The following is an edited excerpt from the book, Zen and the Art of Admin Tasks, by Nic De Castro and Nathan Pettijohn.
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
Imagine any high-powered, wheeling-and-dealing CEO, and rest assured they have an administrative assistant helping to coordinate all the logistics that go into their busy schedules.
When utilized properly, admins are a crucial part of maintaining a well-operating schedule and flow of communication.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs who don’t delegate, and instead try handling every aspect of their business themselves, are rarely successful in scaling or managing all of their relationships.
Sooner or later, something will slip between the cracks.
If you are spending 30% of your time on administrative tasks, that’s time you aren’t focused on the big picture. A 2016 study of 1,000 white-collar workers in the United States found that, “We spend an average of 4.1 hours checking our work email each day. That’s 20.5 hours each week, more than 1,000 hours each year, more than 47,000 hours over a career.” On top of that, 79% of those interviewed said they check their work email while on vacation.
We know the power of quick and concise communication. This book is designed to help make communication smoother, not more complicated. Consider the following example.
We recently took a trip to Cuba with a group of our friends. While there, we had infrequent access to internet service, but neither of us set up an out-of-office reply that might give our clients pause. Instead, our admin (yes, we both have the same admin) was responding quickly to emails “as Nic” or “as Nate” and responses were coming in as though both of our businesses were operating as usual.
We were also able to glance at Todoist, our task management app, and see multiple projects being delegated by our admin, with different pieces of work being completed by freelancers according to a structured workflow. Because we know how to delegate and make efficient use of our admin, we were able to take a vacation almost entirely off-grid while our businesses kept running smoothly back home.
Now here’s an example from the other side of the spectrum. One of our friends is a founder of a well-backed startup. He would stress over not having Internet access while we were in Cuba, and as soon as he did get Internet access he would spend an hour frantically responding to emails, and many of his responses were late.
We wrote this short book as a way to empower more people to focus on what’s really important to them, in life and in their businesses. After all, it’s in those moments when you’re not buried in menial tasks that flashes of genius and creativity hit you.
We like to call those moments “whitespace,” and we believe that giving yourself as much whitespace as possible will enable you to have more of these sparks of creativity that will transform your work and life.
We didn’t invent these principles. Fortune 500 CEOs have known the power of the admin for decades. Others, like Tim Ferriss, set the stage for us with his runaway bestseller The 4-Hour Work Week. It is our goal to make the categories of rules and processes in this short book simple enough for a reader to copy and paste them, with minor adjustments in order to make them specific to their own business.
Technology enables us with tools we can use to either make us more or less productive, but they are just tools. It is how we implement and use these tools that really matters.
In his treatise titled On the Equilibrium of Planes, Greek mathematician Archimedes gave an explanation for the principles involved in using a lever. Today, people speak about leverage as though it is a strategy or tactic, but it is not. Leverage is a tool.
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” – Archimedes
Who Should Consider Outsourcing Admin Work?
You should consider outsourcing your administrative work if:
- You own a small business but still manage your own email and scheduling
- You run sales for an organization but still personally respond to specific intros and leads and update your own CRM
- You are an entrepreneur (or VP or C-level executive) that gets easily distracted by your inbox instead of focusing on the big picture
Our goal is to provide an easy process to copy-and-paste where you can literally download this book, hire a virtual admin off a site like UpWork, and have your inbox and calendar delegated all in one day. You could even do it all in one sitting. This book is meant to be read in the span of an hour and immediately implemented.
Many entrepreneurs we have spoken to about this system immediately resist and push back. They’ll says something like, “It sounds great in theory, but no admin could handle my inbox. I have to do it myself.”
Oh really? Your inbox is more demanding, sensitive, and important than the general counsel for ExxonMobil? Or the CEO of Walmart? Because both of those people leverage admins in the same manner.
We have news for you: your inbox is not a special snowflake that can’t be processed with this system.
Another reaction we hear often is entrepreneurs who say they need someone working with them in person, usually because they have the idea that working in person together is somehow more effective.
Working remotely can be just as, if not more, effective. If you doubt this fact, read the book ReWork by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, about how they built and grew Basecamp with a tiny, remote team. The psychological benefits of seeing someone physically working in your office or their being available for you to make them wash your car on a whim or get your groceries or whatever — isn’t worth it. Trust us.
Why does this book cover only your email and calendar? Because your inbox is where a majority of your tasks, projects, and time commitments come into your work queue. While there are always more tasks and processes to delegate, getting you away from managing your own email and calendar is essential if you are going to embrace these principles.
You do not need to pay $3,000 or more per month for a full-time employee to take over your inbox and calendar.
As mentioned above, we share an admin between us, and we each pay her around 8 hours a week at a rate of $16 per hour. Nate also found his data entry person on UpWork. He was able to hire someone with good references who was available to meet in person occasionally — and who only cost $25 per hour.
Anyone either of us hires has to sign a very specific NDA. Our clients are made aware of the organizational chart changes and have visibility into what we are doing. Some big corporations may not allow delegating your admin work to outside resources, so check with your boss or clients if you’re unsure.
This book is not for everyone. You decide how valuable your time is, and whether doing 5–20 hours per week of admin work is an effective use of your time. We’re betting it’s not. Instead, document, delegate and automate as much as you can, and then you can start enjoying that whitespace that encourages breakthroughs.
What To Expect In Zen and the Art of Admin Tasks
If you’re still reading this, it means you’re serious about taking your ideas, your business, and your time to the next level. You’re ready to become truly productive, and do away once and for all with the repetition and exhaustion of time-consuming administrative tasks. It’s time for the admin-automation revolution, and you want to be at the head of the curve.
In this book, we’ll take you step by step through the processes that we’ve adopted to make our businesses run smoothly, optimizing our day-to-day for maximum effectiveness, maximum creativity, and minimum administrative fuss.
Zen and the Art of Admin Tasks is a no-nonsense, straightforward tactical guide. The processes you read about here will be actionable today, and you’ll see concrete improvements in your workflow tomorrow. By setting up these systems, your business will be able to pass even the “hit-by-a-bus” resilience test. Your inbox, schedule, and client database will all continue to function as usual, even if you are suddenly indisposed (whether due to a bus crash or not).
Quality administrative work is a foundation for business success, but it is not where true, exponential value is added. It’s hygiene. When you free yourself from admin tasks, you free yourself to pursue real value and growth.
For specific strategies on how to outsource your administrative work, check out Zen and the Art of Admin Tasks by Nic De Castro and Nathan Pettijohn.