Understanding how to envision and create productive and efficient systems is one of the highest-leverage life skills you can develop. So many failures aren’t so much the result of flawed individuals but of faulty systems.

Take diet and training. No matter how diligently you follow poor systems (methods) for eating and exercising, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the results. But with good systems, you can get fit far faster and easier than you ever thought possible.

The same goes for any other goal and activity in your life, whether it’s getting a job, learning to play the piano, or finding a partner. There are many ways (systems) of going about these things, and some are far more likely to work than others

This helps explain why some people work very hard at goals yet make little progress. Oftentimes they’re pouring all their resources (effort, energy, time, money) into defective systems that have a low probability of success.

Thus, once you’ve formulated a goal, the very next step should be deliberation about the system that’s going to get you there. This isn’t always easy, either—it often requires study, creative thinking, trial balloons—but it’s also the proverbial “aiming the arrow” moment where just an inch of miscalculation can all but guarantee you’ll never hit the target no matter how many attempts you make.

By continually working on your systems in your life, then, you’re continually calibrating your aim, so to speak, allowing you to eventually find and hit the bullseyes again and again. And so, if you want to live an orderly, productive, enjoyable life, yes, you have to be willing to put in the work, but you also have to design systems that can transform raw effort into real results.

It’s also important to consider more than just the factors that can drive growth—training volume, work hours, business referrals, and the like. What often goes unexamined are the factors that most limit advancement, which may not be volume, time, or connections, but instead, insufficient food, mixed-up priorities, or social awkwardness.

Such bottlenecks can be insidious because if you’re unaware of them, you can expend a tremendous amount of effort for very little additional return. Think of it like trying to dig a well with a spoon.