Welcome to the eighth instalment of the Tuesday Time-Wasting Tip-Off, a collection of hints and tips that can show you how to shave hours off your workday, shut out unneeded interruptions and increase your productivity by applying simple skills, tools and techniques that you already know.
This time wasting tip-off applies to you if you work in a creative industry that requires some modicum of mental faculty to perform your job. The technique of automating your process, especially if you are a consultant or freelancer, is invaluable for rediscovering lost hours in your day.
Sorry people, but if you are a line worker, shelf stacker, checkout operator, "barista" or other menial labouring job, most of what I say here does not apply directly to your work. The work you do in those kinds of jobs has already been optimized, automated and given to the lowest common denominator. You can still use this technique for your personal life and apply it to aid you to step up, out of your normal routines.
Automate Your Processes As Much As Possible
Call it automation, routinizing, procedurising, or anything other fancy terminology you want, they generally all mean the same. Automating procedures and tasks that you do regularly can save time and give you back hours of your life, it lets you outsource some tasks and chores, and enables you to delegate others to people who are paid less, that can perform the job as well or better, and even faster than you can do it yourself.
If the task is low value, you consider it a chore and it only benefits one or two people, give it to someone else to do. Just be sure to wisely use the time you have reclaimed in a productive and creative manner, which creates and delivers value to yourself and to others.
Automation of a task is achieved by briefly spending time documenting the procedure, optimizing it to be good enough, and removing all but the simplest decisions that require no oversight or management. Laundry, running errands, grocery shopping, vehicle maintenance, book keeping, yearly taxes, house cleaning, pet walking, converting files from one format to another, writing a press release, run-of-the-mill marketing, updating e-mail lists, organizing meetings and gatherings, cold calling, building the latest version of your company’s digital products, and so many more tasks are rich and fertile territory for automation.
Automation can take time to accomplish, but once done, rewards you with even more time. The trick to deciding what to automate is made by determining if it is something, you or someone else must do over and over again, in an almost rote fashion with very little in the way of decision making.
Remember, if you automate as many tasks as you can, you can delegate them, either to a human being or a computer.
No matter where you turn, eventually you are going to find some routine job that you just cannot automate because it requires either too many complex, creative steps or too many decisions. However, before you decide that something cannot be automated, ensure that you really do understand it well enough. If the task that you do repeatedly is not documented somewhere, you most likely do not understand it at all. First learn how to what you need to do, with as much rote memorization as you can, optimize it to be good enough by removing extraneous steps, decisions, creativity or anything that requires feedback from a higher authority, i.e. you, then document the steps thoroughly so that you can teach it to a monkey.
If you have to do something more than two or three times, even if it only takes a few minutes each time, and you know you will most likely be doing it again hundreds of times more on a project or in your life, spend some time documenting, scripting or teaching it and delegating it to someone else.
At Infinite Monkey Factory, my video game development company, I insist that all software developers and creative staff need to automate as much of their day as possible. If they are doing rote mechanical processes, over and over again, they are not doing the job for which they are being paid, instead wasting valuable time and resources doing nothing at all.
When it comes time to building and distributing the latest version of a piece of software, or sending it to the client, other than pushing a single button, no other human interaction with the process should take place unless there is a catastrophic failure. In fact, a human should not even have to push a button to create the current version of the software, it should be done automatically and on a regular basis by a dedicated computer. This philosophy permeates the entire organisation and allows the creative people to create, rather than do menial jobs that are easily outsourced.
Automation cannot work in an environment that is under constant repair and patching. If something keeps breaking, and you keep fixing it, you are not spending time being productive, you are spending time being destructive. Either remove the process, piece of equipment or other problem from the loop so that it cannot fail, or spend the time to correctly fix whatever it is that is breaking.
Ironic, is it not, that a method of automated and routinizing your life can actually help you lead a more interesting and creative life with less routine.