4 Ways to Improve Your Productivity by Creating SOP for Repeatable Tasks
This week I was privileged to have a coffee with a senior technology partner from Myers Norris Penny, a consulting firm that provides customized services, advice and strategies for small- to mid-range businesses in Canada.
During our conversation, I mentioned that I believed professionals should create standard operating procedures (SOP) for all repeatable tasks, even if they are small. But, I think it all starts with understanding and answering some important questions, such as: What is your time worth? What can you get off your plate? How should you create a SOP? Who will do the work?
My Time is Worth Something
Over fifteen years ago I received an invitation to my preferred future. In other words, I was released from my duties in a major organization due to a demerger. As part of my package, I was enlisted in Right Management’s Career Transition Program. That turned out to be a great experience. I decided that I wanted to create my own consulting firm and focus on being a combination Practice/Thought Leader. One of the exercises we did was to determine what my time was worth and what to bill clients? The consultant I worked with had a spreadsheet for calculating your value (look me up and email me for a copy). If you are an employee, the simple method would be to add salary + benefits + seat costs divided by 2,000 hours per year. You would also need to make an adjustment for vacation, weekends and holiday time. A basic result without adjustment might be ([$120,000 + $25,000 + $15,000]/2000) = $80.00 per hour. Based on your hourly value, should you be engaged in basic, repeatable tasks in your work? If yes—because it’s your job—then fine. But if you are being asked to provide more value, then you need to shift your thinking to high-value activities and delegate low-value activities. This is especially important for independent professionals for whom hourly numbers would be higher and therefore different. You need to understand what your time is worth so you can make informed decisions about the tasks you do. This leads to the next point.
Know What to Get Off Your Plate
This is a tough one. We all get married to the work we enjoy and are good at. But that does not mean you should be doing it. Maybe you like technology and enjoy posting blogs and updating your WordPress site. That could take up to 2 or 3 hours of your week. Or maybe you are a former bookkeeper and know how to use Quickbooks and like doing your own accounting. You could be the go-to person for editing at your work. Articles come in, and you edit them and put them in order. You have a schedule to keep too. But without a consistent effort and SOP, things fall through the cracks that impact other people’s lives. I’m guilty of this one. It is easy to do tasks that you know how to do. It is harder to know when you should no longer be doing them and give them to someone else.
A business associate and friend of mine, Mark Leblanc, talks about knowing your High-Value Activities and Your Low-Value Activities. He says to focus on your HVAs and delegate or outsource your LVA. Through using a combination of knowing your value and listing repeatable tasks, you can quickly determine what you should delegate and outsource. For example, I write and publish a bi-weekly, professional blog. If I break the tasks down based on value, time, deadlines and future commitments is worth, you can quickly see that after the article is written, an editor edits it, an assistant publishes it, and a social media person promotes it. After publishing the article, it goes into a two-week cycle re-publish where a team, who gets paid, does their things. All repeatable tasks that are set to a specific publishing schedule need to be followed to ensure consistent delivery and that audiences’ expectations are met.
My point here is, as a professional, it makes no sense for me to be engaging in all the activities from point A to Z. As much as I like playing with my blog site and updating things, it is a low-value activity that is better managed by other resources so that I can focus on high-value activities. So, the question is, what are the low-value activities and tasks that you are engaged in, which someone else could be doing for you? Make a list.
Create Your TASK SOP
Once you know what your blind spots or low-value activities are, then it is time to write a tasked-based SOP for it. Consider using a consistent title format like: SOP Activity to Task – Publishing Bi-weekly Blog or SOP Activity to Task – Bookkeeping or SOP Activity to Task – Status Meeting Preparation. Whatever the SOP, be consistent in your titling. Consider using Word or Excel. I use Word. I might make the jump to GoogleDocs soon. Create a simple table that has four columns, and include the following information: Task, Who, Due and Notes. The number of rows will depend on the number of tasks that have to be performed on a regular basis. The due date and time are extremely important because they impact all other tasks.
So, if I use publishing a bi-weekly blog as the example, I would start with the primary publishing dates, the secondary publishing dates, submission deadline and work backward. Tasks would include: researching and writing the blog (author), content reviewing (1st editor), copyediting (2nd editor), submitting (virtual assistant – VA), article reviewing (publication editor), graphic selecting (graphics person), blog posting (social media person), social media promoting (social media person), etc. I think you get the picture now.
You may not have people you can assign tasks to. That is not what is initially important. The important thing is, you have taken the time to write out the tasks and to think about what is needed to accomplish the tasks, so the work gets done on time and budget with the least amount of negative, future impact. Now you need to consider your options for getting everything done through other people. This is especially true if you are seeking to optimize your most valuable asset: time.
In-sourcing and Out-sourcing
There I wrote those words used in the hallways of corporations and businesses all over the world. You can add a word ‘task’ in and call it task-sourcing. Maybe you prefer the word “delegation” instead. Basically, that is what we are talking about. I do think in your professional it comes down to what you can and cannot do. For this section, I am speaking to a mix of employees, contractors, and consultants whom task-sourcing is an option.
For the contractor and consultant, maybe you can be put into the same grouping. I do not see contractors as consultants. There is a distinction between operational contracting and fractional consulting engagements. But this article is not about that topic. For our purpose, independent contractors and consultants should be task-sourcing low-value activities to third-parties, such as basic administration, book-keeping, editing and posting internet stuff. You can have a family member or a virtual assistant do those tasks for you. Even report editing could go to someone else. All you need to do is to build your team. There are many options available. For example, UpWork and Fiverr can work for you. I have used these services to create a team of people to handle basic tasks and to follow standard operating procedures that are based on very specific deadlines. I do pay the team that I have created. From time to time I have had to terminate a relationship due to poor performance, so I just hire a new resource quickly. So, for the independent involved in business analysis work, there is no excuse for having a poor back office. Especially when what you do impacts the business, revenue and costs of other people or the organization you represent.
If you are an employee working for a company, then you need to learn some basic delegation and negotiation skills. But first, get your SOP done. That is where it starts. As mentioned above, start the process by outlining the tasks and identifying the role to take care of the task. Then chat with your team leader about the SOP, provide options to create efficiency. Your team leader might have some ideas as to how to rearrange work, so you are focused on high-value activities.
If you are a leader, then you should look to your team, discuss the SOP and determine who can do what and for what reason, and the required outcome. Answering why is going to be super important. If you are a professional, then you need to have a meeting with your leader to discuss the SOP you created and to talk about who will do what and for what reason they will be done and the outcomes.
Some years ago, I ran a workshop on Coaching and Delegation for Project Managers and Business Analysts Who Lead. In that workshop, we did an exercise called the Delegation Card Game, which is about knowing what it is you are delegating, why you’re delegating, and the required outcome. You delegate with intent. If you are going to SOP your tasks, you will need to delegate with intent. The Delegation Card Game can be found on my website’s free resources.
This was an important blog to write and share. It comes from my frustration of putting systems in place to optimize my time and ensure I am not engaged in activities that are tasked-based; things that other people could be doing for me. I cannot always use my time effectively. Things change, teams change, new people get added, and adjustments need to be made. We all live in that world where achieving that perfect balance between valuing activities and getting jobs done, can be a battle. I do believe that through knowing what you are worth and what to get off your plate and creating a standard operating procedure and in-sourcing/outsourcing (delegation) of tasks, you will become focused on higher-value activities. Good luck.
Remember: do your best, invest in the success of others, and make your journey count. Richard