Category Archives: Automate

The Perfect New Year’s Resolution

I think new years resolutions are too random- why start losing weight on January 1. It’s such a random date. I suggested you start now– whenever you are reading this. Go ahead I’ll wait.

But there is one item that makes sense to start with January 1st- gain control of of your finances. January 1st is good because you know exactly when you started your tracking. You know how to gain control of your finances, but here’s a refresher:

  • Figure out what you spend money on.
  • Determine where you can save money (I called up my cell phone company and saved $32 a month by switching to a different plan and canceling phone insurance)
  • Set up a budget- Save all you can
  • Find ways to earn more

The hardest part of this is getting started. Do you know what you spend money on? I suggest you build a system (a machine) to make this automatic. Get your bank and credit cards to automatically update your data in a personal finance program like Quicken or Money or online at a site like Mint.

There will be some setup time but in the future you’ll be able to just click a couple of buttons and you’ll know exactly where you stand financially.

The Two Minute Guide To Getting Started With Productivity

1) Get your to do list out of our head

SAF#2The mind is for generating ideas, not storing them. Don’t keep your to do list in your head- you risk forgetting something. Plus with your mind freed from your to do list it can work on generating better ideas.

2) If It Takes Two Minutes Or Less Do It Now

If you can do something in 2 minutes or less, dont put it on any lists, just do it. You’ve already accomplished something. This is especially true for tasks you need to delegate e.g. have other people help you with.

3) Be Conscious In Whatever You Do

While working on something, even (especially) routine tasks, ask yourself, why am I doing this? How can I stop doing it? How can I do it better? Asking yourself these three questions will help you improve quality, eliminate unnecessary tasks and gives you automation opportunities.

photo credit: Roby Ferrari

Downtime? What’s That? 7 Ways To Maximize Downtime

Asleep at the Wheel
Web Worker Daily had an interesting post on Using Your Down Time Effectively. I don’t remember the last time I had downtime. Here’s the ways I turn my down time into up time.

1. Documentation and Clean up

Write documentation for your previous project. Write down the steps you took to complete it (if they’re complex) in case you need to redo it. Get rid of old versions of documentation and coding. Get rid of or file the old paperwork.

2. Review your Previous Project

See what went right and wrong. Learn from it. Improve your process or knowledge. This is like an accomplishment review for a project.

3. Improve Processes

Take the opportunity to improve processes. Think about what can be done better. What takes too long? What processes are error prone? Improve it.

4. Keep Learning

Is there a skill that will make you more marketable? more productive? Is there a certification that can make you stand out? There’s always something new to learn: learn more about the tools you use. Learn to type faster. Learn about personal finance.

5. Do Your “Somedays”

Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t have the time to do this now, but I want to do this someday”? Your someday has arrived. Start planning your downtime in advance- while you’re working. If you come up with an idea put it on your “someday/maybe” list. (This is “Getting Things Done”(GTD) language for a list of things you may get to in the future). During down time review this list. See which projects will help you most and start working on it.

6. Follow up

Check in on your previous completed projects. Make sure that the results are being used correctly. There may be opportunities for improvement. Your “customer” will be impressed by your dedication quality.

7. Start Building a Machine

When you build a machine you take your downtime to a new level (super-up-time?). When you build a machine you create a long term system. For example if you are a web designer and bid for projects frequently, create a “job making machine”. Building a machine will get you more jobs with less effort. Your machine could include a standard introductory letter, sample web sites by category, a list of testimonials, an up to date web site, follow up letters, sample proposals by target market. You get the idea. Put together everything you need to bid on a project so that it takes you little time to place a bid.

Don’t just start this machine randomly. Launch one step at a time (see layering) e.g. start with one follow up letter at a time. This way if you get interrupted (by a new project) you can take advange of your previous successes that you’ve already accomplished. Then at the next down time you know exactly where you left off.

Using these seven techniques you can eliminate downtime and maximize your efforts.

When was the last time you had downtime? What did you do?

photo credit: Aaron Jacobs

Lifestyle Investing: How to Compound Time

The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest

Albert Einstein

We all know about the power of compound interest (at least we should). Basically you take a few dollars and put it away for a few years and the interest you earn earns interest. Before you know it you have much more than you started with. Can you apply the same concept to time? That’s the question asked to Tim Ferriss of The Four Hour Workweek. Unfortunately he doesn’t provide an answer. But we all know the answer is obviously yes- investing is one of the principles of success. Here’s six ways to compound time:


You don’t have to do everything yourself. Get rid of the easy tasks so someone else does it for you. Need someone to do payroll try a company like ADP then all you need to do is spend a couple of minutes sending them your data and they take care of the rest.


Some tasks are too complex or personalized to outsource- instead you can insource it (delegate). Train someone to do your job inside your organization or family- a few minutes of training or direction can give you huge dividends in the long term. Sometimes just asking is all you need to do.


Invest a small amount of time to get a machine/computer to do your job for you. This is why I love computers. They have the potential to do exactly what you need you just have to tell it the right way. It may require a special program, a special setup or even some programming but if you find the right command your computer will do your work for you and will never complain.


Investing in learning time is crucial. Sometimes learning simple techniques can end up saving you much time in the long run. Learn how to type faster. Learn advanced features of your word processor. Just Learn.


If you’re the guru in your house or your office, you’ll often get all kinds of requests- each of which takes you away from what you need to accomplish. The solution is to invest time to teach the person how to do it themselves. So go ahead: Teach your kids to pick their own close. Teach your coworker to run a report you created. As the saying goes “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”


When there is a system to your actions it makes it much easier to succeed. Think about a recipe- it tells you exactly what you need to do. For projects that you create look into making it systematic. It takes away complexity and limits the risk of problems.

With the Success Blueprint you’ll always know what you’re supposed to be doing and what needs to be done next. It’s a formula that helps you succeed. Your machine works for you invisibly even if you aren’t actively working on it.

This just shows the value of time don’t waste it. Do you have any techniques to compound time? Let me know below.

My Mother-In-Law’s Productivity Secret

Recently, my family went to my in-laws for for a few days to celebrate Passover as is our tradition each year. When it came time for cake she brought out sponge cake and home made brownie. This may not be significant to you, but it was to me and my wife. My wife looks forward to a specific brand of sponge cake that is only made for passover. No other sponge cake will do. Brownie is my favorite cake and the passover selections aren’t great. She bought the exact mix my sister (who always makes great cakes) recommended a year ago. It was not only thoughtful, it was delicious.

So what is my mother-in-law’s secret for getting us exactly what we want after a whole year? She set herself up for success. Last year (and every year) she wrote down all these specifics so she wouldn’t forget and put it with her passover recipes. This year as she sat down with her recipe books to plan what ingredients to buy she came across this list (I’m sure it has much more- she buys the kids their favorites too). At that point it was almost easy (especially if she wrote down the stores that sell it). She just added it to her shopping list and now has grateful kids (and grandkids).

Lesson: Make lists and keep it where you’ll use it

Some people go to hotels for passover but not me where could I get this kind of service!?!

8 Steps to a Productive Day

Path to a productive dayThe Getting Things Done Yahoo Group is having an interesting discussion about Control mechanisms.

Without control mechanisms of some type in place, doesn’t that pretty much leave you in the lap of the gods so to speak?

In my response I outlined 8 steps to being productive. I try to instill control, yet give the flexibility to be creative and maximize your day. It all starts with thinking first.


At the end of each day you should plan your next day. This may be an outgrowth of your weekly review- or as it should be called “The Weekly Preview”. Depending on your type of job think this is impossible, but it’s not. For example, if you are in constant crisis mode most of your plan may be thrown out each morning but your plan should be to get the bottom of the crisis so you can move past it.

First you’ll need to determine the most important tasks (MITs) that need to be done the next day. Don’t count daily maintenance tasks like following up and checking email as part of this. If there are 20 things you need to get done then you’re just setting yourself up for failure (unless they aren’t big and you can batch a bunch together and count it as one of your MITs).

Don’t try to fill your full day with MITs- these are just the choices to get you started. Just pick the 1-5 items that you want to get done the next day (keep it 3 or less ideally). Start with items that MUST get done (e.g. deadlines) – that if you don’t do it you’ll need to stay late. Also check your calendar of how much time you’ll have. The more scheduled time you have the less MITs you should plan. Then if you still have open slots, pick tasks that will be best for you for the long term while balancing for project size: smaller projects go first. A better idea is to use layering to cut your most strategic projects into small attainable parts so they don’t get pushed off and are the smaller projects that you end up doing.

At the end of this process you’ll have you a few MITs and a bunch of other tasks. Dont worry these other tasks will still get done.

Here’s how to schedule your productive day:

1. Most Important Tasks

Start with your first MIT first thing when you get in, before you check email or process your other in boxes. Much has been written about the advantages of starting the day early. Getting in early to do a MIT can set your day in the right track. Even if you cant get in early get to your first MIT as soon as possible.

2. Process

When you start processing your in boxes do the quick tasks on the spot. GTD has a two minute rule that in itself can trim items off your to do list before they get there. I would expand this to a 5 minute rule (or even 10) for the following scenarios:

a) Lots of small tasks

Your to do lists are long enough, if you keep having to add 5-10 minute tasks to it and cycle through 5-10 minute tasks every time you want to pick a task you’re just wasting time and energy. Further if you know someone will spend 5 minutes following up on these tasks then it wastes more time. Get it done. Once it’s done it’s no longer on your list and out of your mind. This is part of the reason you didn’t over schedule yourself, so you can properly react to your incoming tasks. If you have a lot of these tasks then you may decide to schedule a MIT for the next day to get rid of the 10 minute tasks.

b) Offensive Opportunities

Sometimes if you take care of a task quickly you can create good will. This can be used with prospects, customers and bosses.

c) Preparation

If you receive information about a task that doesn’t have an immediate deadline don’t just file it away, look at it first. Jot down a quick outline of your thoughts. You may create a few Next Actions right away. Pay special attention to missing information, you’ll want to email people quickly so they have maximum time to do proper research. Seek to get project scope/deadline early on- this will save you lots of rushing at the deadline.

d) Soaking Time

Give yourself time to be creative by figuring what needs to be done and let your mind work in the background. Again an outline helps here. Then let your brain work in the background. You can even schedule a reminder for your self in a few days to jot down a few more notes.

3. Maintenance tasks

These are the small daily tasks you need to do like ticklers/follow ups. Be sure that you go through your follow up list.

4. More MITs

Spend uninterrupted time on your next MIT. Set your environment so you can get in the zone.

5. More Processing/Breaks

Breaks are good for you- just don’t take it to an extreme. Two to five minutes every hour gives you time to rejuvenate. After a break you can switch gears to the next MIT or processing time.

You should schedule processing time at key intervals of your day. Different jobs have different requirements. I would recommend once in the morning, once before and after lunch and one last time before you leave.

6. Context

You can only do certain tasks in certain places. In your Preplanning, you may have scheduled yourself to be in a place to do one of your MITS (e.g. a meeting). Be sure that you think through where you’ll be so you can have a productive time during the transitions e.g. as you wait. Trace your steps through transitions. If you find yourself in your car be sure to have your cell phone or something appropriate to listen to.

7. Seize The Day

After you’re done with your MITs for the day, you pick your next task by gaugin the time available/energy available. If you’re ambitious you can find another MIT, otherwise just slice and dice and get your task list down.

8. Start Planning

Before you leave for the day preplan (see the first section) the next day to get it going on the right foot.

As you see this schedule is rigid but allows flexibility. You may be going along one day doing your tasks and realize that the current task can be ATEd (automated, eliminated or delegated). If you spend some extra time now you’ll receive greater benefits in the future. You can then decide to schedule it for the next day or push off your next MIT to the next day and do the automation on the spot.

I used this flexibility to write this blog post. I started the base of this blog post as a reply to the conversation but as I kept writing I realized it was getting lengthy as there were some concepts I wanted to explain. Some may have quit and said there’s too much to write and not enough time allocated. Instead I took the extra time and it became the foundation for the blog post that I wrote later.

Have a productive day!

Photo credit: Maik Radke

8 Ways To Do Less Of What You Don’t Like

Readers of this blog know that being more successful can be easy and fun- all you have to do is follow The Rule of Thumb for Success: do more of what you like and less of what you don’t like. Today we’ll concentrate on doing less of what you don’t like using techniques you already know.

Identify Your Tasks That You Don’t Like
The first step in any en devour is to figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. During the course of your day there will be numerous tasks that will annoy you, cause you to pull out your hair or that you simply don’t like. Identify them- they are now put on notice. Pick a few items you will work on eliminating. I suggest you start with a few easy ones so you can see quick results (see layering). Once you get the hang of it go for the really annoying ones that may be harder to eliminate.

Eat the Tasks You Don’t like
Now that you know what you want to accomplish it’s time to plan how to do it. I recommend you Ate your task- By ATE I mean eliminATE, delegATE or automATE. Below I’ll explain the concepts and show you how you can use it. To better illustrate the power of these techniques I’ll give you specific examples using everyone’s least favorite task: washing dishes.


  • Decide– Decide that you don’t want to do it. It could be it’s not needed or it’s not that important anymore. If you’re doing the task for someone else ask them if they still need it. If you’re too chicken to ask your boss if he still needs that monthly report, just ask him if you can enhance it or make it better in any way. Perhaps you know of a different report that will do the job better.

Lets see how to use this to do fewer dishes: Decide you don’t want to do dishes anymore and switch to plastic (at least for really mess stuff). Decide that you don’t want to bake anymore.

  • Combine– Combine the task you dislike with something else you like. People often combine exercise with TV. Before they know it they’ve run another mile. Be sure that the tasks are compatible (e.g. no tv and washing dishes because your eyes cant do both at the same time) and that you don’t multi-task. You need to give each task the appropriate attention.

Do fewer dishes: Use dishes time as quality time with your partner. You are going to talk about your days (at least you should) and discuss future plans you may as well get something accomplished at the same time. He can even dry.

  • Simplify– Try not to over complicate the process- that may be leading to your dislike. Try to isolate the parts you don’t like doing and find a solution for that.

Do fewer dishes: Eat out/Order in. The goal is to eat- not to cook. If you don’t cook, there are no dishes. If your issue with washing dishes is that your hands get too dry be sure to have gloves handy and that will eliminate your problems.

  • Batch it– Do multiple tasks together and save setup time. It will also limit your dislike time to a small portion of the day.

Do fewer dishes: Don’t wash a dish at a time, wash them all together.


  • Insource– See who within your organization (or family) you can get to do the horrid task. Offer to trade tasks or even bribe them. If you don’t have people capable train them. You may think it takes a while to train but it can pay huge dividends in the future.

Do fewer dishes: Trade tasks with your partner- you take care of the kids if she’ll wash the dishes.

  • Outsource– Pay someone to do it. You can find personal assistants for virtually anything. It may be expensive but you may decide to skimp on your budget elsewhere or put in extra hours just to afford the luxury.

Do fewer dishes: Hire help.


  • Automate the process– Look to computers and other technology to take care of the task for you. It may take an investment of time or effort but often can lead to huge dividends.

Do fewer dishes: Get a dishwasher.

  • Habits– Set habits for yourself that will make your job easier. You can try to set habits for others to.

Do fewer dishes: Annoyed that your kids don’t bring the dishes? Have a candy dish at the sink. When dishes are deposited then they get to take an item. Replenish it quickly at first and then less in the future until it becomes second nature.


Sometimes there are tasks that you just have to do so try to make it more fun. Add music to it. Do it in a fun way (splash the water). Remember it’s not work if you want to do it.

At Seth’s Blog he calls our rule of thumb for success: Have to vs. Get to. Wouldn’t it be great if you get to do what you have to do.