Fear & Other Tough Stuff: eliminate, automate, delegate

I’m a total geek when it comes to thinking about systems and streamlining. Which is probably why I return time and again to this Timothy Ferris quote from The 4-Hour Workweek:

Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash. How’s that incentive to be effective and efficient?

Eliminate, automate, delegate. There’s no better mantra for an entrepreneur.

And yet, many of my entrepreneurial clients struggle with at least one of these. And some struggle with all three.

Over the years I’ve noticed the two most challenging seem to be eliminate and delegate.

Remove, get rid of, put an end to, do away with, stop

There’s often fear and reluctance around elimination. And also a bit of SuperWoman syndrome and martyrdom.

Fear shows up as:

  • I can’t eliminate this service because I might lose clients.
  • I can’t stop showing up on Twitter because I might miss out.
  • I can’t fire this client because what if I can’t replace them.

In addition to fear, there’s often a subtle reluctance.

Clients tell me, I don’t have time to streamline (which is a form of elimination) right now. I’ll get to it when I’m not so busy. Unfortunately, this refusal to eliminate is guaranteed to keep things too busy.

And then there’s the SuperWoman/Martyr who shows up when it comes to eliminating things in her business.

By refusing to eliminate and streamline, SuperWoman gets to keep juggling a bunch of balls in the air and then the Martyr gets to talk about how busy she is. Look at me over here doing it all. I’m so busy. I can handle it though. Yes, I’m exhausted. And sometimes a little resentful, but I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing—saying Yes to everything and refusing to eliminate anything.

Eliminating things in your business (and life) is a beautiful thing. Because you don’t just do it willy-nilly. You eliminate intentionally, with care. You do it so what’s left is what matters most.

  • Which means you eliminate the service you hate to deliver or the one with the lowest profit margin.
  • You deactivate the social media account where you don’t feel energized to show up.
  • You fire the client who doesn’t honor your boundaries and repeatedly calls outside work hours.

Elimination is all about shedding what no longer works or is no longer a good fit. It’s about getting rid of what causes you to be overly busy and stressed out.

By eliminating—thoughtfully and strategically—you end up with a better business. And a happier, less stressed you.

Assign, entrust, pass on, hand over, empower

A lot of my clients also struggle when it comes to delegation. Despite hustling until their heads spin and drowning in workload, they have all kinds of “reasons” for not delegating:

  • I just don’t trust anyone else to do it the way I can.
  • It takes longer to train someone than just to do it myself.
  • I don’t know how to find someone for what I need to offload.
  • I’m a solopreneur so there’s no one to delegate to.

Let me say it straight: These are all excuses.

I just don’t trust anyone else to do it the way I can.
You’re absolutely right. It’s a fact that no one else will do it exactly the way you do. So what? Because the point is you can’t do it all and someone else can do it well enough. If this is your excuse for not delegating, you need to take a long hard look at whether your SuperWoman/Perfectionist combo is really serving you and your business.

It takes longer to train someone than just do it myself.
Once again, you’re spot-on. It will take longer to train someone than to do the task yourself. The first time. Let’s say you invest a couple hours training someone to do a task that would take you 30 minutes. Initially that feels like you’ve wasted 90 minutes because you could’ve just done the task yourself. But training has a high ROI. Because then the task is done a second, third and fourth time. And you’re not the one doing it. Your time is now freed up to devote to your highest return activities.

I don’t know how to find someone for what I need to offload.
When I hear this “reason”, I wait for the next sentence. Which I’m hoping will be something along the lines of but I’m determined to figure it out or and I’m going to ask around and do some research. We can’t indulge in not knowing. There’s no shame in being clueless when you’re doing something for the first time. But saying you don’t know how and stopping at that is a shame. There are simply too many resources available to ever stop with I don’t know how… Tough love: Figure it out.

I’m a solopreneur so there’s no one to delegate to.
When you’re a solopreneur, you may not have employees, but that doesn’t mean you can’t delegate. There are all kinds of tasks that can be outsourced to a Virtual Assistant or through sites like Upwork and Guru. Don’t let the size of your business or being a solopreneur keep you from reaping the rewards of outside help. In fact, an argument can be made that because you’re a solopreneur you need to be even more a master at delegating than a larger enterprise with multiple staff. Your time should be spent on what only you can do. Your unique talent and genius can’t be delegated and outsourced, but everything else in your business should be up for consideration.

Let’s go back to the beginning and bring all this closer to home. Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined.

What can you eliminate? After you’ve eliminated—and then eliminated some more—what can you automate? And then, finally, with what’s left, what can you delegate?