If you only had one hour per day to work, what would you do?
That is the question that Ari Meisel faced after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition that affects the digestive tract and causes severe pain and fatigue. Because of his illness, Meisel would sometimes be limited to one hour of work per day.
In order to get anything accomplished, he had to completely overhaul and innovate the way he worked. Today, Meisel is an acclaimed productivity innovator, author of several books including The Art of Less Doing and co-founder of Leverage, an outsourcing company for virtual assistants.
1. Scrap Your To-do List
In an attempt to be more organized and productive, many people immediately jump to writing a to-do list. However,
“To-do lists will destroy you. Often, things on them can’t be done right now because you are waiting for someone else or you simply can’t.”
People often focus on tasks that they don’t have the skills, time or resources to accomplish yet. Common to-dos (such as ‘generate X million annual revenue’ or ‘write a book’) are actually long-term goals that can’t be checked off a list and put the brakes on productivity.
Instead, you should create a “doing list, things you can actually get done now,” Meisel said. A “doing list” breaks the goal of ‘writing a book’ into accomplishable steps such as ‘writing daily journal entries.’
2. Focus on Optimization First
Meisel and co-founder Nick Sonnenberg built Leverage on three key principles: optimization, automation and outsourcing.
“You want to optimize first. Look at the problem and the process that you go through. Write it down.”
Analyze the tracked data. When you look at how you spend your time, there’s always space to improve and optimize. Ask yourself:
● How much time are you spending on activities that aren’t productive?
● What tasks take you the most time to complete?
Find holes in your processes and opportunities to make them more efficient. To see real results, you have to use the data to take action and make changes.
3. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Many of the tasks that we think we need to do can actually be done for us by an app, program or smart device. In fact, in a Pew Research Center study of over 2,000 U.S. adults, 65% predicted that most of the work done by humans today will be completed by robots and computers within the next 50 years.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that automated tools will steal jobs. If anything, they can improve the way we do our jobs by handling tasks that are tedious and repetitive, but consume large amounts of time. Automated tools can increase productivity and make it possible for us to focus on more meaningful and strategic processes.
IFTTT and Zapier are two automation tools that Meisel recommends. IFTTT (If This Then That) allows different apps to communicate with each other. Users set up scripts that automate tasks based on triggers. Some examples of actions you can automate with IFTTT are:
● Share your Instagram posts instantly on your Twitter page
● Send an email to relatives when you check into the airport
● Automatically log work hours in a Google Spreadsheet
While IFTTT is focused on personal use, Zapier is geared towards business functions. Users create “zaps” that can be used with over 750 apps including MailChimp, Gmail, Trello, Google Sheets, Slack, Dropbox, and LinkedIn. Setting zaps can fully automate entire workflows, from putting email contacts into your CRM system to adding subscribers to your MailChimp lists from Google Sheets.
It may be an initial investment to learn how to use IFTTT and Zapier, but the amount of time you will save through automation is immense.
4. Outsource as a Last Resort
Only once you have exhausted your optimization and automation options should you consider outsourcing. Even though his company supports outsourcing, Meisel said he avoids it. “Giving a task to somebody else to do doesn’t make it more efficient.” But, he points out that outsourcing is critical to growth.
“In order to grow, you need to be outsourcing about 70 percent of the things you are doing. You don’t want to be irreplaceable because if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.”
Two outsourcing services that Meisel recommends are Operator and Service. Operator will set you up with a personal buying assistant that can find the products you want, compare prices for you and make purchases on your behalf when you don’t have the time or expertise to do it yourself
Service prevents us from spending time doing something we all hate: waiting on hold for customer service. The app handles customer service issues for us, from canceling your cable service to disputing late deliveries.
Time is precious. To excel in your career or business, it is critical to improve productivity. These four tips will help you get started, but remember that improvement is a continuous process. Don’t stop looking for ways to work faster and smarter.
This article originally appeared on Brunchwork.