02.18.14 10:45 AM ET
How To Create Your Own User Manual
Everyone goes through some process on a regular basis.
It might be every day, it might be once per week, or even once every year. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that once something becomes a recurring task in your life, that should be an automatic signal to start looking at how you can get rid of it.
The thing is, about 95% of of the stuff you do every day can and should be done by other things or other people. That way you can focus on that 5% that only you can do and do better than anyone else.
One of the core principles of my system of productivity, Less Doing, is something I call “Creating the Manual of You.” It’s a framework for making everything you do more efficient.
I believe that everyone has great talent and gifts to offer the world but sometimes they need help getting out of their own way so those attributes can shine through. Whenever I look at a problem, whether it’s a health challenge or a productivity issue, I use a three part framework to attack it.
I optimize, automate, and outsource everything in life in order to be more effective.
It’s very important that you follow that order because if you try to outsource an inefficient task, it won’t make it more effective and that kind of system is not sustainable.
So first we look at optimizing, which means you take a detailed, analytical look at the problem and try to break it down so that you can see all of the stripped away, bite sized chunks that make up that problem.
The second part is to look for areas of automation and this can be done by people or machines but the idea here is to “set it and forget it.”
Finally if there is anything left over we can explore the possibility of outsourcing the task to a specialist or generalist.
With the way technology continues to improve at an ever increasing pace, I find that once a task is properly broken down, you can automate them away without ever getting to the outsourcing step.
The “manual of you” takes you through the important exercise of identifying on a very granular level, the steps required to complete any given task that takes up time in your life.
Just as commercial pilots and surgeons have checklists that they follow even if they’ve done something thousands of time, you too can benefit from outlining the things that you have put on autopilot and simply distract you from higher level thought. The idea with the “manual of you” is that once you’ve optimized, automated, and outsourced a task, it becomes a page in your manual. That page can then be given to anyone, anywhere, without training or prior information, and they can follow the outlined steps to perform the task without any possibility of error. That is the holy grail of efficiency.
My favorite example is my bill paying process.
If I were to hand you a bill and say “deal with this” you wouldn’t have a clue what I wanted done. You wouldn’t know that certain bills have to go to my accountant while others get paid directly. You wouldn’t know what account gets used to pay medical insurance bills versus supplier invoice. You certainly wouldn’t know how to file and organize any of the information contained in the bill.
The first time I laid out this process, it was 27 steps. Yes, 27 steps to pay a bill.
I was immediately able to look at this new checklist and realize that several steps seemed redundant while there was information that I had left out since all of it was in my head anyway and I wasn’t looking at it from someone elses perspective. In this optimization phase I was able to turn a 27 step process into a 22 step process which I was actually pretty happy with. Then came automation. I looked for areas that didn’t need human intervention. By scanning the bill to Dropbox I could use sites like SortMyBox or WappWolf to automatically convert the scan to pdfs and email file them in the appropriate folders. I could even have documents with certain keywords in the name automatically emailed to my accountant or added to an Evernote notebook.
Now I was really rolling and I got the 22 steps down to 15. That’s when I decided to send the task to a virtual assistant. I recieved a quick response saying that they couldn’t understand the instructions at step 7 and it wasn’t clear how to go from step 11 to 12. Without that outside perspective there would have been no way for me to see those errors. After a few back and forths with various virtual assistants the process ended up at 9 perfect steps. Those 9 steps are so elegant and flawless that the task has been executed by over 300 different people in the past two years without a single error.
It’s so clear cut and well oiled that I could give it to any of you reading this article and you could pay a bill for me.
Now I have 57 processes, and each one is it’s own note in a shared Evernote notebook.
These notes can be emailed to an assistant to complete a task or I can refer to them to make sure that I’m always following the most efficient path to completing any project.