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Balance: Modular Systems

This is part three of the three part series Balance Within Chaos.

On a scale from absolute rigidity to living in constant flux, modular systems are all about finding a happy medium. When systems are rigid, they become useless or even a hindrance as soon as one thing goes wrong or our circumstances change. On the other hand, a complete lack of structure quickly leads to decision fatigue as we’re forced to make every decision consciously without a plan to refer to. The goal is to provide structure and support to our lives in a way that doesn’t limit us in our creativity or our ability to adapt to change.

We don’t have to power through everything that’s difficult. In fact, most things don’t have to be difficult at all.

We all need systems in place to support us, routines or workflows that dictate how things are to be done, in what order, for how long. But those systems must be flexible. And that flexibility relies on how well we understand our systems and the functions they serve. This is why having someone else organize your closet without your input never works, no matter how skilled of an organizer they may be. Without the thorough understanding that comes with being the one to design our own systems, it’s difficult to make adjustments when necessary and the entire system becomes an obstacle that eventually gets pushed to the side.

We have to do it, but we don’t have to do it alone. Having a coach, mentor, or even just a friend along for the ride can be a great help.

Reminder: Keep notes of all this work for future reference. The goal here is to prepare for changes and hiccups in the future and these notes will be your guide!

1. Break down your existing systems and routines

  • I recommend doing this one by one otherwise you risk losing all your structure and exhausting yourself with making so many decisions at once. Give your new or updated systems time to settle and give yourself time to adjust before moving on to updating another one.
  • For each system you can identify, break them down into the smallest steps you can think of.
  • Take a good hard look at your system now broken down. What are you already doing? How are you doing it? What function does each aspect serve? What function or functions does the system as a whole serve?

2. Brainstorm and gather alternative parts

  • The way you currently do things is not the only way to do them. Take some time to consider alternative methods and tools that serve the same functions as the ones you currently use.
  • Create a list or database of all the methods and tools easily available to you as well as the functions they can serve. Include links to websites and additional resources if applicable, and make notes of your personal thoughts on their usage and how well you think they fit you and your lifestyle.
  • If you’re someone who really likes to explore tools and software, it might be best to isolate the activity to this process. Only engage in it when you’re constructing or modifying your modular systems. If you find something at another time, just make a note of it to review the next time you’re updating.

3. Consider alternative combinations

  • Question your current systems. Given the alternatives you’ve now identified, are there better configurations for you based on your current circumstances and needs?
  • Are there any changes you anticipate in the near future that would require adjusting your systems? Use this chance to create a plan.

4. Identify particularly fragile aspects of your system and prepare backups

  • Maybe you rely on an app that doesn’t have the same level of support or reliability as some of the alternatives, or maybe your routine depends on circumstances that are subject to frequent change. Make a note of the things that are most likely to break and have backups ready to go.
  • Especially for tools you rely on heavily, identify the next best one you can use if your preferred one fails for any reason whether temporary or permanent.

Making a habit of Reflection and Adjustment strengthens our understanding of our systems by giving us a chance to evaluate their effectiveness on a daily basis. We have a chance to notice resistance and obstacles more quickly and consider alternatives from the list created above before it causes a big problem or unbalances other parts of our lives.

While reflection is best done daily and weekly, this kind of modular system set-up can be done as needed and with occasional reviews. How often you repeat the process will depend on how often your life circumstances change or on the nature of your work and tools. If in doubt, try a monthly review of your most crucial systems and if you find there’s not much to do, spread them out even more.

There are, of course, long-term benefits outside of just having smooth running systems. Not only will you be prepared to handle changes that might otherwise ruin everything for a short time, but you’ll develop a more flexible mindset and learn to see opportunities of adjustment and improvement everywhere.

We don’t have to power through everything that’s difficult. In fact, most things don’t have to be difficult at all. If we take a moment to step back and think about why something isn’t working, we’ll often find there’s a much easier way to do it.

Photo by Nick Nice on Unsplash


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