emery finishes making all the morning bagels and breads.  He comes back to the house and wants to start his laundry.  Both the washer and dryer are full but finished.  He takes Jade’s laundry out of the dryer and puts it in her basket.  He then puts the basket on top of her bed (on top of the bed means it is clean).  He moves Hewitt’s laundry from the washer to the dryer and moves the Hewitt basket to in front of the dryer.  Then he starts his laundry and puts his “Emery” basket in front of the washer.

Systematic Laundry

Make sense?

The system works really well.  And you may have figured out (as my children did quite quickly) that the person who gets their laundry started first does the least amount of work!

The hard part is for the last person to remember to go back and switch their laundry to the dryer on the same day.  That’s the weakest link in this system.

Those are two of our household systems.  I also blogged about our packing system and podcasted (in detail) about my pantry and food shopping systems if you’re looking for other examples.

Sometimes setting up the system takes money if you have to purchase items like extra laundry baskets*.  But quite often it doesn’t cost any money at all.

The important thing to remember is that setting up systems does always take time – time to create the system, time to train others on the system, time to review the system, and time to improve the system.  But don’t underestimate the amount of time (and money) you will save once the system is in place and everyone has been trained on using it.

With good systems in place, you will find that your productivity soars!

So those are just a few of my systems.  Do you have any systems in place that work really well for you?





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