I live in Southeast Europe. I’m used to not having a dryer, and the there’s nothing like laundry dried outside on a sunny day. Although on cold damp days, a dryer would make a hell of a lot of sense, because I’m not a fan of clothes that smell of must and mold.
A lot of people here are proud of doing some household tasks manually, such as drying clothes on a rack or on a line.. or.. washing dishes, for various reasons.
I have a confession, or rather, a passionate declaration to make: I HATE washing dishes.
Plus, manually washing dishes actually consumes more energy and water. So I’m a HUGE fan of dishwashers. I don’t care what anyone says, one of those machines makes my life a whole lot easier.
This is coming from someone who spends about 2 hours a day on dog chores, walks to the store (a 10 min walk) and stacks (and sometimes chops) her own wood, so I’m not buying that doing all work by hand is good for us.
I get to chose how I spend my time on this earth, and washing dishes and ironing have been kicked to the curb.
Having a dishwasher frees me up to do other things that actually matter more, such as working, or spending time with the dogs, walking to the corner store instead of driving to a freaking Costco, or even stacking wood. (I like stacking wood) And yes, even lounging with a cup of coffee or glass of wine.
Because in the end, efficiency is supposed to make our lives better. It hasn’t always worked out that way (Endless and intrusive emails and phone notifications, a car-dependent infrastructure, and the “hustle” mindset to start, is part of the North American culture) but I think if we’re intentional about how we choose to spend our time, we can create a life that has more meaning for us.
This is what I mean by making some tasks automated, even though automation isn’t always about modern inventions, which I’ll be talking more about in this article.
As an American who has become more “Southern Europeanized” in the past six years, I’m going to offer my perspective on efficiency, productivity, and automation.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on automation.
Automation is our friend, and we get to decide how to use it and when.
I’ve witnessed more than a few entrepreneurs actually recoil at the word “automation” as if it meant something dishonest, impersonal, or inauthentic.
It’s not. It’s about much more, including making your leads, clients, and yourself happier.
Yes, that. For real.
Others understand why it is important, but may get sidetracked by the “urgent matters and distractions” of the day or messages from influencers that tell us to “just go with the flow” and that if something isn’t “fun” we don’t need to do it.
As a result, they never quite get around to making their daily workflow more efficient so that they can actually focus on what they are good at and what they are passionate about.
Doing the front end work seems like something that can easily be tossed into the “I’ll think about this later” bin. The result is that they end up doing a lot of “wheel-reinvention,” repetitive tasks, and extra admin work.
And there are others who have embraced it and maybe even thought to themselves: “I wish I had done this sooner!”
Using our housework analogy: What if every time I wanted to cook, I had to think of what to make, write a list, shop.. not only for food but the pots and utensils I needed? Or had to re-organize my kitchen?
No way would we do that. That’s why we have a functioning kitchen, pots within reach, cookbooks and recipes at our fingertips, a stocked pantry, and organized spice cabinets.
The front end work of finding a place for our cookware, menu planning, recipes, and grocery shopping means that we don’t need to spend all day, every day, thinking about or preparing food.
I suppose there are others who love doing everything manually, but I imagine this blog probably isn’t for you.
What would you choose to do or set up only ONCE.. and then put the task on autopilot?
Automation can liberate you from a lot of the things you don’t want to do, and give you time to do the things you DO want to do.
My idea of hell is being a receptionist or personal assistant. Not that I don’t respect those that do this kind of work, (I do, very much so) but the job description contains absolutely everything I hate and dread… chasing after people with phone calls, manually managing emails, answering the same boring questions over and over, having to be on the phone, (in other words, having to be “on” instead of formulating better written responses AHEAD of time!) filing, and other admin tasks.
I also hate the repetition, and yes, the constant interruptions. I don’t like playing phone or email tag, spending hours re-scheduling appointments, doing paperwork, and tasks that make me feel like I’m generally “babysitting” people, tasks, and things, when I could be doing much more effective things that actually help people thrive and make my own business more sustainable.
I simply would rather interact on a deeper level and share ideas with other open-minded humans, and find that I have to place boundaries on the time I spend in superficial encounters. Although it’s not fashionable to admit this about myself, it’s true.
As a business owner, your own idea of “hell at the office” may be similar, or different: It may involve solving technical problems, writing, showing up live, whether it’s in person or on video, mapping out a strategy, or any of the other tasks that we find ourselves managing on an ongoing basis.
What’s interesting is that I don’t mind organizing, creating graphics, and other tasks that could be categorized as “busy work” if I don’t place a time limit on them.
You may also have your own “pencil sharpening” distractions, such as email, time spent on social media, repetitive and unnecessary admin work, or even the habit of constantly “putting out fires.”
I’ve known people that have not made any progress in their business simply because they prioritize daily dramas, crises, and putting out fires over doing important but not urgent work, and I put categorize this as one big distraction.
For others, it’s spending countless hours on social media that distracts them from their goals and ultimately, creating meaning. It can happen unconsciously (I have to remain aware of this for myself, so that I don’t get distracted) but I’ve also seen many who consciously hustle on a daily basis on social media, which is exhausting.
The minute you stop.. you become almost invisible.
Side note: I don’t believe in spending a lot of time on social media chasing after clients. There are better ways (automated) to attract ideal clients and customers. Social media has its place, of course. But having it rule our time the way it does for many is simply unsustainable.
It’s not just the things we dislike that can hold us back from our true potential. The things that distract us and cause us to lose focus also need to be addressed when setting up daily systems and workflows.
And that’s why I’ve integrated the principles in Michael Hyatt’s book: Free to Focus into my own work and how I help others create their own online offerings.
The gift of freedom is something we can give ourselves so that our work serves our lives, not the other way around.
One strategy for getting our time back is automation. In fact, and entire chapter in the book is devoted to automation.
Let’s bust that “automation isn’t authentic/caring/personal myth:
When many people think of automation, they think that it involves allowing cold, impersonal, machinery to take over our lives. The belief is that it’s the antithesis of creative freedom and flow.
I’m actually a very firm believer in the complete opposite: That creating automation and structure frees up our brains to focus on the cool stuff.. The stuff that we signed up for, went to school for, and spent years of our lives practicing and perfecting. It makes it possible for creativity to flourish by freeing up our time and energy.
It allows us to actually help more people, and also enjoy the rest of our lives.
How can one channel their creativity on a daily basis when it’s being sucked into a big black hole of repetitive tasks, inefficiencies that rob us of time and enjoyment, important tasks that are ignored for so long that they turn into daily dramas that give us a false sense of power and accomplishment.. and doing stuff that we hate?
All because we believe that “going with the flow” is the only path to true freedom? (It is, until it’s not)
Someone once said that structure will set us free. I believe this is true. This structure doesn’t have to feel confining. I think of it rather as something that is of service to me, rather than something I’m subjected to.
Automation is like having that personal assistant that can take care of the stuff that a CEO cannot really afford to be wasting time on.
Automation is about solving a problem ONCE, instead of every day, on the fly.
I do want to make a point here. This process isn’t about productivity for its own sake. (That’s why I run a free workshop every year about operating within our Desire Zone)
When I talk about automation, it isn’t about how to send more emails or create more content get more work done. It’s about taking ourselves out of the equation when it comes to tasks that:
1. We dislike doing and aren’t proficient at. (Example: Solving “tech” issues)
2. We like doing but aren’t proficient at enough to justify spending hours of our time in. (Example: building and managing our own websites when it keeps us from doing other important and money-generating work)
3. We dislike doing but ARE proficient at.. (Example: You are good at doing taxes. Everyone asks you to do their taxes. But you still hate it)
Automation also isn’t only about technology. In fact, there are 4 types of automation we can take advantage of on a daily basis:
- Self automation
- Process automation
- Template automation
- Tech automation
Together, all these things form your SYSTEM and WORKFLOW.
Let’s look at each of these up close.
This is where it all begins. This involves implementing routines, rituals, and habits to make it easier and more efficient for you to follow through on your highest priorities.
There are probably many tasks you perform on a daily basis that you don’t have to think about, such as getting dressed, driving, and preparing dinner. If you had to think about each one of these things on a conscious level every day, it would take you longer to get them done and take up more “head space.”
For example, as I write this, it’s a hot summer day. I’ve already taken the dogs for their long walk because we have a routine/ritual: We walk early in the morning, set up their kiddie pool/water station, have breakfast, and find shady spots to work (and for them, nap in) I don’t have to think about it.
This ritual carries a reward, in the form of a very pleasant ritual: Working outside with my dogs, enjoying coffee or lemonade in the shade while they nap and play near me.
A ritual is “any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.”
Hyatt refers to a book entitled Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. The book explores the daily rituals of more than one hundred fifty novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, and others.
He is also a believer in using structure to liberate one’s mind in order to focus on creating.
Your daily rituals, says Currey, “can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.”
Here are some ways you could self-automate:
1. Keep your wardrobe very simple. (Steve Job’s famous black turtleneck freed up his mind from having to decide what to wear each day) I’ve found that having fewer possessions is quite liberating, but this is a very personal choice.
2. Make the process of preparing meals a no-brainer. You can always cook something more elaborate when you feel like it!
3. Streamline your morning or evening routine so that it takes less mental energy to begin and complete a task, such as emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog, exercising, or any other chores. They become second nature and “frictionless.”
4. Create daily, weekly, and even seasonal habits or routines by repeating them so that they are ingrained. For example, I have a different routine for summer than I do for winter, and I work from home. For someone else who commutes or has a schedule revolving around kids or school or even seasonal exercise options, the routine could change. This is a great way to both create routines AND keep things fresh.
5. My tip for keeping it sustainable: I stopped trying to accomplish 7 or 8 medium sized tasks per day. 3 or 4 is far more realistic. I know that daily chores and tasks, like walking the dogs, doing laundry, and doing errands take up a lot of time, especially since I live in SE Europe (in the land of no dryers) and walk to get groceries almost every day.
I don’t try to cram in too much or I’ll end up too tired to do much of anything. I honestly don’t think a frantic “North American” pace would help me get more done.
6. There’s a ton of books available about creating habits and rituals, and these ideas are worth exploring, even if only one or two ideas “stick” with you.
I’m going to borrow an excerpt from Hyatt’s book:
“To make templates work, you need to develop a template mindset. Every time you work on a project, ask yourself, What components of this project will I use again? If it’s something you expect to do more than once or twice, consider creating a template. Even though it takes a little extra effort on the front end, it will save you an enormous amount of time overall.”
Hyatt, Michael. Free to Focus (p. 121). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Acupuncturists use this when they discover a protocol that works. They may not necessarily use the exact same technique or the same points every single time, but they have a starting point that can be customized, instead of starting from scratch.
Even though we may pride ourselves on avoiding the “cookie cutter” approach, can you imagine how much mental energy it would take to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan from scratch for each patient?
Another great example of this is email templates, both for client/patient communications and for marketing/nurturing leads.
Yet another is a theme template or layout that can be used when creating a website. (with some customization in each case, of course)
One of the most popular features of some of my email workshops and website building courses is TEMPLATES, because it eliminates the process of having to stare at a blank screen, wondering what to write, or having to figure out how to build a website completely from scratch.
It may feel as if you are “cheating” but you are not!
The third type of automation, process automation, simply refers to a written, easy-to-follow set of instructions for performing a job or sequence.
I use this type of automation ALL the time. If I have a multistep process, I write down every step, with screenshots, as if I were creating instructions for someone who had no experience with the task.
You can do the same. Because when you are tired, and haven’t done your taxes since this time last year, or haven’t updated your website in months, and you just grabbed your first cup of coffee for the day, you’re not going to remember.
Think about how much mental energy it takes to:
1. Find out where you put that damn checklist that you jotted down months ago. Stare at the screen because don’t even know where to start.
2. Try to figure out all the steps in between, that you didn’t write down because you thought you would remember it all
3. Spend a few hours Googling and YouTubing just to find out what those missing steps are.
3. Avoid the task.. kicking the can forward only to find that you really DO need to start from square one all over again.
This entire process requires about the same amount of energy from you as writing a term paper or onboarding a new client. That’s a LOT of energy that could be channeled into something else.
For example, I can spend energy trying to remember all the steps in order to produce this blog, which involves finding and optimizing images, research, writing, researching keywords/SEO optimization, formatting it, creating Pinterest pins for it, sharing it on social media and email, creating new “offshoot” content from it, etc.
As you can see, this involves and entire checklist. Someone new to this may think that writing a blog is simply about writing what comes to mind and then copying and pasting the text into their website.
Or I can open up my already existing process and go through each step, saving a TON of time and energy that can be put into creating a blog I’m proud of, and letting it work for me, instead of the other way around.
Documenting a process may seem like a lot of work, at first. It may even feel weird. But if you do this, you’ll be glad you did this for yourself the next time around, when you’re tired or distracted.. OR when the time comes to delegate the task, should you choose to.
Process automation is about never having to repeat your high level thinking.
This is what many people think of when they see or hear the word “automation.”
The phrase “Automate your workflow” may conjure industrial age images of factory owners trying to squeeze more out of each employee, or replace them with machines.
Or Artificial Intelligence replacing humans.
I invite you to think of it as a service to you, as an entrepreneur. Anything that reduces your workload over time, that allows you to do what’s important to you, and save time, money, and energy is certainly worth checking out.
Examples of “tech” automation
To use this blog as an example again, there are quite a few tools I can use that make the process of writing a blog a LOT easier, even though all the steps I talked about above can sound daunting.
The most obvious is AI (ChatGPT, Jasper) This is a topic that I’m currently writing about. I wrote an article for beginners, an article about how to get started with content generation, and another about how to use AI when writing marketing emails.
I have tools that allow me to manage images, (which I need, because I use images a lot) automatically create headings and subheadings (the gold and purple gray text you see in every blog) with a click of a button, and a lot more, because of the robust “tech” automation that DIVI provides.
Email is another great example.
I can follow up with leads, clients, and students easily with flexible email automation options.
Trying to do this manually is unrealistic for someone who sells on-demand products, but even for those whose primary focus is 1:1 services, it’s too easy for something to “fall through the cracks” which is not only stressful, but makes it appear as if we “don’t have our shit together.”
A CRM is yet another example. In Kartra, I can easily view and manage contacts so that I can serve everyone much more effectively (and stay sane!)
Data is super important for any business, and with automation I don’t have to spend time gathering data from different sources and try to figure out what it all means. I can have everything in one centralized dashboard so that I can “see” my numbers (KPI’s/key performance indicators) at a glance.
All of these things not only help you to keep your sanity and create a more sustainable business.. they actually create a better experience for your leads and clients.
For example, you can send the right emails to the right people at the right time.. dynamically and automatically, so that they get what is relevant to them, depending on where they are at in their journey with you, preferences, and how they interact with you.
This is a much better experience than simply “blasting” your entire audience with a generic message. THIS is what’s annoying to people.
To make it easier for you to build the “tech” infrastructure you need, I have 7 criteria for determining if a platform is going to be effective for selling an on-demand product, such as a course, membership, or program. A platform could be one “all under one roof” solution such as Kartra, or it could be comprised of several platforms or apps that get the job done.
The objective is to make sure that the entire system or ecosystem is integrated, running smoothly, provides a seamless experience for customers, but ALSO automates your workflow so that you can focus on what really counts.
I hope that this entire article illuminates the concept of automation, so that it’s no longer a set of fancy tools and yet another thing to learn about/put on your to-do list.
Automation involves some up front investment of time, money, and energy, but pays for itself, and then some, after a few months.
Don’t procrastinate when it comes to automating your workflow, now that you understand the true meaning of this phrase and how it can serve you.
Need help with automating your business?
Systems are one of the 8 core essentials I help clients implement in their businesses.
If you find that you are becoming a slave to your business, an ever-expanding to-do list, or if things are starting to fall between the cracks, it may be time to take a close look at your systems and workflows.
This isn’t just for big corporations or even small businesses.. today, solopreneurs can benefit from affordable tools, templates, and repeatable processes (NOT just tech tools) so that they can create something sustainable for themselves and for their clients.
The best way to get started isn’t by more trial and error, but having someone show you how to streamline your systems and workflows. Get your time back!