What is the Difference Between a Process and System?

JT - “ Watch the little things; a small leak will sink a great ship”

One thing I am grateful for are the systems and processes in my life. They make my life easier and help me continue to flow with life. As a CS on Extended DISC, it also helps me function more effectively and efficiently. However, there were times in my life where I didn’t trust myself enough to keep doing what I was doing and follow the systems I had in place. Subsequently, today I wanted to share with you –

  • What’s a Process?
  • What is a System?
  • What’s the Difference Between a System and a Process?
  • Why Build Systems and Processes in Your Personal and Professional Life?

What’s a Process?

If we look towards the definitions of a process, a few are –

  • “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” ~ Google
  • “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result” ~ Merriam-Webster and Collins Dictionary, and
  • “a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result:” ~ Cambridge Dictionary

What is a System?

Within our personal and professional life, there are many definitions on systems, including –

  • “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole” ~ Google
  • “A system is a way of working, organising, or doing something which follows a fixed plan or set of rules” ~  Collins Dictionary
  • “a set of connected things or devices that operate together” ~ Cambridge Dictionary
  • “A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system. …A system must be managed. The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We cannot afford the destructive effect of competition.” ~ W. Edwards Deming
  • “A system is a whole that consists of parts, each of which can affect its behaviour or its properties.” and “Systems behaviour is determined by the interaction of the parts, not the parts taken separately.” ~ Dr Russell Ackoff

What’s the Difference Between a Process and a System?

As you can see above, a process is the ordered steps to get something completed with an end result (sometimes referred to as the ‘how’). And then all of those steps together create the system – e.g. a purposeful, thriving and healthy human (sometimes referred to as the ‘what’).

An example of one of the processes in my life is paying my expenses. My process is –

  1. Expense arrives in the post or through my e-mail,
  2. Check payment date and make sure it aligns to what is in my calendar and self-management system,
  3. Ensure reminder is set in calendar to pay the expense,
  4. File expense in my “expenses to pay folder” (I have one for my business and one for personal),
  5. Pay expense on the due date,
  6. Record payment and/or reconcile payment into the financial software system,
  7. Place receipt in “enter expenses / receipts folder”,
  8. File receipt in current financial year box, and
  9. Return to step 1 for next expense payment.

The above process is quite straight forward and could be called “Paying my expenses on time process”. Each step in the process has some time between them also. I have been doing this for many years now and occasionally have expenses fall through the cracks, however it is rare and definitely not as much as when I started (which has saved me quite a bit of money over time).

There are obviously other processes in my life and some are a little more complex and require process mapping (however, will leave that for another day!).

Why Build Systems and Processes in Your Personal and Professional Life?

There are many reasons for developing systems, including – 

  • Increasing personal effectiveness and self-management – time and energy gets lost deciding what to do next (i.e. procrastination),
  • Increasing the use of your energy (i.e. efficiency) – energy gets wasted moving between tasks (i.e. phone calls require a different energy to e-mails),
  • Decrease the number of interruptions – when you have systems in place, you know what needs to be completed and can block off your time and then decrease interruptions during that time.
  • Increased focus on priorities – do you ever do more than is required or maybe even waste time completing extra things (i.e. “I’ll just do this then….”)?
  • Increased clarity – by having systems in your business you are clearer on the next step as you have invested time in creating the system and only put the essentials there.
  • Increased sense of control – when you have systems, you start to identify what you can control and what you cannot and this is powerful place to live your life from.
  • Decreasing problems or challenges – by putting systems in place, you can deal with small problems or challenges before they become bigger ones, which then decrease the number of problems or challenges you have.

Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to the difference between a process and a system. If you have any questions, please let them below 🙂

If you are ready to take yourself on the adventure of getting to know yourself (your true self), why not join the Toolkit? A place where I share tools, inspiration and ideas to live a courageous and openhearted life.

And you could also see our Notion Templates here and the CANVA Templates for Coaches here.

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