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Can three simple questions save you eight hours a week?

In September 2013, Professors Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen shared the results of their productivity experiment in the Harvard Business Review. They found that 41% of knowledge workers’ time is spent on discretionary activities that weren’t personally satisfying and could also be done by others.

Once workers were trained by Birkinshaw and Cohen to slow down and think about their activities in a new way, they achieved massive time gains. What was the secret?

The researchers trained everyone to analyze their tasks to ask if they could:

  •  Drop: What items can I drop? What can I stop doing entirely?
  • Delegate: What items can I delegate to a subordinate? What can I outsource?
  • Redesign: What do I need to continue doing, but do it in a new, time-efficient way?

On average, the workers who were trained saved six hours of desk work and two hours of meeting time each week.

Putting It Into Practice

Look at your calendar and to-do list for the upcoming week. Then, ask yourself:

  • How valuable is this task to me or to the company? What would happen if I just dropped it completely?
  • Am I the only person who could do this task? Who else in or outside the company could accomplish this?
  • How can the same outcome be achieved but with a faster process? How could this task get completed if I only had half the time?

Those three questions will give you the insights you need to identify the tasks that are of low value and should be targeted to Drop, Delegate or Redesign.

The Age Of Global Resources

But what if you’re a small businessperson or freelancer? Dropping and redesigning may be possible, but how can you delegate if you have no staff?

You might be surprised.

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If you live in a major metropolitan area, the odds are good that you can “delegate” easier than you realize.

Uber is the company that popularized the concept of on-demand mobile service (ODMS). Remember being envious of the “rich and famous” with their chauffeurs? Well in the same time it would take you to say, “Home, James,” you can now tap your Uber app and have your personal chauffeur show up to take you to your destination. This on-demand service business has spread to many other sectors.

Spend too much time grocery shopping? Services like Instacart and Peapod will do it for you. Need someone to do Internet research, make social media updates, make reservations at a restaurant or cancel your cable? Just visit TimeSvr. Need a handyman?

From general freelance needs to miscellaneous chores, there’s someone out there who wants to help you accomplish practically any task. For less than you think.

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When The 4-Hour Workweek first came out, outsourcing was a novelty and a little unusual. Now, it’s just assumed you can give the work to the best people, and nobody cares where they are located. With WiFi Internet access, Skype, email and project management communication tools like Asana and Slack, working with remote team members has become no big deal.

I live outside of Philadelphia and personally use “virtual” help for all kinds of things:

Clarissa is one of my book cover designers; she lives in Singapore, and I have no idea what she looks like (we’ve only communicated via email).

  • Balaji lives in India, and I’ve used his team to do research projects and data mining.
  • Serena answers my Mailchimp technical questions (when we first connected, she was spending time in Ireland, and now she’s in Thailand).
  • Camille is one of my book editors whom I found on Fiverr.com. (Her profile page says she lives in the United States, but I have no idea where.)
  • Matt and Chris handle my websites. (I’ve never had a face-to-face project meeting with them.)
  • Vania does my digital marketing.

In addition to the team of remote freelancers I routinely work with, I also “outsource” the mowing of my lawn, plowing my driveway of snow, various types of home maintenance and all of my bookkeeping.

So, what about you? What you can drop, delegate or redesign?


Kevin Kruse is the author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management and the one-page tool, “How Millionaires Schedule Their Day.”

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.