Systems and Procedures: What They Are and Why You Need Both

Mar 20, 2019 | Career Development, Procedures

Systems and procedures both help your office run smoothly. They facilitate stress relief, make your job easier, and allow someone else to do your job with little to no problem if you’re sick, on vacation, or out of the office.

Yet systems and procedures aren’t exactly the same thing. So what’s the difference and why do you need both?

A system is used for accomplishing an entire cycle of something from beginning to end. You use many systems each day, without even realizing it, simply because the process of going through the cycle has become so deeply ingrained in your mind. That’s one of the many benefits of systems – use them enough, and they become second nature.

Think of your morning routine. You may get up, shower, eat, brush your teeth, and drive to work. That’s your system – your way to get from Point A to Point B.

However, your system encompasses many different procedures. You have a procedure for the way you make your oatmeal, a procedure for the way you style your hair, and a procedure for your morning commute. If even one of those procedures doesn’t go as planned (a traffic jam on your usual route, for example), your system may fail.

Systems and procedures are crucial for your admin job, as well. You have a procedure for processing an expense report; you have a system for doing the monthly accounting. A procedure is simply one component of a larger system, and most systems are made up of a series of procedures.

The Anatomy of a Procedure

So what goes into creating an effective procedure? There are a few key things to keep in mind, including:

  • A procedure should be documented. Remember: A hand-written procedure is just as effective as a beautifully typed one.
  • Your procedures need to be consistent. Using a template can help you achieve consistency and structure – especially for handwritten procedures. (You can download a free template at
  • A procedure should be well written, concise, and easy for another person to follow. Ask a co-worker to try to perform the task, based only on your instructions – this will help you identify any missing information in the procedure.
  • A procedures should include bullet-points and images whenever possible for ease of scanning the information quickly and illustrating key points.
  • Focus on command statements rather than full sentences when writing your step-by-step instructions. Keeping your procedure direct and simple will make it easier for others to follow.

The Anatomy of a System

Systems are at the heart of your success as an administrative professional. A system helps you bring calm to the chaos that surrounds you. It is an ordered, proven process that governs actions and creates order. Systems are made up of several (and sometimes many) procedures, forms, checklists, and/or templates.

Some key characteristics of a system include:

  • Boundaries (a start and finish)
  • Interconnectivity (relationships and flow)
  • Patterns that are repeatable
  • Consistent results over and over again

Like a procedure, a system should be easily replicated, and another person should be able to complete all the steps without too much difficulty.

Where Are Systems Most Useful?

Systems are useful for nearly every area in your life, both personal and professional. However, for the administrative professional, there are five main areas where systems can solve some major pain points.

  • Project management
  • Event and meeting planning
  • Travel planning
  • Time and task management
  • Filing (paper and digital)

For example, here is my time and task management system:

    • Record tasks or requests in portable journal or Teamwork, an online project management tool.
    • Enter the handwritten requests in Teamwork when I’m back at my computer.
    • Do a daily review of the tasks or requests via my phone, tablet, and laptop on the Teamwork website or app.
    • Track the tasks or requests via Teamwork.
    • Check off tasks in Teamwork as they’re completed.

When I follow this system, things don’t fall through the cracks. Or if they do, I can immediately pinpoint the reason why.

Creating effective, reliable systems for these areas will greatly reduce the time, effort, and stress that goes into major projects.

At heart, systems and procedures make your job easier and support you and your team. They allow you to go on vacation without worrying about how the work will get done, make it easier for you to delegate tasks to colleagues, and ensure a consistent outcome each time you perform a task.

Although many use the terms interchangeably, systems and procedures are different – and both are required components in your administrative success!

Creating Systems: Your Plan of Action

  • Identify the systems you have in place today.
  • Identify the systems you need to create.
  • Pick one system you’d like to improve or create.
  • Brainstorm what the ideal system would look like for the area you selected.
  • Test it. Fine tune it.
  • Implement your system.
  • Repeat the process until you get all of your systems documented.

Get your office systems put in place in the coming year – download all of the free templates and resources available at!

This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at to find out more. Or to get your 30% discount, email and tell them we sent you.

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