A Modern Approach to Productivity for Entrepreneurs and Executives

Many entrepreneurs, executives and digital nomads are changing their daily habits and routines in the name of maximizing their personal and business productivity. Sparked by Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, this mindset emphasizes “lifestyle design” by doing more in less hours in order to earn “mini-retirements.” Movements like Ferriss' are a part of a larger influx of philosophies aimed at improving individual health and productivity.

Inspired myself by these movements, I came up with a three-pronged approach to lessening daily workloads for both yourself and your team. It was inspired by Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero framework (Essentially, to take the actions to delete, delegate, respond, defer and do to whittle down one's inbox) and Wan How's 4-D time management method (delete, delegate, defer, do). I call it ADO: automate, delegate, outsource — and it's far better than trying to do a million things at once.

Despite what you may have heard about multitasking, it's not very effective, at least over time. Technically, you are actually task switching, which burns through the brain's oxygenated glucose, depleting your energy levels, as Daniel J. Levitin explains in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. So determine the most important tasks you should be doing each day, and then follow this approach.

Automate

Automation seems natural for most of us who work in the technology industry. The rise of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revolves around an app or software usually designed to deliver business solutions and is typically billed on a monthly basis. Use these tools to speed up processes and save time. You can browse sites like Product Hunt and AppSumo to discover new productivity software.

If a daily task takes about 10-15 minutes each day, then that's about an hour a week, which is then four to five hours a month. Multiply that times the hourly rate of either your most junior worker or yourself, and compare that to the monthly plan of the tool in order to determine whether or not the service will be profitable.

Delegate

As a leader and manager, your goal isn’t to put the most time into the business (although you likely were in the early days). In fact, you want to guard your time as much as possible to ensure that you can respond to new situations as they arise and assist internal operations when appropriate. Working "on" the business usually takes precedence over working "in" the business as time goes on.

A good CEO hires the best talent and enables them to get things done in their stead. Make sure that you are delegating tasks to your team as much as possible. Keep about half of your week open (no external calls or meetings) to allow for time to plan and handle administrative duties.

Embrace remote work for certain roles, such as support or sales, in order to maximize productivity for those individuals. The more autonomous and less dependent on direct supervision your workers become, the more efficient they will be over time. Also, consider hiring a virtual assistant to take over more basic tasks such as data entry so that your employees can focus on more prudent tasks.

Outsource

Quite a few misconceptions have given outsourcing a bad name in some contexts. As portrayed in media and pop culture, the archetypal example of outsourcing is usually along the lines of a call center in India that fields tech support inquiries.

Many corporations outsource business processes such as human resources and information technology. While those are common examples, there are many other uses of outsourcing, some of which can be either offshore (distant), nearshore (nearby) or domestic, such as:

• When a major brand hires an advertising agency to create a TV commercial.

• When an event venue contracts an external company to handle security.

• When an e-commerce company uses a different company to manage order fulfillment.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when deciding to outsource versus hire in-house:

1. Do you require a full-time role for this year-round? Smaller firms, for example, can get away with only hiring an accountant during tax season.

2. Do you have currently have the resources to support the new hires? Freshmen employees need to be trained and onboarded, in addition to having access to peers and managers on a regular basis.

Outsourcing doesn’t have to be a company-to-company transaction, either. Hiring freelancers for one-off jobs and contractors for temporary labor would fall under the umbrella of outsourcing for the purposes of this framework. These could entail graphic designers, lawyers, accountants and other service providers.

That said, entrepreneurs who utilize offshore labor often have two main advantages (among others):

1. Lower cost of labor: Typically regions such as Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia — where the proficiency in English and the education levels are sufficient enough to support tech workforce — have a lower cost of living than their Western counterparts. This means that in some cases, you can receive the same quality of work at a lower rate.

2. Time zone differences: This is usually perceived as an inhibitor, especially for those that rely upon synchronous verbal communication. For those that don't, having a remote team on the opposite side of the planet enables 24-hour work cycles. Let virtual assistants work while you sleep.

Make no mistake, it’s well-documented that excessive time spent working will actually make you less productive over time. This means that entrepreneurs need to find ways to do less, not more. Use some of the above methods to deduct hours of work out of your day that can instead be done by machines, employees or other companies. Or better yet, simply take an occasional few days off to relax and recharge.

By Nolan Clemmons