A few days ago, as I was walking with my son in the carrier along the beach, I listened to episode 371 of The Tim Ferriss Show – two and a half hours of Tim and his guest Ramit Sethi talking about automation, finances, processes, negotiation tactics and much more.
For the first 15+ years of my entrepreneurial life I mainly worked by myself or with a small amount of business partners and co-founders. Since I am a jack-of-all-trades it often has been an issue for me to outsource tasks – business development, marketing, SEO, coding, design. You name it, and I can most likely get it done.
The three areas I’m probably the weakest are actually producing content (i.e. writing, video, audio,…), graphic design work and human resources (i.e. recruiting and managing team members).
A few years ago, I decided to start hiring more people (remotely and in a physical office in Vilnius, Lithuania) in order to grow my team and delegate tasks.
At the beginning all the onboarding was done by me in person and it took a hell of a lot of time. Over time I learned that this isn’t the optimal way to grow since we would have new team members join regularly and old ones would leave for a variety of reasons.
So I slowly started to create our first “company guidebook” that consisted of approximately 10+ PDF files that I actually printed and put into a folder in our office. New team members would get it on their first day to find information regarding various tasks such as how to use WordPress, how to use Quora or what format our blog posts should have.
Once I moved the company fully remote and closed our physical office I would send a link to a Gdrive folder with all those PDFs to new team members. But some of the PDFs became obsolete and others were outdated.
So what could I do in order to not only keep the PDFs up-to-date, but to also do it in the most time-efficient way?
That was the first time when I heard about SOPs – Standard Operating Systems.
It’s amazing that I had been in business for 15+ years and never really grasped the idea of a SOP.
Within a few weeks I set up a Trello board with multiple lists. Each list would cover one area within the company – such as Getting Started at the company; general marketing; customer support; SEO; content writing and so on.
Each of those lists would have anything from 1 to 20+ cards. A card could have a short description with a link to a valuable blog post, or it could have a PDF or Google Doc attached to it or a video with a screenshare.
During this process, I realised that it is a lot faster for me to create a 2-10 minute video screenshare than it is to create a PDF with multiple screenshots in it. So most of our new SOPs are now video screenshares explaining one or two specific things at a time.
Our library of SOPs within this Trello board grows every month and now counts over 50 items.
So far, in the last few years, I’ve only thought about SOPs from a business perspective. However, Tim and Ramit’s discussion about SOPs from a personal perspective was an eye-opener for me.
It’s so simple, yet I had never really thought about it in that way.
Ramit has a 40+ page Google Doc that serves as his personal SOP for his team and personal assistant. It includes very detailed instructions about large parts of his life. For example, what sort of hotel his assistant should book for him depending on the occasion, or that for any flight over 5 hours he wants his assistant to book him a business class seat.
Looking with a bird’s-eye view and a more systematic lens onto your life can help to identify certain tasks or decisions that repeat over and over again. Putting those decision trees into a Google doc for your team, your personal assistant or simply for yourself can have tremendous effects.
Imagine that every time a more-or-less frequent event (e.g. travelling by airplane) happens, you don’t have to make a decision about the seat you choose, the price or the time of the day you want to fly. You simply cross-check with your set rules that you’ve noted down in your SOPs and act accordingly. That eliminates a lot of decisions.
That’s a powerful tool in today’s decision fatigue times.