The WordPress Wizard Guide to Creating Systems

Building systems is a big part of what I do as a developer, and systems thinking is useful for a whole variety of things. Today a post I wrote on automating your food went live over at the Food Brood site as part of Money Month. I’m taking over the SMART Meals for Busy Cooks group for the next few days and talking about things like using online ordering, avoiding stores, and generally optimizing for habits and health.

So today I thought I’d take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and show you how to create systems for any aspect of your life from scratch.

Why bother with systems?

Systems exist whether you build them or not, and they’re everywhere. You have a system for getting out of bed in the morning, another for getting lunch, and more for every work task you do. You even have one for going to the bathroom.

Some of these systems are so automatic you don’t even really think about them any more. Others are a bit clunkier and they annoy you by being slow. Any type of system can be inefficient.

The main reason for building a system of any sort is to iron out inefficiencies and make it more fun/useful to run. I talk about systems a lot with clients and most of the time I set them up. Here are the steps I use to do that; apply them to your business, your life, whatever.

First, Define

You need to know two things before we can map out your system; the goal and your process.

What are you trying to achieve? This is what you’ll be optimizing towards so it’s important to spare it a moment or ten. No one can define this for you, and different people may have different reasons for running the same systems.

For ease I’m going to use an example I get all the time; WordPress Site Maintenance. Basically the care and upkeep of your WordPress website, which you should ideally be tending to at least once a month.

The goal, in this case, is to get it done as quickly and completely as possible so that you’re protected and things continue to run smoothly but you’re not spending a long time on it.

We also need to jot down the process as it currently exists.

Depending on how long you’ve been performing this routine it could be a well-formed set of tasks or it could be a vague idea of what you’re meant to be doing. Start by jotting down every step you take now to reach your goal, don’t filter it too much just yet. If there’s confusion in there or you’re unsure of some parts it’s completely ok to write that in too.

In my example for Site Maintenance (which I run a lot) these are the steps I might jot down if I was just starting this process;

  • Clear spam
  • Back up site
  • Do updates
  • Take a wander round and make sure everything looks ok
  • Test speed
  • Make sure contact forms still work if I remember
  • Spot check for typos and incorrect details
  • Maybe remember to back up again after all the changes are made

Next, Refine

Now that you have both the desired result and your current steps there are a few quick wins. If you’re taking the same sort of step more than once you can roll it into one single step. If there are areas where you stop to think or are confused or take unnecessary trips? Those can be refined out too. If there’s an order it makes the most sense to do these tasks in, put them into that order.

If there’s anything missing that would accomplish your goal, add that in too.

In my example that could look a little something like this;

  1. Back up site
  2. Clear spam
  3. Do Updates
  4. Test site for contact forms, movable parts, and visually to make sure everything is still in place following updates.
  5. While checking, make sure contact details are up to date and any new content is relevant.
  6. Back up Site again and store that backup
  7. Test site for speed and performance, record scores for later report.

Finally, Automate

Where you can, figure out how to make your new and improved steps as hands-off as possible. Depending on your system there might be entire sets of tasks that can be handled by software, or by someone who isn’t you. You can free up your time with a savvy use of technology if only you know which tasks you’d like to complete.

In my example, using the right sort of hosting takes out the need for that first backup (free daily backups are amazing) and core updates are sometimes handled as well, akismet can handle spam for the most part leaving only a couple of comments to proof before you can just delete the whole lot, and you can set site speed tests to run automatically the day after you’ve completed your maintenance meaning all you need to do is write down the scores.

And voila, more time

For more important things. Whatever form that takes in your life (for me, that’s family. Sleep. More coding.)

Click here to read my guest post on automating your food shop if one of the systems you’d like to optimize is food, and make sure you join the SMART Meals for Busy Cooks group for the rest of the wonderful Money Month content going on in November.