How to Save Time Through Systems Thinking

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with studying success.
If you were to ask the average person what separates the successful from the rest, what would you hear?
You’ll hear explanations like:

  • Luck
  • Hard work
  • Passion

All those matter of course, but I’m not a fan of concepts I can’t see. How can you measure luck or how passionate someone is?
I believe the secret to success is leverage. (it’s a physics term).
Imagine if you had to lift a heavy 200lb rock. You’ll have to put in substantial effort to lift it off the ground.
Or you could build a lever that helps you move the rock.
Same result, but the rock moves with substantially less effort.
That’s what leverage means in business.

  1. How can you find ways to get more results, while putting in less effort?
  2. How can you maximize your existing resources?  (time, money, energy, attention)
  3. How can you use other people’s resources? (time, money, energy, attention)

One of the best examples of leverage is to develop systems.
I run two multi-million dollar companies, this blog, I’m always traveling, and I seem to find the time to maintain my fitness / personal goals.
What’s the secret sauce?
Ok, not really.
It’s a combination of teams and systems thinking.
Whenever I have a goal in life, I’ll create a system to achieve.
Whenever I have a problem in life, I’ll create a system to eliminate it.
Why am I so obsessed with systems?

  • Reduce human error and mistakes
  • Less day-to-day decision making required
  • Get more work done, which means I make more money
  • It takes less time to get things done – this means more time to enjoy life

It’s insane to think that I can spend one hour to build a system, and it can end up saving me hundreds of hours for the rest of my life.
Some examples from my life:

1. This blog uses a ton of marketing automation

My systems are working as soon as you sign up for the email list.
You’ll get a series of useful emails, and I’ll ask you to subscribe to my various social media channels.
I also promote useful tools I believe in such as STM, Adplexity, Voluum, and different affiliate networks.
This was built 2 years ago. Not only am I sharing useful information, but it brings in thousands of dollars each month in passive income.
Imagine how much work it would take for me to email every person individually.

2. My personal finances

I haven’t paid a late bill in years. I spent a few hours to automate everything.
Compare that to someone who has to check their mail, write out their checks, and send it.
The less time I spend working on my finances means the more time I can spend researching the the big wins.

3. Health / Fitness

Everything is on autopilot.

  • My assistant coordinates my workout schedules with my personal trainer
  • My personal trainer already has each workout planned. I just show up and put in work.
  • My meal delivery company send fresh and healthy meals each month.

This is an advanced system because it took a lot of time and money to build.
But years ago I meal prepped my food twice a week. (There are different levels to systems).
I’m going to walk you through how I setup a simple system in my personal life.
Think of a beautiful system like a machine.
It takes time to build and set it up.
But once it’s running, it’s working without you.

How to Build a System For Any Part of Your Life

systems 101 how to build systems

Here’s the framework for a system.
It’s super simple.

  • The input is the resources you need
  • The process is what you do to the resources
  • The output is your goal, the end result of your system
  • Feedback is the method for changing the system as needed

My approach to systems building is simple as well.

  1. Define the goal
  2. Figure out the 80 / 20
  3. See if there’s a bottleneck
  4. Design the processes
  5. Tweak and improve the system

The easiest way is to show you an example from my personal life.
Last year I had had a goal of drinking more water.
(I’m excited to show you some business systems I use in the future post. But I think it’s a ton easier to teach systems thinking using a personal example that everyone can relate to.)
There are a LOT of reasons why you should drink more water, but here are the reasons that were important to me:

Also it’s a super simple task – you wanna focus on the easiest things possible to systemize.
Don’t worry about automating campaign launches right now.
Focus on something super simple to get you started.
I wanna show you how systems thinking can improve something as simple as drinking water daily.
Let’s walk through my process.

#1 Define the Goal

I wanted to drink more water – but what’s important is to know why you’re doing it.
The pain of not drinking enough water was causing me a few problems like:

  • Sometimes I’d feel tired and fatigued throughout the day
  • I couldn’t make good decisions due to foggy thinking
  • I’d get headaches sometimes that meant I couldn’t focus
  • I’d occasionally get painful muscle cramps in the gym / BJJ, which is a sign of dehydration

If you never had any of these problems, you wouldn’t have any reason to drink more water.
You’d have trouble staying on track with your goal because there’s no pain.
A big part of setting up a system is the initial problem – if there’s no problem, what are you trying to solve?
If I never got headaches or fatigue, I wouldn’t have any pain that drives me to build the system.
So now I had a well-defined goal, what’s next?

2. Figure out the 80 / 20

80 20 rule 2
If you don’t know what 80 / 20 means, here’s a quick explanation:
80% of your results come from 20% of your actions.”
It comes from an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. He was researching and found that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
Then one day he was gardening and he found that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pods.
It’s now a common idea in business that “80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients”.
This is what people mean when they say “What’s your 80/20?”
They mean “What’s the 20% of your input that gives you 80% of your results?”

80/20 Example: Muscle Building

Let’s say your goal was to gain more muscle. The 80 / 20 would be exercise and diet.
80% of your results come from regular exercise and a solid diet.
If you wanna build muscle, you should focus on those because they have the most leverage.
There are a ton of things you could focus on when you try to build muscle:

  • Gym clothes
  • Supplements
  • Personal trainers
  • Special workout plans
  • Performance enhancers
  • Reading forums, books, ebooks etc.
  • Waiting until you find the “perfect” workout plan

Those things cost a lot + take up a lot of time.
They don’t help much when it comes to muscle building.
You wanna focus on the basics – lift weights 3x per week and eat a ton of food.
That’s all you’ve gotta do to get started and get 80% of the results.
The 80 / 20 for my goal isn’t too complicated, I need to find a way to drink more water.
The hard part about drinking water is actually remembering to do it + tracking if you’ve drank enough. That’s the 80/20 right there.

3. What are the Bottlenecks?

A bottleneck is anything that prevents you from achieving your goal.
Here are the bottlenecks I had:

  1. It was a pain to keep track of how much water I had left to drink to hit my goal. I wanted to drink a minimum of 2 liters of water a day.
  1. It was annoying and unproductive having to keep refilling a glass of water throughout the day.

For the first bottleneck I had a small glass that I kept refilling throughout the day. And every time I drank a glass I would check off this app.
That is such an inefficient process.
I’d forget to tick it off or sometimes my phone would be in another room.
I also had a drink bottle, but sometimes or my drink bottle would be in the dishwasher so I’d use something else.
Also my drink bottle wasn’t the right size, and sometimes I couldn’t remember if I’d refilled it enough times.
Now that I know what’s stopping me from achieving my goal, I can create a system.

4. Design the Processes

Here’s what I came up with for a process:

  1. I calculated how much water I needed to drink a day, and I bought a water jug that size.
  2. I fill it up every morning and then I drink it throughout the day.
  3. If the water jug is empty at the end of the day, I’ve hit my goal.

But there’s still a problem with this system.
It is a pain in the ass to fill the water up every morning. I have to get the water filtered, and then fill it up.
It takes a long time, and sometimes I’ll have a drink of water before I get around to filling up the jug.
So what did I do?
I bought 7 water jugs.
It’s a major time sink standing there filling up 7 massive water jugs, so what did I do?
My maid comes once a week and her task is to fill all 7 jugs up.
In the morning I just grab one and start drinking (here’s the jugs I use).
So my process every day only consists of this:
Grab a jug and start drinking until it’s finished.

5. Tweak and improve the system

Hey not bad right?
But I’m always optimizing.
I was visiting my friend Thanh’s condo and saw he had one of these.
drink more water from machine
When I’m in New York I’m going to set up a system to auto deliver water to my place once a month.
Thanks for the idea Thanh!
So now that I’ve got the system set up, let’s look back on what it was like before the system.
Before System

  • Regular headaches and cramps when working out
  • Only drink when I’m thirsty (thirst is a major sign of dehydration – you should drink before you get thirsty)
  • Low energy levels
  • Cups of water near my laptop (not good)

After System

  • Feel much better every day
  • Increased energy levels
  • Skin looks good
  • Don’t get sick as often
  • Don’t even think drinking water – it just happens
  • Can workout + train BJJ a lot harder

How long did it take me to set up this system?
10 minutes – Thinking time to decide how to systemize it
10 minutes – Ordering 7x jugs on Amazon Prime
5 minutes – Training my maid to fill all jugs each week
Total: 25 minutes
For a one-off investment of maybe an hour, I get a ton of health benefits, more energy, look better, and feel better.
And guess what? This this a system that will last me for the rest of my life, and also benefit everyone else in my household.
That’s a good investment.

What The System Looks Like


You can make up diagrams like this in or you can draw them by hand (here are some tips on drawing better if you’re not that flash).
I like this phase of the process – you can see problems arise before you even test the system.
Sit back and have a think about your system when you’ve drawn out the model.

  1. Can you see any problems?
  2. Will this work in the real world?
  3. Can you streamline any of the phases?

Applying Systems to Other Areas of Your Life

I use systems in every area of my life.
Here are some examples of things that I systemize so I don’t have to think about them.

Use Systems Thinking to Supercharge Your Life

I wanted to show you how my mindset works with something you can easily relate to.
A system for drinking more water is easy, and that’s why I wrote this post.
You wanna start with systems for things that are too easy to fail at.
It’s kinda weird for me to write this post because it’s just how I think now.
It’s forgivable to make mistakes, but if something keeps going wrong every day, it’s your fault.
Take a step back from being ultra busy today.
Think about one thing in your life that annoys you.
Is there a system you can build to solve it?

You may also like

                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

I Send
My Best Stuff
Through Email

                 I’m obsessed with everything marketing, business, and productivity.

Whenever I come across a knowledge bomb, I’ll share it with you in email? Interested? Sign up below.

You're 1-step away from exclusive content and cheat sheets

By clicking 'Free Instant Access', you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin