How Do You Make Time to Automate?

Find the time to make more time.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

I’m a high achiever. I like results. You probably do, too.

When you’re getting started, it’s easy to create more results. Just work more.

What if you don’t have more time? What if you’re already fully booked and want to increase your results?

You have three options: eliminate, automate, or delegate current work to make room for higher-value work.

Elimination is easy, if you can identify work that can be eliminated in favor of higher-value work. Automation and delegation both take time—the very time you’re trying to free up!

So how do you get started? How do you find the time to automate when you don’t haveany free time?

Years ago, I was responsible for reporting the weekly metrics for our entire organization. This report went up the chain and pieces of it went various directions through the organization.

When I first took on this responsibility, it took two-and-a-half days to compile the report. The raw data was (usually) available when I came in on Monday morning and if everything went smoothly, I would have the report ready to send by lunch on Wednesday.

I was halfway through the week, but less than halfway through the work. I never had enough time to fulfill my other responsibilities. It simply wasn’t sustainable.

Elimination wasn’t an option—creating and distributing this report and its derivatives was one of my highest-value contributions. It wasn’t likely that I could delegate the report, either.

If I wanted more time, I was going to have to automate the report.

I just needed to make time for it.

Here’s how you can make time for automation when you already have a full plate.

  1. Identify lower-priority targets for temporary elimination. Not all work is equally important. I met with everyone else I interacted with to assess how critical each of my responsibilities was. What did they depend on me for? How was I supporting them in achieving their results? Was there anything that they could get by without for a while?
  2. Notify the stakeholders. In the end, I identified almost two days of activities each week that I could suspend while I worked on automation. I met with each stakeholder and explained the situation. I was going to spend some time over the next few weeks automating a report that was taking up most of my time. Most were very understanding and had no idea that one report took so much time.
  3. Push pause. For the next six weeks, I stopped doing as much other work as I could get away with. Some deliverables happened every other week or less. Some were suspended entirely. Every moment I could squeeze out went into automation.
  4. Use the free time to automate. Monday morning, I started producing the report by hand. I took notes on what would be the easiest and hardest parts to automate. Once I sent off the report on Wednesday, I switched gears and started to learn Microsoft Access. It was slow going at first. It got better.
  5. Ask if anyone missed the suspended tasks. After I had the automation complete, I met with each stakeholder again. I asked them a simple question: how much had they missed what I was doing for them? Only a few activities returned to their former levels. Most came back at a reduced frequency or were dropped entirely.
  6. Use the new margin to automate the next task. As I completed pieces of the automation, I had more time to automate. When I was finished, I now had margin I could use to automate the other activities that didn’t get eliminated, which freed up even more time. Improving your processes is an investment. When your investment starts to pay dividends, reinvest them.

In six weeks, I was able to reduce the time to prepare the report from two-and-a-half days to two-and-a-half hours. On Monday morning, I spent a few minutes doing data entry and let Access go to work. After waiting for the printer and stuffing some envelopes, everything was ready to go out with the morning post.

(Yes, we sent out part of the report by postal mail.)

That was only half the win, too. By evaluating the value created by each of the activities I was doing through the week, we identified several legacy activities that had outlived their usefulness. Eliminating those activities freed up even more time.

Elimination, automation, and delegation don’t have to be permanent. Neither do they need to be all-or-nothing. You can use any of them temporarily, partially, and progressively to free up time, be more relaxed, and deliver next-level results.

Question: What could you suspend to start automating something? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.