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On April 2014, I was invited to spend a week with Richard Branson at his lodge in Verbier, Switzerland, for the work I was doing to support entrepreneurship at a global level through my startup, Clarity.fm.
To say I was excited would be an understatement…up until I saw Richard walk into the living room for breakfast, I didn’t think the meeting was actually going to happen.
Over the next seven days, I got to spend time with some incredible entrepreneurs like Tim Ferris (4 Hour Work Week), Bryan Johnson (Founder of Braintree / Sold to PayPal for $850M), and Randy Reddig (Co-Founder of Square) just to name a few.
And while these were all fantastic learning opportunities, what mattered most to me was trying to understand how Richard ran his life. How was he able to travel the world living in exotic locations while running an organization with over 400 companies.
So I spent the weekend scrutinizing his every move to figure it out.
What I discovered is that you don’t have to wait until you’re Richard Branson to operate your life and business like Richard Branson.
In fact, a game changing company will never be birthed from from the tangled weeds and mismanaged mess that you call your iCal.
The good news is, you don’t have to wait until you’re the CEO of a multimillion (or billion) dollar company to start acting like one.
In fact, developing the time-saving automations and advanced outsourcing systems PROACTIVELY is how you get to that place to begin with.
Here’s the playbook that gets you there.
Your Time is YOUR Time
“If you delegate tasks, you create followers. If you delegate authority, you create leaders.”
~ Craig Groeschel
On the second day of our seven-day trip, I noticed Richard would spend an hour or two every morning meeting with his assistant, Rachel, during breakfast.
After a few days, I asked her about those meetings and their purpose. It turns out that she and another assistant are the first line of defence for all inbound requests for Richard’s time.
Speaking invitations, business opportunities, meetings requests, etc… they ALL go through Rachel, she’s the gatekeeper. She decides who gets to speak with Richard and who doesn’t.
During those morning meetings, Rachel walks Richard through his upcoming events and obligations, highlighting any potential conflicts along the way.
The conversation with Rachel motivated me to revisit the way I allow people to tap into my time, and inspired me to create the Three D’s to CEO Freedom.
“You can’t do big things if you’re distracted by small things”
Building a business means disconnecting from non-urgent, non-critical tasks, including notifications from mobile apps and social media.
Using the following structure you could easily get a full day back in your week if you take action and implement these today.
1) Inbox Management
“I trust the people who are working with me. I delegate.”
~ Mario Draghi
Giving my virtual assistant access to my inbox was life-changing.
Look, you need to trust your people to be able to do this. If you’re scared, ask yourself why? If you can’t trust your assistant, then what’s the point.
Having someone else process and manage my emails added HOURS to my availability every day.
Here’s how I do it.
If my assistant can respond quicker to a request than I can, she’ll reply and write the following:
Hi [Name], this is Stephanie, Dan’s assistant.
I got to your email before he did and thought you’d appreciate the speediest response.
If there’s anything she can’t handle, or that’s for me to respond to, she’ll drop it in a special folder for me to process.
Yes, the email comes from me, but it’s my assistant who responds and because she’s taking care of all the simple things, I actually get to the urgent/weird stuff faster because it’s all I see.
She also manages my calendar, has access to all my business contacts, etc – so if I’m travelling or heads down on a major initiative nothing just sits in my Inbox.
2) Turn-Off App Notifications
“Be about actions, not distractions.”
Application notifications are one of the biggest time-sucks in the modern world, and a source of distraction people are forced to deal with on a daily basis.
Those “Dings” and notification badges are all designed to suck you into the app and waste your precious time.
Turn them ALL off.
Including your SMS notifications and team chat tools (like Slack or other).
Then what you’ll want to do is schedule time to review the apps themselves.
Here’s how I do it:
- Schedule 30 minute times in my calendar daily
- In each calendar description I list the apps / sites
- I open them up for 10 minutes each, process, then close.
Depending on the app, processing time required, you may have 2-3 windows of time scheduled (ex: for project management, or email).
That way it’s on your time, not the apps.
Now I know some of you are thinking: “What about when it’s an emergency?” and someone is trying to call me… well there’s a few solutions:
1) Create a VIP group in your contacts to let those calls/texts come through at all times.
2) Have your assistant monitor your email and call you if something that can’t wait comes up.
The truth is, emergencies come up a lot less than we think. For most of us, we give things immediate attention that really can wait. You’ll find you’re actually addressing the urgent items faster because there’s less stuff pulling you away from what really matters.
If you have parents or a life partner… DO NOT answer the phone if you’re not able to take the call. Nothing is more frustrating in life then to have someone answer a call and say “I can’t talk now, what’s up?”… or “yeah, yeah, o.k. anything else … I’m busy.”I don’t answer the door when I work from home, and I don’t answer my phone if I’m not able to chat.
You’ll be a better person for it.
3) Schedule “Block Time” In Your Calendar
“A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.”
~ Karen Lamb
Schedule your success.
Design your perfect day. Then design your perfect week.
Then schedule both into your calendar
Yep, that means your workouts, family outings and team lunches. ALL of it.
I call it Block Time, and Block Time leads to BIG wins
You need to schedule 60 to90 minute blocks of time, 2 to 3 times per day, where you work uninterrupted on your big projects.
No one is allowed to disturb you in these moments.
I learned this as a computer programer. When I would code, I’d go all in. I would put my headphones on, turn-off ALL the apps I didn’t need running my desktop, and I code for 90 minutes straight.
Then I’d take a short break, before coding uninterrupted for another 90 minutes.
The key here is to reclaim your day, to take it back from others that interrupt you.
If there are issues, challenges, or questions that come up – capture them before batching their responses all at once.
Things that I batch process:
- Office hours
- Call list
- Running errands
- Project management
- Strategic planning
Set the standard for how you work, and watch as people fall in-line.
Using your calendar to regiment your life will allow you to accomplish more in a year than most do in five.
I use Evernote and have a @Calls note where I add & batch my calls in a list… it works like a charm. Typically I call back when I’m in commute.
Nothing is more freeing than having your day be a result of proactive design vs. reactive chaos.
As for your team, they will learn to adapt to your new structure.
Actually, of all people – Oprah said it best: “You teach people how to treat you.”
Document: Building a Repeatable Scalable System
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
~ W. Edwards Deming
If you’ve ever tried to hire someone because you’ve felt overwhelmed, only to feel totally frustrated because it’s taking more time to train them (or fix their mistakes) here’s the solution.
Create a Playbook for your business.
1) The Playbook Structure
“Fall in love with the process and the results will come.”
If you’ve ever heard of the terms systems, processes, checklist, or standard operating procedure, then you’ve already heard of a Playbook – except my process is simple.
A playbook is just a collection of procedures, reference documents, and templates you connect together to create complex programs.
Here are some examples:
Marketing Program: The repeatable steps that ensure you get consistent acquisition of new, qualified leads for your sales staff.
Sales Program: The process in which you present and make an offer to a qualified leads that results in them becoming a customer.
Operational Program: The internal structure for how you deal with finances, reporting, legal and customer service.
Recruiting Program: How you attract, assess, and convince incredibly talented people to join your team.
The way I organize them all is using a spreadsheet that everyone on my team has access to.
This spreadsheet has three tabs, with each tab containing a list of procedures that focus on an exclusive element (ex: Creating a Webinar) that might be referenced by a bigger Program document for Marketing.
2) Prioritizing Your Processes To Create
“Nobody is too busy, it’s just a matter of priorities.”
Building a Playbook can be some of the most rewarding work you do for your business IF you focus on the right areas first.
After watching hundreds of software companies struggle with process prioritization, I know EXACTLY where you should start to get the biggest returns on your time.
Here they are in order of importance:
Recruiting: Most companies struggle because they don’t have great people, and they don’t know how to consistently scale up (or down) based on their customer demand. Defining exactly how ALL staff should be recruited will give you the confidence necessary to go out there and sell because you’ll know the team is built to deliver.
Administrative: How many hours do you spend invoicing, following-up on receivables, or dealing with customer service? These are ALL pieces of low-hanging fruit that someone else on your team can take responsibility for. All you need to do is create a clear process for them to follow.
Delivery: Whether you’re selling services or a product, you have a team that creates output for your customer. Having a clear process for how this gets done so it’s the same incredible experience, every time, for every customer – is critical. Do this, and you’ll pour gas on your sales and marketing fires..
Sales: Most entrepreneurs love to create but hate to sell. Here’s the thing – if you want to keep creating, you need to sell. If you have a great product, it’s your responsibility to share it with the world. If you truly believe in your product or service, take the time to outline the information (case studies, free trial, etc) that will help potential customers make an informed decision. Sales is about transferring enthusiasm. Create a system that allows you to do that every time.
Marketing: Once you build out each of the previous system then you’re free to pour some gas on getting people to be aware of your product. The best systems for marketing focus on 1 to 3 marketing channels. They don’t create new ones each month based on the mood of the owner. They’re designed to speak to your Core Customer avatar and adds value to their life. Be sure to outline all the steps for creating, promoting and measuring each of your core marketing channels so that you can constantly improve them.
So those are the major areas a kick but Playbook focuses on to ensure the Founder/CEO can free up their time to work on more strategic initiatives.
Once you have a few created then you need to ensure the team keeps them updated which brings me to the last step.
3) Process & Culture
“It’s a slow process, but quitting won’t speed it up.”
There’s nothing worse than spending a bunch of time creating a process for others to follow only to find out it’s not being used, or that it’s gone stale (it’s out of date and not accurate).
The best way to combat that is to make it part of your team’s culture and processes.
So here’s two ways to accomplish that:
1) Culture Rule: No one is allowed to do work that has a procedure and not have it open. No one, including you. 🙂
2) Created by The Team: As much as possible, it’s best to have the teams identify the processes and create the Playbook for their department so that they feel ownership. You’ll still want to review them, but the first drafts should come from the team.
At the end of the day, what gets measured, gets managed… so be sure to review and recognize the newly created procedures in your team meeting and consider giving a reward to the team member who did the best job.
Having this part of your company’s culture will be a game changer for you as you scale up!
Delegate: Don’t Abdicate
“Master your strengths. Outsource your weaknesses.”
~ Ryan Kahn
One of the biggest reasons that founders have a hard time growing their team – even with part time distributed team members – is they ask someone to do something without the proper information, or structure to manage it.
They essentially abdicate responsibility for a task and then get frustrated when it’s not done right.
That’s why I want to share a few strategies to get the most out of having a team you can outsource tasks & projects to.
1) Optimize, Automate AND Outsource
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
~ Peter Drucker
One of my good buddies Ari Meisel is arguably one of the best business process & automation guys on the planet.
He’s a best selling author and creator of an incredible services called Leverage that’s essentially Staff on Demand.
I’m a customer and it’s transformed my business.
I’ll share more on that below.
That being said, here’s his Framework for productivity in your business:
Optimize means you need to take the task and define how it gets done. You can use the Playbook structure above, but that’s super important.
Once you have that, then you should look at Automating the steps within. So many tasks you have your team doing could very likely be automated using tools like Zapier, IFTTT, Trello or a simple script.
Only once you’ve sat down and optimized the steps, automated what could be done, that you should consider outsourcing to someone else.
It’s probably the most important mindshift that entrepreneurs will need to understand over the next 10 years as exponential technology continues to disrupt EVERY industry.
If you’re constantly automating your work, you’ll be able to keep pace and reduce the current fixed costs of scaling your business to improve your economic engine.
Once you’re ready to outsource you need to know how, that’s what I cover next.
2) The Definition of Done
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
One of the Communication Rules (yes I have a document in my Playbook with all of these for our company) is something called the Definition of Done (DoD).
It’s what’s required anytime you ask someone else to complete a project or task for you.
Have you ever heard of: begin with the end in mind? (It’s one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) but it’s using that essence to outline what the task looks like when it’s done.
Don’t say: Create a landing gage for our new product.
Say: Once complete, the landing page will be receiving at least 200 visitors per day, with a 30% conversion rate to next step and be designed using our brand standards”
See the difference?
You’re giving the person exactly the target so they know when they’re done the task.
Trust me, people want this and it’ll save you so much frustration!
3) Outsource The Middle
“You can do anything, but not everything.”
~ David Allen
There’s nothing sexier than a well designed Framework. That’s why I’m excited that I still have a photo of the first time I learned this strategy.
We’re still unsure who to give credit too, but once I find out I’ll be sure to update the post with their name – but here’s how it works.
As an entrepreneur, you really need to structure projects so your focus is on the beginning and the end.
If you do this right, then you’ll essentially be able to “Outsource The Middle” and still have confidence that the project will get done as per your needs.
The cool part is you can then have someone on your team who’s leading this, bring someone else in to help them get it done faster.
… and so on, and so on.
Here’s what this looks like: I start at the beginning, I give a clear direction, provide the resources and even suggest key people that might be able to help them if they get stuck.
Then my team goes off and executes and I only review towards the end once we get closer to going live with the initiative.
That way they can move faster, I’m not micromanaging and I never feel like it’s out of my control.
Simple, yes. Hard to do – absolutely, especially if you’re a control freak.
You Need To Value Your Time To Grow Your Business
The other day, I heard a counter-intuitive way to look at time. As a business owner if you’re struggling with getting to the next level, you need to give yourself a raise.
What I mean is this, stop doing tasks someone else can do for $5. Charge your clients what your worth for your product and services. And more than that, charge yourself what you’re worth by taking things off your plate that someone else can do.
This is the first step in the 3 D’s of CEO Freedom.
Give yourself a raise and watch it act as a forcing function to value your time, get the low-value work completed, and find the the leverage points that will grow your business.
This is the high-level look at how you can scale your business. If you want the down and dirty on precisely how to give someone access to your inbox, build out a playbook, or know what to outsource, I put it together here in the Business Freedom Program.
It’s where I provide in-depth training on exactly how to set these up, including templates for your Playbook and case studies from companies who have implemented these strategies.
Be sure to leave a comment with any questions or feedback you have.
All the best!
P.S. Also, one of the ninja moves I’ve implemented is using Ari’s Leverage service on the backend for my team & assistant so they can get even more support to focus on projects that require their unique abilities. It’s been a game changer. Be sure to check em’ out.