Are there items on your to-do list in your professional or personal life that you hate doing? As humans we seem to value struggle and are impressed by working harder and sucking it up. Sometimes this is reasonable and necessary. More often these items on our list are distractions that slow us down from reaching our goals or make us downright unhappy.
I have spent the last two years figuring the most effective ways to outsource my life so I can focus on what I’m best at, and to minimize the pain of all the stuff that I hate and avoid. In my career as an entrepreneur / sales & leadership coach one thing I focus on is "highest payoff tasks" and minimizing distractions. I help clients develop a more disciplined approach to the activities that deserve the majority of their energy and attention. I try every day to also model these things - to "practice what I preach." Every day we humans are tempted to get sucked into activities - tasks -conversations that derail and slow us down from reaching our financial goals not to mention our optimal level of happiness. I'm most interested in helping people (myself included) create more effective professional & personal lives. My personal mission is to "Help a million kids...to have parents that have passion and purpose at work and at home." Here are a couple of ideas that might minimize some pain and make a difference in your day to day effectiveness.
Make a list of the things you do that bore you, drain your energy, that you dread or avoid. Put each item into one of three buckets:
1. I could teach / ask someone else to do this
2. I just need to do it, today or tomorrow
3. I can take this off my list, for now
Time is a finite resource. The more time you spend on the activities you are best at that give you the most comparative advantage, the more results you are guaranteed to achieve. If nothing else this also opens up space for other things, ranging from doing strategic planning, creative thinking, or some basic self-care (i.e. – exercising, going to the doctor, having lunch with a friend, picking up your kids from school).
“From my research, the difference between the (most successful people) and the rest of us can be found less in what they choose to do and more in what they chose NOT to do. They are rigorously discriminating about how they choose to deploy (their time and energy). No matter how tempting the offer, they refuse to get sucked into activities that they know they will not enjoy.” Marcus Buckingham, The one thing you need to know about great management, great leadership and sustained individual success.
In The Four-Hour Work Week www.fourhourworkweek.com Tim Ferriss tackles the subject of outsourcing your life in very practical ways. I recommend his book. I recently saw him speak and asked him if there was one thing that keeps people from being optimally successful. He said quite simply, “The inability to say no”...to the short term gratification of checking something unimportant off your long list + ...to short term ($) offers that are not aligned with your longer term goals.
As you consider redesigning some small yet significant pieces of your day to day work or personal life, here are tangible action items you might consider. They worked (and are working) for me. I started with three things that made an immediate impact in my day to day effectiveness, happiness, and tangible revenue results within 90 days.
#1 I created a master list ALL of the tasks I didn’t want to do. (per above)
I was conscious of the fact that some things on the list would take some time to feel comfortable with (i.e. – doing my banking), and others might be a stretch to actually ask someone to help me with and not feel like a lazy loser (i.e. – booking a dinner reservation for me and my wife). Some of the things on my list got me excited…Things like ordering tickets for an upcoming concert, booking my business travel, doing research for the book I was writing, scheduling my car for servicing, organizing my receipts, talking to a customer service rep to reconcile an issue with a bill, helping me create an online webinar invitation, cleaning up and organizing my inbox. When I was creating the list and the three buckets I tried to frame it in my mind as an ‘experiment’ so as not to get all freaked out. My goal was just to put things on paper, consider getting help with or letting go of some items on my list entirely. Like they say, "the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem."
#2 I hired a virtual assistant for a 30-day trial.
I live in San Francisco and my VA lives in the thriving metropolis of Seymour, Indiana (my home state). It truly doesn’t matter where they live. If they are local there are some advantages but it is not necessary. Put an ad on Craigslist or ask people that you know for a referral. You’ll find all sorts of resources if you Google “virtual assistant.“ Do NOT hire your spouse.
To start I gave her (my virtual assistant Sara) a couple of tasks each week for four weeks with short term timelines for completion. Examples of things I asked for initially: Clean up my Salesforce database
and merge with my outlook contacts + Design PowerPoint slides for an upcoming presentation + Make a client proposal look nicer and convert to a PDF + Schedule a doctor and dentist appointment for me and my wife + Research my cell phone plan to see if I can get a better deal + …(you get the idea). Giving her these items to do for me both helped get stuff done that I was avoiding and at the same time tested her skills, responsiveness, and style.
I created a simple 30-day agreement with phone check-ins at the end of each week where we reviewed what was working and not working. I agreed to commit to a block of hours at an hourly rate of $20/hour, totaling $400. I didn’t worry about being anal regarding the exact number of hours she spent. I had a ballpark idea of how much time these tasks should take. I find that if I give the right kind of person trust and flexibility in these situations they will typically give me more output and responsiveness for my money, not less.
#3 I was willing to "stretch" through my mental roadblocks
Much of the resistance to this process is psychological. I had to get over the idea that "I’m just being lazy", "It's easier just to do this myself", "How can I justify paying someone to do these things?" I had to let go of the part of me that likes to struggle and complain. The other psychological roadblock to this process was the periodic urge I would get to take everything back when my new virtual assistant made a mistake. I had to be clear and firm, but also realistic that it takes time to get a system down and eventually have her “be able to read my mind.”
I have suggested that many clients and friends consider hiring a virtual assistant for both work and personal-related tasks. 95% of them just can’t (won't) do it. It’s not that expensive (as little as $200-$500 per month to start). It's not hard to make the case to justify the investment. The psychological resistance is actually the hardest part to work through. I understand. Thanks to my successful outsourcing experiment I have minimized the drama and stress in my life and am happier than I have ever been. Even if you can’t bring yourself to outsource parts of your life, at least consider saying NO or Not Now to tasks that are really not important. Focus on the things that energize you and will more quickly get you to your goals.
Books recommended: The Four Hour Workweek (Ferriss) + The One Thing You Need to Know (Buckingham)
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