Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to Be More Automatic

A few days ago, I patted myself on the back.

As 2009 rolled in, I realized that Rockland Web Design needed to change all of its forms, web-based materials and other important files with some updated company information. I was not relishing the idea of doing this; the vision of sitting at the desk until 2:30 am flashed through my mind a few times. Something like that should only be reserved for when you're hiding from the wrath of your significant other...wocka wocka.

So finally I convinced myself to start the project, and believe it or not - it took only a quarter of the time that I expected. Yay! The reason why is because I listened to some very important advice from my programmer friend Matt Galemmo of Deluge Interactive: "Always think automation." So, at the beginning of last year, I started 

As most of us go through our workdays, there are 50,000 urgent little  things that - at first glance - seem to look like the coming of the AntiChrist unless attended to within 14 seconds of first knowledge of them. And while you'll hear a few different theories on how to handle them, the truth is that they don't just magically go away - even after you take care of the most important, long-term tasks that will help your company grow, you will still need to go back to your "priority 3" tasks and start mopping up the mess.

So below are 5 techie suggestions to help you automate your daily tasks, and help you to deal with them in a more timely fashion:
  1. "Think automation" in everything you do: Matt was right - if you start thinking about your urgent tasks in terms of how things could be sped up when encountered, you start considering very, very cool solutions for making your life easier. 

  2. Detect patterns: If you see or hear something once, no big deal. If you start hearing the same problem occurring over and over again, you have a real opportunity to make the situation easier to deal with, if you stop and consider the root cause. But first you need to detect the recurring situation, such as too many emails to answer, difficulty in generating contracts, filling out forms.

  3. Take time to discover a solution to the problem: Face it, you are probably not laying out the technical schematic of a solution oriented module that will alleviate the designated core challenge. So the hell with it...just sit down at your computer and create something that will actually work, and keep tinkering with it until it is as close to perfect as possible. Just don't get too O.C.D. about Irene Gutmann from Eagle Life Coaching reminded me recently, "we are not God, and sometimes good enough is good enough."

  4. Create templates: For instance, if your forms need to be updated every year, perhaps you should be creating templates or re-usable documents that allow you to change the information once or twice in a few locations, and once saved, automatically changes all your other documents. Sweeeeet!

  5. Deploy your new system: I just wanted to write the word "deploy". But what I really mean is to take your new system out for a spin. If it doesn't make your life easier, go back to steps 3 and 4 and work on it again. If it does, start plopping information into it. One thing I am planning for the office for the New Year is to use a paper-scanning system called NeatCo, which allows you to literally walk in the office, drop 35 or so paper items into a mega-scanner tool, and it all shows up on your PC. No more clutter on the desk, and once it gets in the computer each item can be quickly filed to the place where it belongs. rockOn!
Make sense? Good. Now try it out this week. Here's a few examples of places in your business life that you can start with the 5 steps:
  • Sales leads - Every time the phone rings, a new email comes in, or you return from a network meeting, do you have a place to put your stuff that you can easily access? If when a contact calls you and it takes you more than 15 seconds to find their information, the answer is no. Consider either creating an Excel Spreadsheet with all your lead information, or perhaps employ a web-based system such as Salesforce to enter information. If you need something a bit more customized for your company, Rockland Web Design can build a good web based system for you, which can be accessed from anywhere.

  • Financials - hopefully your company is doing this already, but I strongly recommend that you use an accounting software or web application such as Quickbooks to maintain every penny your company spends. And if you are inexperienced in using it, get an expert to help set it up. I used Karen Caccavo from Personal Money Manager. If you live in Rockland, Bergen, or Westchester County, give her a call.

  • Contracts - When a new sale is created, do you take a long time to write up your contracts from scratch? On Word Documents, there is a little-known function called "MacroButton". It helps you to add quick information to a contract in key locations, leaving the rest to be typed once and done. Learn more about MacroButton by clicking here.

  • Website - I don't need to toot our own horn here, so I won't. If you don't use Rockland Web Design currently, that is ok. But keep your mind open to suggestions from your web person to make many of your daily tasks as automatic as possible. A recent client of ours is very happy that we thought through some daily tasks of theirs with an eye on the long-term, so now they can log in and add their stuff quickly and easily.
There are plenty of other examples. Feel free to post your stories about how you automated your world. 

Also, a great resource for thinking ahead Steven Covey's book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". The book changed my life about 10 years ago. I hope it will, or has done the same for you.

And finally, I'd like to say this; if you are frustrated, if you are saying "Oh my God I just can't take this anymore!"'s ok. The only way we grow as businesspersons...and as human beings, is to go through the trials and tribulations of continuing to work to get it right. As Irene had mentioned, "good enough is good enough". So if you don't get it the first few times, keep trying to adjust. Just don't make the mistake of giving up on adjustments. If you do, I can recommend a really good Chiropractor to do it for you.

Tom Ossa
Rockland Web Design
(845) 271 - 4488

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