For Higher Productivity Eliminate, Automate, Delegate, Procrastinate (in That Order)

July 28, 2021

minute READ 

In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris dishes out some profound productivity wisdom in just two sentences:

“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.”

It took me a while to see the brilliance of this approach. You see, when I first became an entrepreneur, I wanted to be busy.

At that point, I felt like a newborn fowl who is trying to stand on shaky legs. Being busy made me feel like my new vocation mattered, even though I wasn’t a high-paid lawyer anymore.

Over the years, I’ve lost the urge to feel busy for the sake of being busy. I know that what I’m doing matters—as does the rest of my life.

That’s why from time to time, I find myself going all Marie Kondo on my calendar and task list. Which brings us to the first of four steps that you should take if you want to become more efficient in your business:

1. Eliminate

As you might know, the trademark question of the Japanese decluttering queen Marie Kondo is: “Does this item spark joy?” (If not, drop it like it’s hot. No, not literally! Go clean up the shards before someone steps in it.)

When it comes to time management, I daresay that a similar approach is warranted.

Of course, some unpleasant tasks have to be done. But if you hate most of your business tasks, why not just get a job you don't like? At least that way, you might get benefits for doing something you don't want to do.

With that pep talk out of the way, let’s get started on the actual work. For reasons that will soon become apparent, the optional soundtrack for this section is “Search and Destroy” by Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

To begin, create a list of all your business tasks. Then, let each task face the productivity firing squad (ugh, that’s not a pleasant image… sorry, Social Media!).

Ready for the gladiator games to begin? If so, go through your list, channel your most brutal Roman emperor self (Caligula?) and give each task the thumbs up (👍) or down (👎)

Here’s a personal example of productivity ruthlessness: I used to post often on Social Media (RIP, Social Media!). At some point, I realized that that was a lot of work for very little payoff —almost all my clients had found me in other ways, for instance through personal referrals or search engines.

So… thumbs down.

👎

I simply stopped posting on Social Media. (Yes, you can do that. If most of your clients find you through other avenues, you might not need to use Social Media.)

What if you’re scared to eliminate a task, even though it’s not creating results? Feel free to use my mantra: “I didn’t start a business to hate my work!” That’s generally how I talk myself into abandoning business tasks that make me feel miserable and that produce no results.

And, remember to channel a bloodthirsty Roman emperor, not freakin’ Marcus Aurelius! If you haven’t eliminated any tasks in Step 1, get back to your haunted Ouija (I mean drawing…) board!

→ Which business tasks could you eliminate?

2. Automate

If there are repetitive tasks or processes you can’t eliminate, ask yourself if you can automate them instead. Even if you have to pay for apps, the time (and sanity) savings might make it worth it.

One low-hanging fruit in this area is your calendar! Simply use a calendar scheduling software for the next meeting with your generals (I mean, collaborators…) about the imminent expansion of your empire.

If Social Media posting survived the last round of gladiator games, you could also use a tool to automate and schedule your posts. This will also save you plenty of time.

→ Which business tasks could you automate?


3. Delegate

Assuming you can’t eliminate or automate a task, the next step is to consider if you can delegate it.

Just remember to drop the bloodthirsty Roman emperor act before you talk to anyone. (Have you seen just how many Roman emperors got murdered by their own troops or relatives? Let’s not take any risks here!)

An example of a great task to delegate is anything design-related. Especially with important things (such as that new temple to celebrate your ascension to Godhood), it’s best to leave the details to the experts.

Definitely don’t ever create your own book cover unless you are a designer yourself or or are trying to encourage people to abandon perfectionism (no, even then you probably shouldn’t…).

Delegating tasks doesn’t necessarily mean hiring someone. If you don’t have an assistant, perhaps you can ask a family member to help you out from time to time, potentially in exchange for other things (their own temple?).

→ Which business tasks could you delegate?


4. Procrastinate

If a business task has survived the Hunger Games so far, it is worthy of your attention. But not necessarily right now.

Contrary to popular belief, procrastination isn’t always bad.

Research tells us that there are two forms of procrastination: Passive Pupienus and his much more handsome brother, Active Antonius Pius (although serious researchers call them passive and active procrastination… their loss).

Passive Pupienus (yes, I’m still hung up on Roman emperors… ) tells himself he should write his book proposal but ends up lounging on the couch instead.

Active Antonius Pius is a whole different beast. He deliberately puts off a task for a certain amount of time which leaves him free to lounge on the couch (or administer an empire or become one of the Five Good Emperors) until then.

As an active procrastinator, he uses the pressure of a deadline to be more effective. Because his delay is a conscious choice and because he trusts that he can get everything done in time, he doesn’t feel bad about his procrastination.

(Note: I have no idea about the preferred productivity approaches of Roman emperors. I’ve pretty much just chosen these two for their names.)

A business task that I have deliberately procrastinated on is releasing my ebook in book form. Why, you may ask? Why, you may ask? Well, because it’s quite a bit of work and just not important enough to focus on that right now. 

→ Which business tasks could you (actively, please!) procrastinate on?


Takeaway

I started this article with two concise sentences by Tim Ferris about how to be efficient in business.

Here are four sentences that summarize the step-by-step approach I suggested in this article (without the references to the Roman or any other empire because screw this, let’s join the Jedi!):

  1. Create a list of your business tasks and eliminate every task that doesn’t need to be done.
  2. Try to automate the remaining tasks.
  3. If that’s not possible, try to delegate each remaining task to someone else.
  4. If that’s not possible, use active procrastination to do the task in the optimal time frame.

There you have it, a framework to rule them all. Or (remember, we switched sides!) to get things done in your Jedi business—faster and easier than before.

May the four steps be with you!

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About the author

Bere is the founder of Leader for Good. She's a former lawyer and academic who moved from Germany to the United States where she started her own business. Today, Bere loves helping her coaching clients and students connect with their passion and purpose. You can find out more about her coaching business at www.workyoulovecoach.com.

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  • I found your 4 step process extremely helpful Bere. I realise now that I may be automating tasks that should be eliminated instead. I’m going to put this process into practice and see what improvements can be made

    • Thanks so much, Nigel! I’m glad you found it helpful.

      Yes, we definitely don’t want to automate things we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. When I first had someone tell me that, it was a revelation. 🙂

  • This makes total sense. And, I’m looking forward to getting to the place were I can be the delegator rather than the delgatee… I seem to be the person people go to when they have something they need help getting done…

    • Yeah, that’s a problem competent people often run into it.

      If people see them as the person who can get things done, others tend to ask them for help (a lot). In a way, it’s a compliment but it can also become overwhelming. At that point, setting boundaries and saying no more often becomes super-important.

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