If there was a single word to describe my entire philosophy in life it would be Optimization. I’m at the point where I work a full-time job as a CFO, in my events company I am the lead consultant and run the org as President, I own and manage a retail speciality running store, I own and rent out ½ of the duplex we live in, I own another rental property and at this time have built an indoor grow room to learn hydroponics to start a produce business. There is really only one way I got to this point where I can keep track of everything on this list and that’s optimization.
Even our FIRE dream of homesteading is built on a foundation of optimization and the most affordable way to live a sustainable life.
My work life is really where this started as I just found myself bored quickly in my first office jobs. Those early jobs in accounting had such old school approaches that when I took over from Joe Boomer who was retiring who took 45 hours a week to do a job that only takes 20 with a computer and the ability to type with more than two fingers. Still, I was stuck there in this office with 20 hours a week to do nothing. At first I browsed the internet and read articles, because I was so committed to being available I didn’t want anything I couldn’t instantly shift focus from. As time went on I learned the value of turn based card games like Hearthstone. If this sounds like the perfect job to you then I promise you it’s not what it seems. At a certain point, no matter what freedom you have, being forced to sit at a desk for 20 hours a week with absolutely nothing to do or accomplish is soul sucking.
After 6 months I took the approach to do my job the best I could and that meant to come up with the most efficient and accurate way for everything. Over the next few months I tediously and relentlessly went about automating every task I had. I was the only accountant for a K-8 private school. Here is an example of what I would do:
There was this super complicated report that I prepared for my Board of Directors monthly. I learned how to make a plug in that allowed me to export from my accounting system into a series of excel spreadsheets that all compiled everything into a pretty template. Took me about 2 weeks to learn how to do all the steps I needed to get what I wanted. My predecessor would spend almost 2 days making these reports, I had it down to about 2 hours a month, then I built a program that made it 2 minutes.
I applied this approach to nearly every single task I could. By the time I left this job I had my core duties down to 8-15 hours a week. The other advantage was the quality of my work was better. I got really good at solving problems because building the structure of how to make my job efficient gave me really good problem solving skills.
Once the free time really started piling up but still having to sit in my office I had to get creative. This led to me starting companies while I worked a “full-time” job. From there it’s a series of different full time jobs with me starting and running more and more businesses “on the side.”
Over the last 15 years my approach has evolved and I expect it will continue to evolve. After I recently hit LeanFIRE my priorities shifted away from ruthlessly pursuing money towards more fun ideas and tasks.
Here are a few of the things I do:
Payments, utilities, communications, filings, investments, and even shopping should be automated at the maximum level you can. Use a bag of dog food every 4 weeks? Sign up for an auto-delivery and you will never spend a thought on it again.
Everything in your life that happens regularly that you need to be involved in gets a calendar reminder – always. For an accountant this is tax filings, budget work, planning, payroll, check runs, etc. Anything that you actually have to be actively involved in at any regular interval gets one.
Your calendar reminders should be set for a realistic time on a day that you have time. When they pop up you should always complete the task or the moment you hit a wall you then stop and make another calendar reminder.
When you are working on a joint task that has a lot of back and forth you want to always 100% finish what you can and then pass it back. I typically check my email 4-6 times a day, with notifications turned off because they are distractions from whatever I’m currently working on. During those email times I delete all the junk, then work my way from the oldest email through to my newest and do one of three things:
- Fully complete whatever task the email is asking of me
- Set a reminder to complete the task at a later, but specific date
- Delegate the email to a subordinate
When email time is over because something else comes up or my inbox is 100% empty I then can move on.
When I’m working on a task I’m hyper focused and don’t let much distract me. What I’ve found, in the white collar world at least, is that most people tend to do the opposite. They let little distractions pepper their day and let the work pile up. They float in and out of tasks over a 10 hour work day, but never seem to accomplish much. Now I’ve read books that would call those people lazy. The truth is that I’m the lazy one. I value my free time so much that whenever works needs to be done I want it done and over with so I can focus on either my own businesses more, my leisure time or my family. Procrastinating is the enemy of the lazy person.
Optimization is the lazy man’s best friend as it’s the best way to maximize the amount of time you get to do whatever you want.
So go on, be lazy like me and optimize every single thing you can.