How Good is Your System? Part II

Carl Sandburg, the poet, once said that “time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

In my column a couple weeks ago, I wrote “you are as good as your system—your daily and weekly routine, cadence and regime.” This column is a continuation of that point of view.

Several years ago, I worked for a highly disciplined supervisor. He was a son of German immigrants and had gone to some of the nation’s well-known schools. In one of my casual exchanges, I happened to say to him “too much going on…can’t keep up with it all.” He looked at me and had a quick retort “does not look like your system is working for you.”

I wanted to say to him that “I don’t have a system,” or at least a deliberately built system. Little did I realize, then, that a simple comment by him would trigger a long striving on my part to build, revise, and scale my system in the coming years. In this column, I share certain important tenets of my system as a reference point—not because it is better or superior, but because it works for who I am.

  1. The Sleeping Part: The foundation of my system resides on top of my sleep pattern. Arianna Huffington, who has attained a modern day sage status, has become an evangelist for adequate sleep and I have read much of what she written on this topic. I need a good eight hours of sleep at night. A good night’s sleep defines my productivity, stamina and attention span during the day. I go to bed fairly early and get up early, I mean really early.


  1. The Fundamentals: The fundamentals for me include eating, sleeping, meditation and exercise. I have the same breakfast each morning and I rarely deviate. I have the same item for lunch each day. I try my best to not have any alcoholic drinks during the course of the week, because that impacts my sleep pattern which in turn impacts my productivity the next day. On Saturday evenings, I try and cook for the family. Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, had an experience with meditation that was noteworthy for me. Marc Benioff has introduced meditation at Salesforce and he accrues its benefit to the health of the company and its employees. I was introduced to an approach to meditation a few years ago and that has proven to be immensely helpful to me. At the JDA Bracknell, UK office, I have noticed a room with a sign “contemplation room,” and I believe that is a good start for us. My exercise routine tends to be around activities on weekends—biking, hiking or yoga. I try and get an exercise routine in sometime around Wednesdays, to provide a mid-week boost.


  1. The Calendar: The weekly cadence defines who I will be: I switch off on Fridays at 7 pm and do not work on Saturdays, I call it my “internet sabbath.” I work all Sundays and have since I joined the workforce in the early 90s. I prefer doing 30-minute meetings, stay open for 8-minute meetings that allow for a meaningful quick connect on an important topic. I love workout sessions on broader topics that last 2-4 hours. I abhor 1-hour meetings. For scheduled meetings, I seek material 48 hours in advance and that allows for both parties to make the most of the time. I make it to meetings on time as I believe when meetings perennially start late in a company, it says a lot about the culture. I follow something that I have developed called “The LSM Principle.” L stands for Leadership which is all about people, S stands for Strategy and is about measured risk infusion, M stands for Management and is about relevant metrics. My weekly calendar is driven by the right balance across those three.

My job requires me to travel at least three weeks in a month. As a father of two young kids, and a husband, I have demands at home. While at home, I make it a point to drop my sons off to school and I do not take calls during that special time.

A willing, acknowledged, deliberate effort to construct and work a system allows me to cope with the various facets of life that come at me.

A system should always be in an evolutionary state. While aspects such as my sleep routine and fundamentals could be rigid, even those evolve. If you are a high achiever, a take-life-as-it-comes approach is not an ideal mechanism.

Thoreau rightfully said, “it is not enough to be busy, so are the ants, the question is what are we busy about?”

With that, I leave you to think through—what keeps you busy?

  2 Comments   Comment

  1. Girish, great article. I appreciate your leadership here, as well as you making your family and kids a priority when you aren’t traveling. Youtube has lots of other daily routines of the super successful for folks to check out. Best advice…early to bed, and early to rise! And since health is a priority for a long life, I get my workouts done first thing in the morning every day so I don’t have an excuse later like “I’m busy” or “things got in the way”. That system works very well for me!

  2. Michelle Eisenberg

    Interesting read in which you describe that having a system as a reference point (weekly routine, cadence and regime) allows you to remain focused and productive. Your belief is that the ‘taking life as it comes’ approach is not an ideal mechanism. How and why this ‘system’ would allow keep the brain and energy levels at peek condition is plain to see. The system essentially allows you to fill up your virtual cup right to the top with energy (both mental and physical) and then spending every bit of that energy on carefully planned tasks: ones that lead to creativity, results and emotional fulfilment. This includes planned family time. What makes it so effective, in my view, is that it allows you to remain in control.

    I found this fascinating. I wholeheartedly agree that this ‘system’ is excellent. What however does that say about the ‘female high-achiever’?

    Your blog made me reflect on my own ‘system’. It is true that I try to keep to a healthy routine but as a mother of two wonderful girls aged 13 and 10, there is a big element of unpredictability in my life. I often work into the night and long ago mastered the art of negotiating contracts from my ‘car office’. Like me, many women with successful careers remain partially or wholly responsible for the unpredictable needs of the home. For example, your child suddenly remembers he has a last minute project for school due the next day or in need of a costume for book-day, your teen’s broken heart that needs nursing, home-work support, a bad night terror…note that I am not including housework and ‘routine tasks’ as let’s assume that these can be outsourced. There are many unpredictable elements to a family life i.e. we have to ‘take it as it comes’.

    So that lead me to some interesting questions: many women with families who are unable or unwilling to exclude the ‘unpredictable’ parts of life… 1. In order to reach their absolute top potential, do they need to, in order to have an effective system? Or 2. Are they simply Rock-Stars for managing to reach high achievements with the all the ‘chaos’ around them?

    Thanks for allowing me to reflect.

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