This is a process to help you be more productive & free up your time – It involves going through your processes and then deciding what you can eliminate, simplify, automate or delegate. In that order.
Building an online business isn’t easy! And anyone who tells you otherwise is a snake oil salesman, monetizing your emotions rather than delivering value.
You might come across the odd success story where someone hit it out of the park on their first attempt, but these people make up less than 1% and are usually extremely lucky – right place, right time sort of situation.
We can’t teach luck but we can teach systems building, tactics and strategies to increase your win ratio.
The best way to optimize your work is to build systems to improve your productivity and one of the best systems to start with is this process.
The steps include:
- Learning how to eliminate unnecessary work
- Simplifying your processes
- Implementing automation into your business
- The art of delegation
Mastering these skills will allow you to work on what matters and moves the needle in your business.
“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash. How’s that for incentive to be effective and efficient?”
― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
The process looks like this.
- If you don’t need to actually do a task and it doesn’t demonstrate any meaningful value, then eliminate it altogether.
- If you can’t eliminate a task but you can find a way to automate all or part of it, do that.
- If a task is necessary and can’t be automated, delegate it.
It’s also arguable that this concept could also benefit from a further step.
This would fit in after we eliminate and before we automate as it’s far easier to automate a simpler process.
These steps will give you your time back that you can then invest in the most important aspects of your work, whether that involves getting more actual work done for customers or investing in your continued education, or you could take that time to improve your lifestyle by taking up a new hobby.
Before you begin working through these steps you first need to sit down and list out all of the internal processes and SOPs you and your business relies on. You can go as granular as you like as this makes it easier for you to see more opportunities for improvement.
Once you have everything listed out you can begin to work through each stage in order, let’s take a look at each one in more detail.
The first part of this system is to work out the importance of your day to day tasks. Find any processes you currently do that aren’t actually necessary or that you do out of habit despite the lack of meaningful results.
I have worked to eliminate some of my email conversations and making the conversation easier to manage by using an ERP tool like Asana.com.
Another example might be following other users on Twitter, you feel like you are getting some followers back but it’s not moving your bottom line.
The same might be true for other marketing tactics you are trying right now that just don’t seem to be working and you are holding on to see if anything changes.
An eCommerce store owner who ships out their own products could decide to use something like Amazon Fulfillment to take over the storage and shipping of products for them.
Then you want to take a look at tasks you do for clients and projects you work on and see if there’s any fat you can cut from the list.
Don’t be afraid of making some bold changes.
Some processes contain hundreds of little micro-processes and tasks, this stage is about cleaning them up.
The best place to start when simplifying is to list out your processes again like before but this time you want to include all of the smaller moving parts under each main process. Then you can get a holistic view of what each process requires as well as being able to see the finer details.
If you already have SOPs (standard operating procedures) then these can form the basis of your list.
If you haven’t built these kinds of systems and SOPs yet then this will help you to create them.
I strongly recommend all businesses and freelancers create business systems and SOPs as soon as possible and then interate them over time, this makes it easier on yourself but also makes it a lot easier to onboard people and delegate responsibilities.
When you are doing a new task for the first time you should be asking yourself, how can I make this easier next time? Especially if it’s a task you are going to be repeating on a routine basis.
My process involves creating each of my SOPs in Asana as a task, each smaller moving part I add as a sub-task underneath and I add any useful notes and links to the description area.
Then whenever I need to work through that process for a new client or project I can duplicate the task and move it to the relevant project area in Asana and begin working through it. I can also assign it to someone else if I have delegated the process out.
Once you have your list it’s time to work through each step and see what could be done differently and more efficiently so it takes less time.
If every part of the process is required that’s fine, but if you have any steps which could be performed more efficiently, you should do so.
One example that made a big impact for me:
When I setup WordPress websites for my own businesses or for clients I am generally using the same settings, plugins, theme and code each time as my start point.
So instead of my process involving all of the steps to set that up, I have an install of WordPress that’s setup how I like it and essentially a blank canvas and when I begin a new project I start by cloning it. That saves me a remarkable amount of time.
Part of simplifying includes automation, because you can also simplify larger processes by automating the smaller parts.
After you eliminate anything that isn’t necessary and simplify your processes it’s time to look at what could be automated.
Granted you might still want to do some social media and I’m not against it, but you might be able to automate certain parts of it. I don’t advocate for complete social media automation as it lacks authenticity and these days it is increasingly difficult to game the systems but automating some of your blog post sharing is definitely a good way to save a few hours here and there.
Maybe you manually create invoices when you could be using Freshbooks or another accounting tool to automate the process including reconciliation.
There are so many tools and SaaS services aimed at automation these days, you would be a fool not to use at least some of them.
Other examples include:
- Expensify – An app for tracking and saving your receipts to save you time when it comes to doing your expenses.
- Email Automation – Automate your email marketing, most people using MailChimp or other autoresponder services aren’t using them to their full potential.
- Booking Forms – When someone submits your bookings form for a consultation call, have it automatically respond with a thank you that shares your Calendly link so they can book a slot. This is also elimination because you no longer have to send them an email manually.
- CRM’s – Use a customer relationship management tool to keep all of your clients up to date. If you go to a networking event, add them as contacts and bulk send personalized emails to follow up.
- eCommerce – If you run an eCommerce store, use follow up automations to follow up with your customers periodically with promotions and related products they might be interested in.
- Onboarding – Automate employee or client onboarding with survey forms, videos and other types of content rather than holding their hands one by one.
- Recurring Tasks – Using a tool like Asana to automatically assign recurring tasks to yourself and your team that need to be addressed on an ongoing basis. This is far better than trying to remember to do it.
Some automation ideas will need a little bit of testing, for example, chatbots are all the rage and people are using them to good effect but sometimes for the small business or individual you might be better off speaking with them personally or at least delegate it to somebody else qualified to help rather than having a bot confuse and annoy them.
Automation is not worth losing conversions and revenue for.
As mentioned above, if you can’t eliminate a process because it’s mission-critical and it’s too nuanced to be automated with the technology currently available then it’s time to look at delegation.
Perhaps you offer a service and are currently the operator in that process, you need to replace yourself with another operator to do the actual work so you can turn your attention to big picture decisions and growing your business.
Delegating doesn’t mean you have to suddenly hire a team and take on the responsibility of feeding several mouthes, you can find freelancers anywhere in the world on a project basis or a virtual assistant to take on recurring tasks you need help with.
If you spend all day every day stuck in the trenches then it’s hard to see what’s happening above ground and plan ahead.
It’s time to get off that hamster wheel.
Of course, not all entrepreneurs want to focus their efforts on scaling and growth hacking, for some, it’s about having a better work-life balance. I fall into the latter category and after reading “Company of One” by Paul Jarvis recently I know I’m in good company.
In the book, Paul talks about the idea of staying small and nimble and knowing what enough looks like.
Why take on more responsibility and stress when your basic needs are met and you don’t really want for the kind of luxuries Kanye and the Kardashians are flaunting.
Being more efficient and productive is more about buying back your time, the most valuable resource you will ever have.
What you choose to do with that time is entirely up to you.
This process can have a massive impact if you are willing to be honest with yourself about the current processes and standard operating procedures you are using and able to think critically about every little detail.
When I discovered this idea, it was a real penny drop moment and I have continued to implement it over the years with everything I do.
While the 4 Hour Workweek is a little dated now as the internet evolves quickly I still recommend this book as introductory reading to people who are new to online business and haven’t yet built any of the necessary systems for success yet.
Tim has come a long way since he published that book and If you don’t fancy reading a book that’s a decade old now (despite some updates) you might still like his podcast and blog where you can get more up to date advice on everything on business, lifehacking, and health, three things that are intrinsically connected.
Hopefully, the above system will get you thinking and help you as much as it helped me. It’s definitely one of the highlight takeaways from the book.
To take things further, when you are done try repeating the process again but this time apply it to your personal life. Thank me later.