“Method vs System” discussion

I just finished watching a video collaboration of Carie Harling en Lauren on Youtube (definitely check it out) with the heading “Method vs System”. They talk about it in relation to the BJ Method. Basically it’s about if the word method and system are interchangeable. Are they the same thing or are they two different things? And how do you define it? I’ll link to both their videos here and here so that you can go and see what they have to say about this. I found it very interesting to hear their points of view and I got inspired to share my initial thoughts about this.

In short, I’ve always thought that the system is the “what” and the method is the “how”. I looked up the definition of both words on google. What I read, in my opinion, fits in with what I think:

System: a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.

Method: a particular procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one.

For example, the system would be what I’m using, basically the tools. This could be just one planner or multiple planners and notebooks for different categories of my life, or even something electronic! This could also mean the different sections in my planner – monthly, weeklies, notes, reference, finance etc. All these parts work together to form my planner system or organisational system

For me, the method is about how I input information, and how the different parts work together. Am I colour coding, or using bullet points, or stickers? Am I putting tasks and appointments together or separating them? The procedures or concepts, for example, following the GTD concept of doing a brain-dumping monthly or daily, or doing weekly reviews. When I think of the word method, it brings to mind things like Franklin Covey, Bullet Journal, and GTD. I’m sure there are many more methods out there for planning and organisation. I believe that it is possible to use a mash-up of established “methods” and one doesn’t have to stick strictly to one particular method and it’s recommended tool. So one could choose to use the Bullet Journal method and incorporate it in a system that uses multiple notebooks (or digital tools), and add colour coding instead of using only the one notebook which the creator of the method recommends.

Most importantly, although they may have separate meanings or definitions, I think that the one needs the other to exist or work well. So the “method” is how the “system” works together, but a “method” can not work well without a good “system” in place and vice versa. For example, say that I am using the GTD method and I’m using the concept of capturing information. I need an “inbox”. In my system, I could decide to use a notebook as my inbox or capture tool. However, if I don’t keep the notebook with me at all times, or I don’t use it, then the method will fail because I’m failing to capture information and therefore forgetting to get things done. Perhaps using my phone would be a better capture/inbox tool as it is with me at all times.

Similarly, failing to move items from the inbox into the appropriate places of your planner (if that’s how your system is set up) would also make the method fail. So we see that ones behaviour or habits have an influence on ones system and the method one is using. Sometimes the system and the method is fine, but your habits or behaviour is sabotaging you. Or perhaps the system and/or method that you’ve chosen doesn’t fit in with your habits, behaviour, personality or lifestyle. If your method involves lots of stickers or colours but you’re unable to focus because of it or you can’t carry all the colour pens and stickers with you, or if your system involves just one book but it feels overwhelming and you can’t focus on the information because your brain can’t handle everything in one place, then it won’t work for you. Therefore, my opinion is that your habits/behaviour is an important (if not essential) factor in bringing your system and method together to either work well or not. 

I hope I’ve been able to communicate clearly my thoughts on the matter. What do you think? It would be interesting to hear more opinions and views on this topic. Many thanks to Carrie and Lauren for coming up with the topic! 


2 thoughts on ““Method vs System” discussion

Add yours

  1. I think you’ve explained it well. And I agree with how you describe it. My problem isn’t the system- I generally know what I like and what works for me. I may cycle through different versions of my system depending on current needs, but it generally stays the same.

    My problem is related to the method. I use a couple of Bullet Journal-style set-ups and have pulled a lot from GTD. My problem is that I’ve never been able to fully establish and consistently follow a planning routine. I feel like I’m getting closer to getting there, but I’m not there yet.

    Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Thank you Michelle! And sorry for the late reply. I also have problems with consistency. I was really hoping to get that sorted this year. Good luck with your journey! 🙂


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