In the beginning it’s fine to do everything yourself – you’re learning the ropes and working out what does and doesn’t work – but it’s critical you have the end in sight. If you want your business to thrive and expand, you can’t continue to be all things to all people.
It took a near-burn out in the early days of running my business for me to realise I needed to find a way through the quagmire. If I was to succeed in growing the business and making it more profitable, I had to push aside a lot of what was currently taking up my time and energy, so I could focus on the high-value tasks that would really make a difference to my success.
If this is striking a chord with you, if you feel as though you’re drowning in tasks, don’t panic, because I can help!
It’s almost unavoidable that you’ll go through periods of feeling bogged down – that there’s too much to do and not enough hours in the day. The good news is that there is a process you can put in place that will enable you to get the mundane day-to-day tasks off your ‘to do’ list, allowing you to become more engaged with the core business activities, spending your time on tasks that deliver the most value to your business.
Successful businesses rely on systems and a key system you need to establish is one that ensures you’re not spending valuable time on things that:
- are really not that important to your business
- could be broken down and simplified
- could be automated via technology, rather than taking ‘man hours’ and
- would be best done by someone else, other than you.
In an effort to cut through the complexity and distractions that being in business brings, I apply a concept I call ‘Organised Efficiency’.
This is a task-filtering process that enables you to focus only on the activities that are the best use of your time and that are taking you a step closer to achieving your goals.
It’s easy enough to start a business but really quite difficult to create one that can be scaled up to something that is lean, efficient and highly profitable. The ‘organised efficiency’ concept is a fundamental series of steps that will help you create a solid foundation for a scalable and profitable business.
My Organised Efficiency Funnel
So, here we go. At the top of the funnel is everything that needs to be done – all the tasks that need to be completed. At the other end is you. And here is the process for ensuing that only the tasks that are a business priority for you make it to the narrow end of the funnel.
Step One: Eliminate
Think about which tasks could be eliminated. There are bound to be things that are dead weight, that are perhaps there because you’ve always done them, but now that the business has grown, are they really still necessary? Anything that’s not worth doing because it doesn’t deliver any benefit can be eliminated; the rest drop down the funnel to the next step.
Step Two: Simplify
Of the remaining tasks, which can be simplified? Are there parts of processes that are duplicating others? Could things be made less complicated, easier to understand and simpler to carry out?
Step Three: Automate
Thanks to technology, there are now a huge number of business tasks that can be automated, saving time and money and making your business more efficient. So, which manual tasks could be converted to tech-driven processes?
Step Four: Delegate
Once tasks have been eliminated, simplified and automated, you can look at the remainder and decide which can be delegated. Not only does this free up your time, but someone else could be better at them and/or cheaper than you. Importantly, if a task can’t currently be delegated, is there a way it can be changed so that you can delegate it?
The tasks you’re left with should be there because they’re truly valuable to the business and you’re the best person to do them. And because you’ve scrutinised them on their way through the funnel, they should be as streamlined as possible. This is not about getting through your ‘to do’ list; it’s about maximising your time and making your business more efficient.
“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.” – Tim Ferris
Remember to apply my Vital First Principle
The final step, to make sure you are being as effective as possible, is to apply the Vital First Principle to the tasks that remain. That will enable you to identify and focus on the highest-value activities that will have the greatest positive impact on your success.
Essentially, it’s about quality not quantity.
Instead of aiming to complete all your tasks every day, take the time to put them in order of which will make the most difference to your business and start at the top. Focusing on completing two or three truly high-value tasks every day will be more beneficial than trying to achieve everything and jumping between tasks to get them all done.
Joseph Juran’s ‘Pareto Principle’ proved the 80%/20% relationship that exists between most things, where 80% of output is accounted for by just 20% of all inputs. My Vital First Principle takes the main discoveries of Juran, then makes adaptations for their application for smaller business owners. Read more in my article: ‘How my Vital First Principle can help accelerate your success’.
Repetitive, unnecessarily complicated, low-value tasks often clutter entrepreneurs’ lives. But if you go through these two processes – the Organised Efficiency Funnel and Vital First Principle – for all the tasks in your business, you should end up with a manageable number of high-value tasks on your plate and a nicely streamlined business.
Does it really make a difference to the bottom line?
Research has repeatedly shown that by eliminating lower-value tasks from your workload and focusing on only those activities that add value, you see a significant rise in productivity, job satisfaction and profits.
A three-year study of knowledge workers across eight industries in the United States and Europe, published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013, found that ‘even the most dedicated and impressive performers devoted large amounts of time to tedious, non-value-added activities’.
The researchers intervened in the activities of 15 executives in different companies and found that by getting them to identify the most high-value tasks and either delegate or eliminate the rest, they were able to cut desk work by an average of 6 hours a week and meeting times by two hours a week. One manager at a Scandinavian insurance company was able to increase sales by 5% over a three-week period, simply by getting rid of meetings and administrative tasks to spend more time supporting her team.
“By asking knowledge workers to rethink and shift the balance of their work, we were able to help them free up an average of one full day a week to focus on more worthwhile tasks.” – Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School.
There’s also the emotional consequence of focusing on tasks that are most suitable for your skills and abilities, eliminating low-reward tasks and having clear direction. When you’re free and empowered to produce your best, most satisfying work, you’re going to be happier and much more engaged in your business. A study at the University of Warwick in 2015 found that happier people are 12% more productive than the average individual. Conversely, studies published by the Queens School of Business and Gallup showed that organisations with low employee engagement scores experienced 16% lower profitability and 65% lower share price over time.
So let’s take a look in more detail at how you can move your business tasks though the Organised Efficiency Funnel to enable you and your employees to be your most effective selves.
Elimination is probably one of my most effective strategies in time management. The more quickly you can identify and remove non-value adding activities, the more quickly you’ll be able to generate savings and increase profits.
Some tasks will be necessary to your business but a waste of your own personal time. In that case, don’t eliminate them; let them drop down the funnel and they’ll be taken care of and removed from your list by one of the other efficiency steps.
But there are bound to be tasks that you perform simply because you’ve always done them or because you feel you should, and yet they offer no value to the business. That might be an element of social media that gives no PR or sales return, or perhaps you spend time creating regular updates and reports for clients that nobody with any influence actually reads.
You need to do a cost/benefit analysis. Which tasks take up more time and energy than they’re worth in the value they return? Would there be any negative impact on your business if you didn’t do them?
Importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re having difficulty deciding what can be eliminated or taking the required steps to get rid of tasks, bring in an independent third party to look at your business operations with a fresh pair of eyes. This is something my mentoring clients often ask about. Even if you’ve run your own business before, it can be hard to see clearly when you’re in the middle of things and it’s helpful to get the perspective of someone experienced, who’s not directly involved.
Every low-value or duplicated task that you eliminate gets you a step closer to where you want to be, because it frees up another piece of your time that you can use more productively.
simplify verb /ˈsɪm.plɪ.faɪ/ to make something less complicated and therefore easier to do or understand
Once you have eliminated all the unnecessary tasks, you need to look at how the remaining ones could be simplified. This is an important step and one that I’m always surprised to see many time-management and productivity gurus miss!
Generally speaking, simplification relies on having processes and making them as lean and efficient as possible. Done right, it reduces wasted time, improves quality and saves money. It also helps you stay focused on your objectives and goals.
For each task, there should be a clear, step-by-step template of the actions that need to be taken to complete it. Ask yourself:
- Is there any element of the task that is repetitive or serves no valuable purpose? If so, get rid of it.
- Can the existing process be changed to make it more straightforward?
- If no clear process currently exists, create one.
One a task has been simplified, it should reduce the change of mistakes being made and will help keep standards consistent. It will also make it much easier to carry out the next two steps.
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates
This quote from Bill Gates explains why it’s important to go through the ‘eliminate’ and ‘simplify’ stages before attempting to automate tasks. If you don’t, you could easily waste time and money trying to automate something that’s confusing and has unnecessary elements. And attempting to automate something that doesn’t reap dividends is potentially insane.
You need to look at your tasks and processes and decide where manual effort can be replaced by technology. Here are some indicators that a task might be better automated than handled by you or your employees:
- High volume
- Time consuming
- Time sensitive
- Multi-personnel intensive
- Requires compliance/audit trails.
Some examples of things that are commonly fully or partially automated in business:
- Data collection and analysis
- Email notifications and marketing
- Social media
- Customer/client updates
- Staff attendance & payroll
- Sales orders.
How could you utilise technology so that more things in your business happen ‘automatically’?
The first step is to get up to date with what’s out there, so consult with experts who can help you understand what available technologies might be best suited to helping your particular type of business. If you’re already networking with other business owners and entrepreneurs, ask them what automated systems they use and get some recommendations, because not all of them are as good as the salespeople would have you believe!
As well as saving time, automated systems have the huge benefit of giving you consistency, quality standards and a digital information trail. And if you use cloud-based technology and are able to synchronize various tasks, processes and information, you’ll have 24-hour access to the very latest position of your business.
I use lots of different tech solutions to save time and help me be more productive, not only in my business but in my personal life too. Automation doesn’t have to be a big and expensive solution; even free apps and online marketing platforms can make your life easier and help business systems run more smoothly. Of course, some tasks – particularly those that are finance and compliance-related – will require a financial investment for specialist software, but if you can identify the most compatible technology, it can take a lot of time-consuming tasks off your hands. For example:
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, such as Salesforce, allow everyone in your business to access and update customer information in real time. CRM systems allow you to customise a dashboard to your own needs and automate numerous client and customer contacts.
- If you set up a pre-defined online template for customers’ information, you can dramatically speed up the production of case studies for marketing purposes.
- Linking your business bank account to a cloud accounting program, such as Xero, will give you access to a real-time overview of your finances.
- If you use several different social media platforms, you can use an app to schedule and automate posts across all of them. Take a look at Hootsuite.
Of course, the initial set up of these automations will take you a little time but look further ahead at how many hours and days you’ll save over the long term. For instance, it might take you a couple of hours to set up an online payment system but if that saves you 30 minutes a month, you’ll have your investment repaid in four months, and then you’re into time-saving credit. Similarly, look at the cost of more expensive software solutions in the context of how much time you’ll save going forward. Once the initial investment has paid for itself, you should see exponential growth in your business efficiency and profitability.
“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell
It’s natural to believe that nobody can do the thing you’re doing as well as you, particularly if you’ve had bad experiences of delegating in the past. You might have found yourself muttering, “If you want something do it properly, do it yourself!” – I know I have! But the first thing you need to understand and accept if you want to move your business forward effectively, is that something done slightly less perfectly by someone else is usually preferable to it being done perfectly by you, using up your own valuable time.
And, when automation is insufficient, delegation is the only way to get more done in less time.
Often, it’s simply a case of training and practice. The first time you give someone a new task that you’ve been doing yourself for some time, they’re bound to make mistakes. But give it time and, if you’ve selected the right person, they’ll soon get up to speed and may end up doing it better and more quickly than you once they’ve become familiar with the task.
If you’re delegating right, there should be three wins for the business:
- Your personal time is freed up so you can focus on more high-value activities that drive the business forward and profits upward
- The person you’ve delegated to is more suited to the task and can complete it better and more quickly than you could, meaning more gets done, to a better standard and/or
- The person you’ve delegated to is paid less than you, therefore it costs the business less to have the task completed.
See my article, ‘Why delegation is critical to your success’.
The other type of delegation is outsourcing, where you contract a person or company outside the business to perform a function. So if there isn’t anyone currently in your organisation that you can delegate to, or you feel the job requires more specific experience, outsourcing is often an ideal solution, particularly as technology has made it so much easier to work remotely. Commonly outsourced functions include:
- Sales & marketing support
- Website & social media management
- Human resources
- Bookkeeping & payroll
- IT & telecoms
- Transport & delivery
- Manufacturing & stock control.
By contracting third parties to provide services to your business, you can tap into their specialist skills and knowledge that it would take a huge amount of time and money to gain in-house. You can leverage their systems and network to access similar economies of scale that much bigger companies enjoy, meaning you’re able to benefit from cost savings and efficiency gains that can give you a competitive advantage, even if you’re still in a relatively early stage of growth.
Read more in my article: ‘Outsource to accelerate your business growth’.
Achieving your goals depends on knowing how to focus your time and efforts on the highest-value activities.
The first time you examine and analyse your tasks and processes it will take a good while, but I can’t emphasise enough how important it is, so be patient. The next time it’ll take half as long and, as you repeat the exercise, it’ll become second nature and you’ll quickly be able to move through the stages of the funnel to streamline and allocate tasks to the right people.
Once you have built momentum and your business starts to run without you constantly having to do and oversee things, you’ll realise just how worthwhile the Organised Efficiency Funnel process is. For me, it’s absolutely one of the best ‘returns on invested time’ strategies that exists. Yes, it takes time to master but it’s the only way to achieve real efficiency in your business so that it is leaner, more productive and more profitable.
To recap the questions you need to ask yourself for each task:
- Does this task really need to be done? Is it essential to day-to-day operations and/or does it help the business move forward?If the answer is no, ELIMINATE it. If yes, move on to the next question.
- Can you simplify the task? Are there too many processes or is some of the work being duplicated elsewhere? Is it hard to understand or time-consuming to carry out?If the answer is yes, do what you can to SIMPLIFY it before moving on to question 3.
- Could the task be automated?If the answer is yes, AUTOMATE it.
- Can you delegate the task to someone else?If the answer is yes, DELEGATE. If no, can you make any changes so that it can be delegated or outsourced?
If you’ve made the right decisions and properly utilised all available resources, you should be left with only high-value tasks that require your particular skillset and expertise.
This is the unstoppable combination that will give you real time freedom and supercharge your success.