Frictionless Work: How to Clear Your Life of Non-Essential Tasks

“It’s not the work which kills people, it’s the worry. It’s not the revolution that destroys machinery it’s the friction.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on twitter or identica.

How much of your day is spent doing administrative tasks, and not creating or doing other important work?

How much time do you spend responding to emails and IMs and social networks, making payments, doing paperwork, filing, sitting in meetings, driving, doing errands, and so on? How much of that could be cleared up for more important work?

Imagine this for a moment: you have no administrative tasks, only the core work that you love doing. Your day has been cleared for creating, building, doing high-impact projects. Isn’t it lovely?

Is this a pipe dream? Perhaps for some, who have little control over their work. But if you have a larger degree of control, let’s explore the idea of “frictionless work” or even “frictionless living”.

If you have little control, consider a change.

My Frictionless Business

I know I don’t have a typical job, but that didn’t happen overnight and I did this on purpose. Today, I have a few successful blogs and a handful of successful books.

Only a year ago, that required a lot of administrative work — so much so that I hired an admin assistant to help out, and outsourced other work.

But assistants, employees, delegating, and outsourcing are not hassle-free … each comes with work of its own: email or phone calls, following up, checking the quality of work, doing contracts, reviewing terms, clarifying, firing, searching for a better employee/contract company, paying, filling out tax info, and on and on.

The better solution is to simplify. Eliminate non-essential tasks. And so I did, slowly:

  • I eliminated comments from Zen Habits, cutting back on a huge amount of work for me. Comments turn a major blog into a forum, where the blogger is the moderator. It takes hours to moderate a major blog, and while I outsourced that for months, it was always a major headache that required a lot of work. Eliminating comments, which only a tiny minority of readers used, eliminated my need for that admin work or for hiring a moderator.
  • I stopped doing work that required me to do paperwork or admin work. That meant losing some income from consulting and other business, but it also meant a lot more free time for what I love doing.
  • When a guest writer submits a guest post, I no longer format the post but require the writer to format it and submit for my review. Mostly now I just need to read over the post and hit publish.
  • I got out of a bunch of ad networks that were always asking me to do admin work. That was a loss of income, but it also simplified my website. Now I sell one ad a month (which I’m also eliminating), and do almost no work — the advertiser presses a Paypal button to reserve the ad, and emails me the ad image and link code.
  • I eliminated email, for the most part, except for collaborative projects (which are few and far between). My email time went from half my day to a few minutes a day.
  • I sell ebooks automatically through e-junkie, and affiliate payments are also computed automatically.

I now have almost no admin work to run my blogs: I write, and publish. Once a month I log into my Paypal account, send out affiliate payments, and transfer money to my bank account (and from there, my bills are automatically paid and money is automatically transferred to savings).

This is not to brag. I know I have it easy compared to most, but this has all been done gradually and on purpose. I created this frictionless work.

What Are Your Admin Tasks?

Take inventory of your work: what admin tasks take up your time? Add to this list over the course of the next couple of days, because you’re probably forgetting some.

Now ask yourself: which of these can be eliminated? Many of you will probably answer, “Very few”, because you’re used to the way things are done. “This is how things are done.” But that’s an artificial limitation — instead, ask yourself how it can be changed. How might it be possible? Think radically different.

To eliminate tasks, you might have to make major changes over time, but the beauty is that you’ll also be freeing up time. Consider some examples:

  • If you do a lot of paperwork, can you require forms to be filled out digitally, perhaps online? This will eliminate a lot of work, and if the database is set up right, eliminate filing.
  • If you spend a lot of time on calls or email, can you provide other ways for people to get info or get things done? Perhaps put up an FAQ online, so common questions are answered (like Google does for its product support), or provide web pages where people can automatically download products or get other things done without you as the bottleneck? Or can you route those requests to someone else?
  • Also unsubscribe from newsletters and notifications and so forth, so you don’t have to spend time processing them in your inbox. Consider each email that comes in and ask yourself: “How could this be eliminated?”
  • Can you eliminate meetings, or at least get out of them? How can you get the info without meetings? How can projects get done without the meetings?
  • If you worked at home, you wouldn’t have to commute, or do a lot of other tasks associated with working in an office. It’s not always possible, but often you can work towards that goal.
  • Can you drop clients or parts of your business, losing a little income but eliminating all the admin work that goes with it? The free time could be spent creating something that would more than make up for the loss of income.
  • Can you eliminate features that aren’t completely essential, so you don’t have to do all the work to support those features (similar to how I eliminated comments)?
  • Can you stop worrying so much about growth, customers, competitors, statistics, and so forth — and focus instead on what you love doing? A great quote by web designer and developer Sam Brown: “I used to stress a lot about my business, my clients, the amount of work I was doing and my competitors – but the minute I stopped worrying about all of that and focussed on just doing great work that I was happy with it really made a big difference, to me and my business.”
  • If you think a task is necessary under the current conditions, consider changing the current conditions.

These are just a few ideas and questions to get you started, but you can see that by radically rethinking your work, you might be able to eliminate a lot of admin tasks.

And free up time for what truly matters.

Frictionless Life

This concept of eliminating admin work can apply to your personal life as well. Imagine your personal time with as few chores, errands, paperwork, and commitments as possible. You’d be free to … well, do what you love most.

I can’t claim to have done this completely, but I have made huge progress towards a frictionless life. Of course, I still have chores to do (washing dishes, laundry, etc.), but I’ve eliminated a lot of personal tasks:

  • I don’t pay bills anymore. I either pay them in advance if I get a big lump payment, or I set up automatic payments each month. In fact, because all my transactions are electronic, I never go to the bank.
  • I don’t file personal paperwork anymore. I’ve gone paperless, so all documents that I needed to keep are scanned, and everything else is already digital. Even contracts are done digitally.
  • Housework is minimal. Admittedly, my wife does the laundry, but we share in cooking and cleaning duties, and most of it is painless as we have a pretty sparse home. It’s fairly clean all the time.
  • Errands are minimal too. Mostly it’s going to the grocery store or post office, and we moved last year so those are within walking distance. So we often walk to those errands, getting a nice workout and enjoying the outdoors in the process.

There isn’t much else we have to do, except things with our kids and each other. The fun stuff. Much of the friction of living has been eliminated.

A Warning

It’s not always easy to change your work and your life to get rid of the friction of admin tasks, but once you do, it’s simply lovely.

However, there will likely be a temptation to fill up your freed time with more email, social networking, blog reading, and so on. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this, but before you do, consider how you really want to spend your time. Do you want to remove the friction just to fritter it away with distractions?

I’m a big fan of doing nothing, of solitude and relaxing and playing. So if that’s how you use your freed time, I’m jumping with joy. You might, however, spend this time creating, and that’s one of the true wonders of creating frictionless work and a frictionless life. Spend your time doing what you love, living your passion, making something new and beautiful. You’ll be glad you did.

“The world is wide, and I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.” ~Frances E. Willard

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