Like many of you, I struggle to get things done on time that I really need to get done. I get bogged down in the grunt work when I should be focusing on the bigger picture items. You know the drill, focus on the important but not urgent, but all the while the urgent things eat up your time. If you did a Time Audit, you’d find that much of the time is being taken up by short-term activities that can easily be reduced, eliminated, or outsourced. Yet they stay on your to-do list anyways.
Why is that? I believe it’s because of the psychology of delegation. Anyone who has been doing something for a while believes that they can do a task faster, better, and less expensively than a third party. And in many ways this is absolutely correct. I have found, through my own experience, that I can perform better in at least two out of the three criteria (faster, better, cheaper) than anyone else I can get to do the task. But that is NOT the point!
If a task can be outsourced, it can be defined. If it can be defined, it can be measured. If it can be measured, you can figure out what things need to be learned to do it well. That means by definition anyone who has the time or talent to do the task can do the task. Including yourself. When you do it yourself, you are keenly aware of the requirements and the specifications for doing the job, so you can say that you’re being 100% efficient with regards to requirements-to-implementation, whereas a third-party can be very requirements-efficient, but never as requirements-efficient as the person who is in control of the requirements (that’s you). In that way, you feel that you can do it “better” than a third-party.
Likewise, outsourcing comes at a cost. Your cost is your cost of time, whereas the outsourcer’s cost is the cost of labor. Now, Tim would say that your time-cost is greater than your outsource-cost, and that’s absolutely correct. However, what’s not factored into the equation is the problem of free cash flow. Many startups and muse-focused entrepreneurs simply don’t have the free cash to hire an outsourcer. So even though the time-cost is more than the labor-cost, the cash requirements for labor-cost are higher (cash is tighter than time), so in that case you feel that you can do it “cheaper” than a third-party.
And finally, outsourcing comes at a time-efficiency cost. Just as the person who knows the requirements will be the most able to translate those requirements into reality, that person will be able to execute on it the fastest. It simply takes time to manage a third-party, check on their quality, and then integrate the results with everything else going on in the business. In this manner, because of all those time inefficiencies, if you do it yourself, you feel that you can do it “faster” than a third-party.
Let’s deflate the Better, Faster, Cheaper Bubble
The most successful companies are the ones that most effectively delegate tasks in the most economically-efficient manner while minimizing the inefficiencies inherent in delegation. Of all the constraints imposed on the business (financial, market, competition, and time), the most inflexible is time. You can remove financial constraints by borrowing, selling other products or services, selling parts of the business, or other means. You can remove market constraints by finding new products to sell, and/or focusing the business on specific niches where you are more competitive. But you can only remove time constraints by finding other people to do the work. Simply put, as the business grows larger, the time constraint issue becomes primary. All other problems can easily be solved if you can effectively and efficiently manage time.
In this way, the key to getting more out of your time and multiplying the money-return of time is to multiply the amount of time available. Perhaps for my later academic career as a business school professor, I could actually come up with an equation called the “Money-return of Time” that somehow calculates how to optimize the use of time for best revenue potential, but that’s for later. I think we all know that the best way to get more from your time is to multiply the amount of time you have to get things done and remove the inefficient activities from your time consumption. Both of these things: multiplying available time and increasing time quality requires outsourcing.
Effective outsourcing therefore means being keenly aware of the potential inefficiencies of time, quality, and cost inherent in outsourcing and coming up with a strategy to mitigate those inefficiencies. Therefore, it is not about whether to outsource, but rather how and when.
To help figure out how to outsource effectively while minimizing the time, cost, and quality inefficiencies, I’m going to introduce in my next blog post the concept of microsourcing. Simply put, microsourcing is an outsourcing strategy that focuses on chopping a task into more fine-grained tasks until you’ve reached a point of optimum, delegating that task to be performed within 24 hours, then quickly ascertaining the quality of that work, and quickly integrating that work with the rest of the activities. Doing so allows you to minimize cost, time, and quality inefficiencies and keep you focused on important, non-urgent items. Stay tuned, and we’ll explore this topic in greater detail together.