In the last couple of years, there’s been a renewed interest in time management, productivity improvement and task management tools. A lot of us are getting far more email than we can handle in any given day and find ourselves faced with an increasingly long and never ending list of tasks to complete. Some people adopt productivity management strategies such as the system presented in David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but perhaps there’s a better way to handle the tasks that life brings:
Be lazy, smart, but lazy.
We live in a world that values productivity and laziness has become a dirty word. It doesn’t have to be though. One definition the word lazy is “characterized by lack of effort or activity.” People that are lazy tend to find a way to make work go away. Some lazy people are deadbeats and just don’t do their work. Smart lazy people find ways to automate and streamline the processes related to tasks that commonly come up at work.
A Case Study
When I started at Factor360, we were using a barebones ASP 3.0 content management system that had no ready-to-go modules that could be re-used. Like clockwork, every week I would be assigned to create the back-end of a website for a business or an association that almost always needed the same three or four custom modules made, such as an events calendar, contact form, photo gallery, etc. My initial response was to migrate the system to ASP.NET and develop modules which could be re-used from site to site. That was a significant improvement and easily eliminated 30-40% of my daily tasks.
After several sites were able to make use of the re-used code, requests started coming in asking to get newly developed features on old websites. I ended up in a situation where I had to manually update the content management system software on dozens of websites on a regular basis. In order to avoid having to do that, I developed a multi-site version of the content management system where dozens of different websites could be powered by a single code base. That way I could update the system once and every website would benefit from the new feature set. In addition, I made it so that modules could be enabled/disabled on a site-by-site basis and that each site’s information was stored independently of data from other sites.
When the multi-site version of our content management system, 360WebCMS, was implemented, the time that it took to get website’s content management system up and going dropped from about 15 hours when I first started to a little less than an hour (although, some of that is waiting for DNS to update). There’s also now a standardized set of steps that anyone in the company can follow to get a site started so that even individuals that aren’t terribly technically savvy can get a site started.
There are several other instances where I’ve done some work up front to save a lot more work down the line. This is especially true in my small business, American Consumer News, LLC. I know that I’ll be away from my computer for at least two weeks during the month of June which will prevent me from doing some of the tasks that I need to do on a daily basis. My company has several partnerships with content providers. Some of those data transfers are automated, but others are not. These tasks take about 45 minutes a day to do and my goal is to automate all of them in the next month.
For example, Zacks Investment Research provides their research reports to my website, American Banking & Market News to report on. The process to import those reports previously took me anywhere from 10-15 minutes a day. I didn’t mind doing the task, but was able to write some C# code in about two hours to grab the appropriate data feed, process it, and post it to the website via XML-RPC. Because I no longer have to do this task on a daily basis, I’ve saved myself 43 hours of work in a given year.
Outsourcing is Automating Too
I used to try to handle all of the monthly book-keeping work for my small business myself. I took care of the monthly payroll, quarterly unemployment insurance reporting, quarterly IRS reports, etc. I’m definitely a “do it yourselfer”, but ended up outsourcing that work to someone who knew what they’re doing. Now, I write a relatively small check every year and those tasks are done without having to think about it. (I’ve also automated the process of bringing in transactions from PayPal and my checking account into the accounting system we use!)
Words to Live By
Be lazy. Do work up front to avoid more work later. Automate everything you can. Streamline everything you can. Outsource everything you can.