After we have our tasks organized and we understand where our time is going, we can begin the process of reducing our workload to focus on the critical 20%. We do that through careful elimination, automation, and delegation. Actually applying these concepts to chop our task list down to size, however, requires a bit of a mindset shift.
So we’ll start with my favorite technique for making quicker (and, over time, better) decisions.
My main mindset when approaching elimination, automation, delegation, and most decisions is a simple technique I adapted from the Hagakure I call 7 second decision making. The idea is simple: take no more than seven seconds to make a choice. This applies to all but the most critical of decisions. It is a panacea for the analysis paralysis caused by a world of information overload. At first, this will be exceedingly uncomfortable; with practice, however, you’ll notice the inefficient gaps in your day that were lost to the time abyss have vanished. And, as a result, instead of spending 10 hours to complete 2 hours of work, you finish in 2 hours and have the remaining 8 to spend as you wish.
Remember: money and skill both love speed. Wasting time to deliberate which of the eight shows on Netflix you want to watch is stealing from important decisions that you are, in turn, rushing. Not to mention the actual binge watching sessions.
The final kicker is this: recall that our brain’s neural circuitry is honed through repetition. By making more decisions (and thus taking more action), we not only produce more, but we also improve our ability to make decisions. It becomes evident what truly matters and what can be either ignored or quickly decided upon. When we deliberate over everything, then everything takes equal importance in our mind. And that has disastrous ramifications.
Superfluous tasks that don’t help you achieve your target objectives should be immediately eliminated without further deliberation. That is the gold standard. This, of course, is easier said than done; if your to do list is anything like mine, it’s rife with nonsense that people said we had to. We feel guilty about not doing it.
Excess drags us down by devouring mental and emotional energy. And, most crucially, time is a limited and rare resource. You must marshal its uses toward effective ends that are of importance to you. Making progress in seven or seventeen different directions will not yield the same results as investing your efforts toward the areas essential to your work. If you don’t put enough time into your writing, it’s very difficult to hit the critical mass necessary to succeed. This is the same for any area in which you want to achieve a professional level of skill.
Therefore, the most important part of productivity is not the system, nor habits, nor anything else. It is found in eliminating all goals, tasks, and items from your life that fail to move you toward your core objectives. If you’re well-organized already, I’d aim for 50%+. If you’re drowning in to-dos and chaos, then 90%+ might be helpful. A straight purge is mentally difficult and too time-consuming to be feasible in most cases; instead, start removing one or two tasks/items/goals a day until you get to a manageable level.
After eliminating a substantial chunk of your to-do list, you’ll still be left with a large number of necessary items. To reduce the list further, automate all goals, tasks, and items that can be solved with technology or default preferences. This increases your adherence/consistency to 100% with one-time effort or no decision making power.
Examples of technological automation include:
- Auto-paying bills
- Getting supplies delivered weekly or monthly
- Having a certain % of your paycheck or monthly earnings auto withdrawn to an investment account.
- Designing a spreadsheet to automatically crunch the reports from your Amazon royalties and ad accounts into a P & L
You can automate a significant amount through readily available services. Some solutions, such as the spreadsheet, might require either specific skills or delegation to a freelancer. Many programming tasks can be outsourced, thus cutting down on repetitive items like bookkeeping. A couple hundred dollars upfront could save you thousands of hours of effort when added up over years.
Formulating defaults is a form of passive automation, in that you don’t pay once and enjoy the benefits forever. However, you do spare time and energy making decisions in areas of your life where you don’t have strong preferences. These can include:
- Default outfits
- Default meals/restaurants
- TV shows/movies
The key here is personal preference: if wearing something different every day is important to you, then don’t make that a default. The point is to save time on things that are unimportant to you. Automate a different area of your life, like your meal plan.
DELEGATE OR OUTSOURCE
After we’ve eliminated unnecessary tasks and automated others, we can move further down the list to necessary but time-consuming manual tasks. You should delegate or outsource the ones that you either don’t enjoy or don’t have the skills to do well. The typical productivity advice here is to outsource your entire life or key business tasks to a personal assistant. As an author, that would perhaps involve running your publishing, social, and ad accounts, as well as a host of other activities.
I do not recommend this unless you plan on making someone an employee, or are prepared to have a vetting system in place. Further, you must possess managerial skills that many people lack. While these can be developed, you must ask whether your time is better invested elsewhere. For an assistant is not a one-time hire; often there is churn, for few people aspire to answering another person’s emails or uploading books to KDP for the next 30 years. This means that you potentially will have to go through the same onboarding learning curve with assistants multiple times.
Thus, while many authors dream of an assistant, the truth is, most tasks on your plate can likely be eliminated and delegated with greater ease. If employees are necessary to grow, then you can, and should, certainly be willing to embrace that challenge when the proper time arrives. But most authors would be better served by outsourcing simpler tasks first, such as skills which they don’t excel (professional graphic design, web design, programming can all be commissioned for extremely reasonable rates) or time-intensive household activities like cooking and cleaning. And for those reticent to outsource household tasks for subconscious reasons, consider this: you likely already outsource your driving to ride-sharing services. And meal-prep to your local takeout joint. What’s the difference between that and hiring a chef to cook you healthy meals for the week and drop them off every Monday? There is no actual difference, other than arbitrary societal evaluations.
TRIAL AND ERROR APPLIES
Automation, delegation, and elimination demand creativity on your part. The illusion presented by many productivity guides is that these are somehow zero effort. They are mentally intensive activities that, like anything else, require experimentation to get right. The greatest gains will be found in elimination. In an information-dense world, there is an infinite number of things we can possibly do. We must cut our task list to the bare essentials without qualm, lest we find ourselves buried underneath a mountain of irrelevant bullshit.
We’ll talk about the keys to maintaining focus and motivation in Part 4.