A key to making any business run smoothly and with minimal intervention may be automation—building systems that operate efficiently and free you up to focus on the big picture.
Here are 10 ways you might increase your automation.
1. Ditch your to-do list for a priority list.
The problem with a to-do list may be that every entry has the same value. A priority list has three values. When you create your list of what needs to be accomplished, consider using the following three symbols to sort your priorities:
- Any task that generates revenue in the next 60 days, mark with a $.
- Any task that pleases a current client gets a :).
- Any task that creates a system—something that can run itself thereafter—gets a ∞.
Now when you review your list, the tasks with the most symbols are your highest priority. Those tasks without symbols are your lowest priority.
2. Take a lesson from The 4-Hour Workweek.
Tim Ferriss’ bestseller may not be practical for most of us, in that many of us may never be able to really survive on just four hours of work per week. But the lessons you might learn from him are powerful, including the concept of outsourcing. Figure out your hourly rate—your annual pay divided by 2,000 hours—and if you can find a contractor to handle some of your workload for less than that hourly rate, you may be ahead of the game.
— Mike Michalowicz, author, Profit First
3. Block out a day to work on processes.
Occasionally set aside a day to find ways to automate your business. Don’t take calls; don’t catch up on menial office tasks. Investing time in creating systems often pays dividends.
4. If it repeats, automate it.
When creating systems, look first at tasks you do on a regular basis. Email is a great example. I figured out I send the same sorts of emails over and over again. By creating templates for some of these email categories, I save myself hours of repetitive work every week. Look for these sorts of opportunities.
5. Take a vacation.
Schedule yourself out of the office for an entire week. You might worry about whether your systems will work and if problems will arise, but the looming prospect of your time off may force you to work hard to whip your company into shape before you leave. When you return, you might improve your systems based on any problems that cropped up. If you don’t schedule time off, you may be less likely to test your automation.
6. Make checklists for everything.
Checklists for airline pilots and surgeons often save lives. While my company doesn’t face life or death situations, taking a cue from professions that do may make sense. When you build checklists for recurring tasks, you ensure things are more likely to get done right every time.
7. Get a video screen recorder.
Training may be one of the most time-consuming aspects of delegating tasks to your staff. If you have a video screen recorder, you can capture all the steps in the job you want to hand over to an employee. Your video can function as an auto-trainer.
8. Do less.
Reducing the number of services your company provides means you may be able to specialize more. Not only might you create efficiencies from reducing the number of tasks you manage, but you might improve the quality of the service you provide. Creating your own niche is often the opposite of the “jack of all trades, master of none” model. Specialize, and you may simultaneously streamline.
9. Get others involved.
Empower your staff to document their workflow and create systems in their jobs as well. Letting highly skilled staff hand off more menial jobs to their colleagues typically makes your payroll more effective and more efficient.
10. Use reverse engineering.
Figure out what your end goal is, and then work backward to establish the systems that will get you there. If you envision a happy customer as your goal, consider the steps that need to occur to make that happen. Whether it’s follow-up, service delivery or client acquisition, reverse engineering may help you identify parts of your business model that are ripe for streamlining.
If you want to reap the benefits of smooth, reliable systems that free you up to work on other areas of your business, leaders often have to be willing to make the investment of time and energy that’s required to streamline your company. Finding opportunities to become more efficient is often worth the effort.
Read more articles on productivity.
This article was originally published on April 21, 2015.