A few months ago, I wrote about how we are always jumping on a moving train. As you know, the train never stops moving. Maybe it might slow down at some point. But waiting for that to happen before starting something new seems both unrealistic and unnecessary to me. Instead, what if we found ways to fit stuff into our lives? I’m always interested in doing less and living more.
Coincidently, I’m currently getting through a book called Less Doing, More Living by Ari Meisel. (You can download the audio book here.) One of the primary themes of this book is to find ways to help you create systems in your life so that you can streamline all that you have going on. Make them efficient. Take it fro me. You know all the stuff I have going on in my life with my client work, mom, fitness, blog, podcasts, etc. I was eager to learn. Here’s the first thing that surprised me.
The book isn’t about mindset. It’s not a feel-good book that encourages you to take more time for yourself, and the rest will follow. Instead, the book goes into how you can create systems in your life. Ari then introduces you to tools that you can use to make things crazy efficient. The primary theme that Ari teaches you to do is to optimize, automate, and then outsource what makes sense.
Optimize, Automate, Outsource
It has to be in this order. It doesn’t serve you to outsource before automating or optimizing. Yet this is often the first that we are tempted to do. When we have a mess, the first thing we think of is to find a person to hep us clean it up. What we should be doing is to first figure out a process to keep it clean. I know what you’re thinking. “If that person helps me clean it up, I have no more mess!” Yes, that is true. However, it’s not sustainable. Without a process to maintain that clean state, you get into a perpetual cycle of clean –> mess. Outsourcing before optimizing is completely inefficient. It’s wasteful. It wastes time; it wastes money.
Step 1: Optimize
I’ve spent many years analyzing business processes in organizations. I’ve done it so much that It’s become a fiber of my very being. I automatically seek to analyze every single process everywhere in my life, be it in my work, the way I wash up in the morning, and how I raise my kid. If there is something that doesn’t make sense, it bugs the crap out of me. I even made a swim-lane diagram for the preschool registration process at the end of my tenure as registrar at my son’s preschool. (They did look at me funny, slowly nodding…)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that my life is a tight ship. I’d love to advocate that there is a place for everything… and everything in its place. The reality is, however, if you’ve ever been to my house, it likely looks like a tornado just ran through it. I’m an ongoing project… which is why this book spoke out to me so much. When we have systems to organize the clutter in our lives, our mind is also continually free of clutter.
What All Can we Clear?
The first thing that comes to mind is Inbox Zero. This shouldn’t be news to you. When you can keep your inbox to zero messages, it’s a thing of beauty. Too bad this beauty lasts for 20 seconds. While I would love to talk about how fabulous it is to have the unicorn of inbox zero, I would be fabricating the truth. At this point in time, I’ve basically given up on my inbox. It’s over 1,000 unread messages. So the book suggests multiple seemingly effective methods to manage your email inbox. Once you do that, your mind feels free. I don’t feel that I have earned the privilege to talk about it because mine is a complete mess. Again, work in progress.
There is something to be said about Chinese Feng Shui. Feng Shui, which literally means ‘wind and water,’ is the art of positioning your home and everything in it to create a good flow of chi. Chi, as you probably know, is energy. There is energy flow in every part of your life.
While I don’t necessarily subscribe to all Feng Shui philosophies, I do agree with positioning your belongings in a manner that supports your daily living processes. For example, everything in my kitchen is organized by purpose and function. All the baking equipment exists together. Utensils for food preparation are together. All the food storage is in one spot. The cooking utensils are in one spot. This might be a no-brainer for you, but in the house in which I grew up, it wasn’t like this. I think it’s worthwhile taking a moment to consider how you go about your morning, how you make breakfast as you dash out of the door. This happens every day of your life! So if you can streamline that morning process, it sets yourself up for a good day already!
Simple Ways to Start Streamlining
Dry Run and Analyze
Go through your morning route, and do a ‘dry run’ of how you dash out the door every morning. Re-position everything that you use along that very route. If you can eliminate having to go back and forth three times as you compile your lunchables, you’re streamlining. More importantly, your life is streamlined. You get peace of mind. The process becomes light-weight. Process streamline is a multi-billion dollar industry that is critical to any organization, especially manufacturing. Manufacturing companies analyze every single little move in order to optimize efficiency. Companies like Toyota and the like have invented complete methodologies to continually optimizing their processes for efficiency. Companies spend millions of dollars on the likes of Oracle, SAP and process manufacture systems to ensure that they have zero redundancy. If it’s that important to a company, why wouldn’t we clue in and employ the same criticality in our own lives?
Darkness Needs to Come Before Dawn
As you know my Inspired Parent Insights Podcast went live about a month ago on iTunes. In the early days of putting everything together, it took hours upon hours to get an episode produced and finalized. The two weeks before launch Perry and I spent all weekend editing and arranging. We had pre-recorded 24 episodes. In our naivete, we just left them until the end to edit and finalize. By Sunday night, I wanted to stab myself in the eye. After that experience, I secretly vowed never to let it all pile up.
Here’s the rub. Without going through that grueling process of doing 5 million episodes all at once, we would never have known the in’s and out’s of the process. Without going through all the tedious steps, we would never have known what we could eliminate. See, it’s only through practice, and doing it over and over again that you can find the tasks that take up the most time and the easy tasks that can all go together. In order to optimize any sequence of events, you first need to go through the pain of doing it step by step. It’s of little benefit to theorize on a piece of paper, even though you’re visualizing the entire process. To truly optimize, you need to employ a little elbow grease and experience it first-hand. Once you’ve done that, then you can then group like tasks together. You can sequence things that make the most sense and come out with your optimized process. I’m happy to report that we have pared our post-production process that what once took hours down to 30 minutes flat.
Optimizing a process allows you to then try out what all you can automate. We have to first eliminate everything that is unnecessary, and sequence tasks for efficiency. Only then can we level up and automate stuff. When you automate, you create systems processes so that you don’t need to waste your valuable youth doing stuff that can be done on autopilot. Like a slow-cooker, you want to set it and forget it.
I had to think about how this applied to my life. Did I actually automate anything in my life? Turns out, I have. Mint.com is one of my favorite ways to automate the calculation of my net worth. Instead of keeping a spreadsheet and tracking everything that I own, and everything that I owe, I use mint.com to automatically pull in everything that came through my bank accounts and credit cards.
Mint.com then automatically categorizes my business expenses. What’s more is that it remembers based on the vendor what the most likely expense category is. No more sitting there at the end of the month doing my own bookkeeping, looking longingly through a window at everybody else having fun. That said, I still engage an accountant for the heavy lifting. But anytime there is an online service that would do the job, why hire a human? This leads me to my last point.
There were a few years in my youth and naiveté that I thought because I had the letters behind my name that I could easily do my own taxes. After getting slapped in the face with penalties and re-evaluations, I finally learned my lesson. Stick to what I’m good at; engage professionals for the rest. Taxes is something that I suck at, and coincidentally, is what I abhor. Hence I’ve got Les, my beloved accountant. This also goes for other areas in my life, which I feel someone else can do a better job: house cleaning, tailor, even grocery shopping.
Click and Collect
I recently discovered the magic of online groceries. Now, if you’re someone who loves grocery shopping, spending hours in a grocery store, leisurely perusing everything on which you can spend your money, all the power to you. Go for it. Me, I’ve got my recurring orders, all the things that I need every week. I’ve pared down my weekly two-hour grocery trip where I literally do laps around the grocery store because I’ve forgotten laundry detergent, then shaving gel, then zip-lock bags. Now, it’s simple 15-minute job. I review my order online, simply pull up to the pick-up stalls and collect my order. Done.
Even in the office, if you work in a team, you can outsource to each other. My teammate Jyo and I always do this. We know each other’s strengths and we collaborate based on those strengths. For instance, whenever it comes to interface testing between multiple systems, Jyo’s your gal. When it comes to accounting entries and Oracle, she knows I’ve got her back. Call it teamwork; call it internal-outsourcing. The point is that as a team, you’re capitalizing on everyone’s strengths and progressing forward efficiently as a team. I do this with all of my partners.
The secret to accomplishing a crazy amount of things in your life is to capitalize and have a solid system on which you rely. As Ari advocates, optimize the way you do all the processes in your life. Automate what you can. If there is a system that can do it for you, use it. Outsource the rest to professionals.
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