Eliminate, Automate, Delegate

Do you find yourself busy but not productive? Overworked and underutilized? Do you find yourself stretched too thin? If so, you might be doing a lot of things without accomplishing much.

Here’s a framework I am proposing to think about your work. I call it Eliminate, Automate, or Delegate. It’s not a novel idea, but here’s my perspective nonetheless. Ideally, you want to be doing things that only you can do. The things that shouldn’t be done at all should be eliminated from your inventory of things.

For the things that you do yourself that may or may not be high-value, but you’re still the best person to do it, you’re blocking time for it and/or automating it. By automating things, I don’t mean to suggest that things get done by themselves. It’s just that you’ve set up recurring reminders for those things in your trusted system (calendar and/or list manager) so that you don’t have to think about them until the time it needs to get done.

For instance, I review my work commitments every week. I’ve set aside time for it in my calendar and it happens every weekend. During this hour of review, there are certain actions I do to review my projects, which shows up in my list manager because I’ve set it up that way.

Checklists are a great example of something that is automated. For instance, I have a travel checklist for when I am going away for a weekend trip, and another travel checklist for my business trips. These lists ensure that I have everything I need for my trip and I’m not forgetting anything.

When you’re not the best person to do something (and you could do it) and it’s not the best use of your time (especially if it needs to be done regularly), it’s time to delegate it to others.

Here are some benefits to thinking about your work in this fashion:

  • Thinking about your work in these terms brings greater clarity into your work, as to the high-value things that only you can do, while you eliminate, automate, or delegate the rest of the things — not to mention the time and attention you save from not doing those things. For instance, in my work, the high-value things include doing creative work (writing drafts for this weblog), which only I can do. I can’t eliminate it or delegate it to someone else.

  • Whatever activity you choose to do, you’re always choosing time or money. Invest in money, not time. You can always make another dollar, but you can’t make another minute. If/when someone else is better suited to do the work (for example, using a virtual assistant to book travel tickets), then by not delegating the work to them, you’re doing a disservice to their talents as well as a disservice to yourself. Instead, use that time for more high-value work that only you can do.

  • The benefit of automating things is that you don’t have to keep reminding yourself to do it because you’ve parked it in your trusted system, and it shows up on the day it needs to be done. This is, of course, assuming that you review your system every day/week. The idea is that you’ve already thought about what needs to be done and when. Then, it’s simply a matter of doing them at the right time. This goes back to thinking and doing at different times.

Here is how to put this framework into action in your own life. Start by looking at everything you do in your life. What are the high-value activities in your life that only you can do? I know for me, it’s doing the creative work and the consulting work. For more on this, read my piece on getting work done.

What do you find yourself doing every week/month that you can do that you think others might be better suited for? Case in point, this could be doing light admin work that could be delegated to a virtual assistant, such as booking tickets, doing research for future travel, or speaking to customer service on your behalf.

Or, it could be something that others may do better than you, which is why we have experts. For instance, I don’t want to do my own accounting as I have neither the motivation nor the skills to do that work. Besides, I am happy to delegate it to my accountant since they are the “content” experts who would do a much better job than I could ever do. Other examples of experts include (but not limited to) a designer, web developer, editor, attorney, etc. as part of my business team.

When you have a complete inventory of things in front of you, look at what can be eliminated. Use the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process to come up with your final list of things. Think at what can be automated or delegated. Ideally, you want to be doing (the high-value) things (or not) that only you can do, while you automate or delegate the rest to your future self or to others. Of course, you’ll need a Trusted System to keep track of all your commitments.

When you find yourself doing something more than once (that only you can do), the answer is to automate. Here are some ideas for the same:

  • I review my monthly subscriptions/services once every month to evaluate if I want to keep using them. I have them scheduled in such a way that I have buffer time in case I want to cancel the subscription without having my card charged. I have automatic bill pay set up such that my credit card bills get charged (and paid) for those subscriptions automatically on the same day every month.

  • I’ve set up recurring reminders to call those who I want to keep in touch with every few weeks. Of course, only the most important relationships belong to this list, which is why it’s a short list.

  • I review my projects on a weekly basis. I have this set up as a recurring event in my calendar so that I know time is blocked every weekend (unless I am traveling, in which case I do it on another day).

  • I review my Waiting-for list of emails once a week to check on who I am waiting to hear back from. If/when I’ve heard back from them, I remove them from this list.

  • I schedule updates in Buffer once every couple of weeks as part of my social media strategy, and I have a recurring reminder in my list manager to make sure I do.

  • I use my phone to set recurring time-sensitive reminders such as taking medication every x days/weeks, etc. I also use it to keep track of things I’ve accomplished each work day. You can learn why keeping track of what you’ve accomplished is important.

  • I review upcoming birthdays of my friends/family for the following week in my calendar, and I write and schedule email greetings on the weekend in my email application to ensure emails are sent to them automatically on the day of their birthday.

  • All my calendar events have a default reminder time of 10 minutes before the event. This ensures I don’t forget my phone meetings. For physical meetings, I set up reminders of 30 minutes to an hour (or more), depending on how long it would take me to reach the meeting location. When I have a flight to catch, I set a 2-hour reminder to leave for the airport so I have time to travel to the airport, check-in, etc.

These are just a few of the examples of how I automate things using recurring reminders.

I hope this piece gives you some ideas for eliminating, automating, and delegating things to others in your life. When you leverage your talents well, it’s in the best interest of both you and the person you’re giving the work to. And by not doing it, you would be doing a disservice to both yourself and to others. You are robbing others of the work they are better suited for while also robbing yourself of your talents that would otherwise take your valuable time and attention.

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