The Ultimate Guide to Optimize, Automate & Outsource your entire Workload
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. - William Penn
As a Productivity & High-Performance Coach, I help ambitious people get clear on their top goals and achieve these goals by getting the right things done and working smarter instead of harder.
Many of my clients come to me overwhelmed, unfulfilled and stressed out. They want to claim back their time and focus on what is really important in their life instead of grinding away on their never-ending list of tedious tasks and commitments.
I then help them to free up their time, energy and mental space by optimizing all the menial, time-sucking and annoying parts of their day. As a result, they are able to do more of the things that truly matter to them — at work and in their life.
Whether you want to spend more time with your family, focus on your passions, or finally work on the really exciting projects in your job, this is the ultimate guide for you to streamline your entire workload and carve out more time for what matters.
Are you ready to hack your time and streamline your work?
I am going to show you the exact 5-step process I use with my clients so you can implement it yourself — but before we start, I need you to promise me this:
You will stop doing work for work’s sake and instead aim at achieving the maximum effect with the minimal necessary workload.
You will let go of the need to do everything yourself.
Without making these two commitments, reading these article will be useless for you.
If you are still with me, let’s go!
The 5-Step Streamlining Process: Analyze > Eliminate > Optimize > Automate > Outsource
At its core, streamlining your work is about doing tasks more efficiently that are not as important so you can use your time and energy on the things that matter most.
And here is the 5-step process that will help you do that:
Step 1: Analyze
Self-Awareness is the Key to Transformation.
The first step to taking back your time is understanding how you are spending it! Thus, you need to break down your entire workload, define each responsibility clearly, assess the time spent on it and ask yourself if and how you can streamline it.
To do that, track your work time for an entire week in a journal or time-tracking tool like Toggl to come up with answers to the following questions:
Which tasks are you doing regularly?
Which purpose do they serve?
How long do they take?
Can and should they be streamlined?
Generally, as soon as an activity becomes recurring, it is worth streamlining. However, there is no other method better suited for evaluating work-related activities than the Eisenhower Matrix, also called Urgent-Important Matrix. In fact, this tool has the potential to 10x your effectiveness at work! It was invented, as the name says, by Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States when he was struggling to prioritize his many tasks. The result was a matrix consisting of 4 quadrants that classify activities according to two parameters: urgency and importance.
In today’s world, the Eisenhower Matrix looks something like this:
Do you already know which quadrant makes up most of your work week? Here are some more indicators:
Quadrant I: You feel you are constantly putting out fires and operating in emergency mode. Most of the projects you are working on demand your immediate attention due to a pressing deadline.
Quadrant II: You feel like you are on top of things because of careful planning, preparation, and prevention. You can focus your time on high-leverage projects, new opportunities, learning and relationship building.
Quadrant III: Most of your time is spent on activities that require your immediate attention but are not necessarily related to your top priorities. You spend a lot of time in un-important meetings, being interrupted and dealing with non-critical phone calls and emails. You feel as if you are constantly dealing with issues that are important to others but not related to your own priorities.
Quadrant IV: You often feel like you are wasting your time. You spend a lot of time on busy work that is not directly related to your goals, social media, videos, games and pointless web surfing.
Once, you understand the basics of the matrix, you are ready to dissect your daily tasks Eisenhower-style:
Analyze your time log and make a complete list of all your work-related activities. Pay special attention to all recurring tasks like weekly meetings, reports, and emails since they have the most optimization potential. Don’t be shy to add tasks that you WISH you could do but don’t have time for.
Classify your tasks according to urgency and importance using the Eisenhower Matrix.
Calculate the time you spend in each quadrant in a typical week. For most recurring tasks and meetings, this should not be a problem. However, putting a number on your personal time wasters like social media is tricky because you are most likely doing it WHILE working on something else — so the classic time tracking won’t work here. But if you are ready to know the truth, you can track your browsing habits at work with tools like Webtime Tracker (Chrome Extension) and RescueTime (for all operating systems) as well as your mobile app usage with tools like Offtime and AntiSocial. Let these tools run in the background for a week so you can analyze how you are really spending your time at work!
How to Manage your Daily Tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix
The most effective people spend 70% of their time working on high leverage projects from quadrant II. As a result, they are able to make significant progress towards their goals, actively prevent crises from happening and lead a more balanced, calm and focused life.
The majority of people, however, spend almost no time in quadrant II because they are so busy with quadrant I, III and IV activities. But with a few simple shifts, you can claim back valuable time in your job to spend more time outside the office or focus on new exciting opportunities.
Here is how to manage your tasks in each quadrant:
Quadrant I: Focus on Urgent AND Important activities first thing and get them done fast.
Quadrant II: Block time for important but not urgent activities (ideally do them in your personal peak time!).
Quadrant III: Eliminate, optimize, delegate or automate as many urgent but unimportant activities as possible.
Quadrant IV: Completely eliminate tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
In Step 2 to 5 you will learn how you can systematically eliminate, optimize, automate and outsource the unimportant work in quadrant III and IV so you can carve out more for what really matters (quadrant I and II work). Furthermore, by shifting this extra-time to quadrant II, you will be able to dramatically reduce urgency in your work life and actively prevent crisis from happening, and thus reduce quadrant I work!
Of course you can also optimize quadrant I and II work, however streamlining makes the most sense if you are faced with recurring, manual and tedious tasks. With the really important work it usually comes down to: the most effective way to do it, is to do it (Amelia Earhart).
Track how you spend your time at work for an entire week with Toggl (and browser and mobile app tracking tools if needed).
Analyze your entire workload in a typical week with the Eisenhower Matrix to know which activities you need to streamline!
Step 2: Eliminate
Nothing is as inefficient as doing what should not be done at all. — Peter Drucker
Elimination is the purest and most effective form of streamlining: Nothing should be optimized, automated or outsourced if it can be eliminated in the first place! After identifying the activities you want to streamline, break them down to their bare minimum by removing anything that is not absolutely essential. This requires a switch from doing the most possible to the least necessary!
Here are two simple elimination strategies that work every single time:
Apply Pareto’s Law which states that 20% of inputs create 80% of outputs. What are the 20% of tasks with the highest impact? Focus on the important few and eliminate or minimize the rest!
Make “NO” your default response to commitments and tasks: When faced with a task, replace the question “How can I do this?” with “Can I say “NO” to this?”. Constantly question yourself if something is really necessary!
Some more specific tips to eliminate unnecessary work:
Eliminate irrelevant and unactionable information consumption (news, blogs, podcasts, videos, emails, social media etc.):
Use a tool like Unroll.Me to mass-unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t want to receive anymore.
Mass-unfollow people on social media and unsubscribe from all irrelevant podcasts and YouTube channels.
Use tools like StayFocusd, Freedom, and Offtime to block certain websites and apps while you are working (or always!). Also, use ad blockers to stop seeing a banner for the headphones you were just browsing on Amazon or “suggested content” that distracts you.
Simply delete your account on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, etc
Prevent interruptions while you are working:
Use an implicit signal that shows you should not be disturbed (e.g. put your headphones on or close your door).
Agree on “no-distraction” times with your team that will be kept meeting- and interruption-free. Furthermore, define which topics classify as “urgent” enough to interrupt someone else.
Eliminate unnecessary meetings:
Don’t attend meetings where your presence is not absolutely necessary.
Cancel unnecessary meetings entirely (e.g. if there is no decision to be made).
Replace meetings with email if they are for information purposes only and with phone calls if the issue can be resolved quickly.
Reduce meeting frequency (e.g. do bi-weekly team meetings instead of every week)
Drastically reduce your email and message influx:
Consolidate accounts and channels by deleting or forwarding unnecessary email addresses, merging all your email addresses into one mailbox and choosing only ONE channel for private messages. Only share contact information for the channels you want to be contacted on. You can also use IFTTT to send you messages from other channels to Slack or Skype.
Ask to be taken off irrelevant email groups and leave chat groups that are not relevant anymore.
Set up email rules with your team that will reduce email influx for everyone: think twice before sending an email (is it necessary to send an email now or can it wait until the next team meeting?), only send the email to people that need to respond, avoid “reply to all” at all costs, don’t just forward an email without a summary and action points.
Eliminate Incoming Phone Calls:
Don’t share your phone number in your email signature, business card and in public directories.
Let every call go to voicemail with a recorded message saying that they should send you an email instead.
Eliminate Busy-Work: Busywork looks different in every company, but here are some common examples:
Laborious (internal) presentations or reports which could easily be summarized in an email or shown on a dashboard.
Organizing something for the sake of organizing it (without a clear benefit).
Some company training programs, conference and coffee meetings — if they are irrelevant for your job and have no clear objective.
Once you know your busy work, you can use these strategies to eliminate it:
Know that busy work has nothing to do with how it feels to do the work, but everything to do with its purpose. Thus, question yourself before starting a new project: “Is this project related to my objectives, priorities and goals?” Clarify with your boss if your goals are not clearly defined.
Learn to say “NO”: Decline requests from others quickly and politely without lying or apologizing. Furthermore, giving a reason and suggesting an alternative to them helps to avoid conflict, resentment and burning bridges.
Challenge your boss if you don’t see the point in doing a specific task. But don’t just disagree, offer an alternative: for example a different strategy or project that is more impactful and efficient.
Eliminate ONE unnecessary task or activity that you regularly do at work.
Step 3: Optimize
Once you’ve eliminated the unnecessary, it’s time to create the most efficient workflow for your remaining activities. Take what is left after elimination and find the most efficient way to perform the task — but focus on the workflow itself instead of skipping right ahead to more advanced strategies; outsourcing or automating unoptimized processes will only make them less efficient!
Here is how you can optimize the workflow of your tasks:
Batching: Group together similar tasks and do them all at once (e.g. paying your bills once a week). This approach saves time and mental effort by benefiting from economies of scale.
Make it a Habit: Assign daily or weekly time slots for your tasks. Over time, the activity becomes routine for your brain and you’ll perform it on autopilot — just like brushing your teeth!
Use an External Brain: Dump all your to-dos in a task management tool like todoist or your calendar. Then, set them as recurring and create reminders. This will free up mental space so you can focus on the task at hand instead of thinking about what to do and when to do it.
Give yourself a time limit: According to Parkinson’s Law “work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it”. Limiting your time for a task forces you to work most efficiently!
Create templates for repeating tasks like reports, social media posts, presentations, etc.
Be creative! Whenever you encounter a repetitive task, ask yourself “How can this be more efficient?”
Optimize a task that you do regularly!
Step 4: Automate
Set it and forget it.
This is usually the fun part! Automation is about using technology to perform manual and time-consuming processes. You can automate the activity itself, the decision about an activity or the trigger for an activity.
At the very core of automating your daily life is the question: How can I use technology to get things done?
Here are two examples:
Use tools like IFTTT to perform simple automated tasks with apps and sites you use. For example: Automatically publish your Facebook post on Linkedin and Twitter as well.
Automate deliveries: Use services like Amazon Subscribe & Save for automatically re-stocking household and personal care items based on your desired schedule.
There are countless ways to automate business processes (for example automating your expense reports with Expensify). To find suitable tools, perform a simple Google search (e.g. “automate process x”) or ask people in your network that are faced with similar tasks. I won’t list more strategies here, because automation is not a strategy but a mindset: if you want to automate something, you will find a way!
Find a way to automate a task that you do regularly!
Step 5: Outsource
Many productivity geeks consider outsourcing the holy grail of streamlining! No matter whether you hire a virtual assistant to make appointments or a runner from TaskRabbit to do your errands, the concept is always the same: use money to buy time! The last step to streamline your work is delegating anything that cannot be automated.
Outsourcing can be quite a challenge because most of us are not in the mindset for it. We want to take ownership of everything and think that only WE can perform a certain task.
But in fact, the “do-everything”-mindset is limiting our success and happiness; and when we put our ego aside, we can achieve peak output and optimal workflow for everyone involved!
Outsourcing simply means using money to buy time. To determine whether this makes sense for you, ask yourself these questions:
What is an hour of my time worth?
Which tasks can I outsource for less than that?
So if you want to go all in with gaining back your time, the rule for delegation is: delegate anything that is not directly related to your top goals and/or not aligned with your strengths. Basically, everything that you don’t want to do but still needs to get done (and can be done cheaper than your own hourly rate).
Here is 3 ways you can make the most of delegation:
Delegate entire projects to your team or freelancers by giving them as much responsibility as possible (micro-management is extremely inefficient and annoying for everyone) but make goals and objectives clear and schedule regular check-ins.
Delegate decisions by asking yourself “What problems and requests do my employees keep coming to me for?” Then, set up “if-this-then-that” policies to handle similar situations in the future. For example, eliminate approval processes by setting up rules like “purchases under 50$ do not need to approved” and trusting your team.
Delegate one task this week!
Now it’s time to go out there and start streamlining your life so you can focus on what is really important in your life instead of grinding away on your never-ending list of tedious tasks and commitments!