March 17, 2010 — If you automate a process which you repeat Y times, that takes X minutes, what would your payoff be?
Payoff = XY minutes saved, right?
Surprisingly I've found that is almost never the case. Instead, the benefits are almost always greater than XY. In some cases, much greater. The benefits of automating a process are greater than the sum of the process' parts.
Actual Payoff = XY minutes saved + E
What is E? It's the extra something you get from not having to waste time and energy on XY.
Last year I did a fair amount of consulting work I found via craigslist. I used to check the Computer Gigs page for a few different cities, multiple times per day. I would check about 5 cities, spending about 2 minutes on each page, about 3 times per day. Thus, I'd spend 30 minutes a day just checking and evaluating potential leads.
I then wrote a script that aggregated all of these listings onto one page(including the contents so I didn't have to click to a new page to read a listing). It also highlighted a gig if it met a certain criteria that I had found to be promising. The script even automated a lot of the email response I would write to each potential client.
It cut my "searching time" down to about 10 minutes per day. But then something happened: I suddenly had more time and energy to focus on the next aspect of the problem: getting hired. It wasn't long before I was landing more than half the gigs I applied to, even as I raised my rates.
I think this is where the unexpected benefits come from. The E is the extra energy you'll have to focus on other problems once you don't have to spend so much time doing rote work.
Try to automate as much as possible. The great thing about automation is that once you automate one task you'll have more time to automate the next task. Automation is a great investment with compounding effects. Try to get a process down to as few steps or keystrokes as possible(your ideal goal is zero keystrokes). Every step you eliminate will pay off more than you think.