How to Best Utilize an Assistant
I never fancied myself the Dear Abby type, but from time to time I get questions from friends asking about hacks or my approaches to things. This is one that I wanted to share.
Please realize that books and tomes have be written by other people on just fractions of what I touch on here. That said, I was always a fan of CliffsNotes for English class, so here goes:
I am looking for articles or tools to help figure out how to best utilize an assistant — either a traditional one or a task based service. That is the topic of our next meeting and I am in charge of the educational portion for this meeting. Any ideas?
The central tenant is that our time is limited. As a result, we should invest in things as much as possible that will make us happy and increase our energy.
To go one step further, you must come to the realization that about 80% of what you do doesn’t actually require you to do it. From dry cleaning pickup to handling bills to conference calls: no matter how large or small, chances are someone out there is better than you at most of the tasks you’re investing your time in.
This is a huge mindset shift that many people are not at all ready to undergo. Perhaps this is ego, perhaps it’s a question of how you were raised, or perhaps it’s uncertainty about what to do with the time you could free up. Whatever the reason, you have to open up to the mindset shift before you’ll be able to truly put this into practice.
If you want to understand how you’re really spending (and wasting) your time now, start with taking a time inventory. Track everything you do and how much time you spend on it (a week or at least three days is a good start). I like using Toggl since it’s free for up to three team members, has a mobile app, and is intuitive to use.
No task is too small to measure. Think about this: A one-minute daily task is equal to six hours a year. Removing ten one-minute tasks comes out to 60 hours. That’s a 1.5 work-weeks of free time. What would you do with another 8 days a year?
Once you have a task inventory of what you are spending time on, focus on removing the things that you aren’t needed for. It is amazing how many things we allow to eat our time that don’t need to be done by us or don’t need to be done at all.
Look at ways to create processes to handle these tasks that can either be automated or handed off to other people. While I’m a big supporter of people who automate things, I will say it has its downsides too. If done well, an automated process can run smoothly in the background freeing tons of time.
But there are times when trying to force an automation can lead to a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that takes more hours to set up than it’s ever going to save you. Run a quick mental cost-benefit analysis before you waste time automating something that’s better done manually (and then outsource the manual work).
Document the tasks you do on a wiki. Google sites is an easy one to use. I prefer a password-protected WordPress site.
Here is an easy one I created on how to make a sitemap: I have a video of me doing it, and text and images also explain each step. I like using QuickTime screen capture—maybe not the greatest on the market, but it’s efficient and gets the job done. Then I upload it to a private YouTube channel and send it to be written out as a process by an assistant. They create the new pages in the wiki and I review them. When I need to do the process again (or want to outsource it to someone else) I can just refer to the wiki.
These steps are enough to get you started. It isn’t complicated, and it really is the mindset shift that’s the most difficult. That said, it does take time to document everything, and that part is never really done (you’re always expanding or learning something new, right?)
It’s a simple process, but if it’s followed seriously for everything the business does, it cuts out all the nitty gritty pointless management a CEO has to do. That frees up 80% of their time to focus on growing the company, relaxing, or doing whatever they feel is the best use of their time.
P.S. A couple resources I recommend:
- Sam Carpenter ‘s book (and audiobook) called Work the System. You can download it for free. While I feel it gets repetitive, it will get you focused on creating systems. If repetition is the price of admission, it’s well worth it.
- Ari Meisel’s interview of Jeremie Rodger. Note on Jeremie’s Sidekicks outsourcing below.