Creating Systems Out Of Goals

October 21, 2020
Sarah Corner
Designer & Animator

When we consider the flaws in our design habits, several items might immediately come to mind. Perhaps we keep naming our files, or perhaps we’re even more chaotic than that (we’re looking at you, asdfghkjllkjgh.jpeg). Perhaps we never title our layers, or keep adding new useless additions to the type system that eventually, down the line, need deleting and replacing.

Whatever the case, these habits aren’t the end of the world, but they can lead to time-consuming tasks in the future. It might take us five minutes to find a lost, misnamed file, but perhaps those five minutes are spent in a panic six minutes before a client meeting. In the words of Parks & Rec, perhaps it’s time to treat yo future self by not being so chaotic the next time you name a file.

Reminding yourself to treat your files, layers, and type systems with the proper attention they need is what we can call a system. If this structure persists day in and day out until it eventually becomes habitual, this system will stick and continue to improve the flow of your daily design habits.

But what if the flaw you want to fix isn’t a habit? What if you really want to redesign your portfolio site? Or learn that program you’ve been meaning to pick up? Deciding that you want to finish this task by the new year isn’t enough, and this is what we can call a goal. Sure, you might meet this deadline, but after having published your new site or become adept at Webflow, checking off these items on your list of goals doesn’t mean that you’ll continue to update your site or even use Webflow. 

In a video by self-help influencer, Rowena Tsai, we are directed to James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, in which goals are described as “a result that you want to achieve; a system is a process that leads you to those results.” When we use goals to launch ourselves onto the trajectory of the oh-so desirable systems, we are able to keep momentum, pace, and stability for the long run.

At the end of a project, we may go back and rename all of our layers for the ease of hand-off and consider it done, but this doesn’t change the habit we made of misnaming our layers in the first place. In other words, your file may look neat and tidy in the end, but for the past several hours, you’ve checked the hide, un-hide button seven times on Group 275 in your Adobe XD file. Better luck next time.

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” — Atomic Habits, James Clear

It isn’t enough to check off big goals. 

We need to consider what comes after before beginning on our individual paths. Here at Halftone, we’ve established individual trajectories to improve the overall development of the team and ourselves in ways that can continue to be in effect after the initial goal is complete.

ClickUp task interface

Our systems begin with checklists of small checkpoints on a larger-scale timeline that are funneled through a progress bar that differs depending on the project. Every checkpoint on the list begins as an inactive To Do and, when we begin working on it, we move it to In Progress. These items are visible to the entire team through ClickUp, our current productivity app of choice. 

As each checkpoint cascades into the completed section on the progress bar, the task’s deadlines give us ample consideration for the amount of time we have left and how long it has been since we started the project. Transparency on our individual projects has helped us recognize opportunities for collaboration, when to reach out, and where our projects are going ahead of time.

But these, dear reader, are part of our broader spectrum of projects. The grand scheme of completing a project is, ultimately, a goal, but the system we’ve implemented to complete those goals has evolved by category whether it be a website or an animation, etc. 

If meeting client deadlines is a repeatable goal, then to save time in this repetitive process, efficient workflow must be established. Whatever your line of work, it is always valid and important to pave the path of a system with goals.