It becomes tempting to reserve the best of ourselves for the short-term gains of work and “automate” the long game of life.
Would you pay someone in the Philippines to answer your email for you — even your personal messages? Or hire strangers on the internet to plan your spouse’s big birthday party? Or throw meat, vegetables, and butter into a blender and call it dinner?
These are just some of the actual “life-automating” techniques of busy entrepreneurs today.
Maneesh Sethi, best known as the easily-distracted man who paid a woman to slap him in the face every time he checked Facebook. He spoke at South by Southwest in Texas about how he’s now hired a man in Manila (Caleb) to check his email for him. Caleb, who Sethi found through Staff.com, goes through Sethi’s email — both work and personal — every morning and flags important messages for follow-up, as well as categorizing and drafting responses for the rest. By the time Sethi wakes up, his email has already been sorted; and by the end of the day, every message has been answered. And Sethi never had to write a single response himself.
Sethi was on a panel called “Life Automation for Entrepreneurs” that also included podcaster Veronica Belmont, a Getting Things Done devotee. She uses productivity apps (like TripIt and Things) and virtual assistants (such as Fancy Hands) to stay organized and efficient. For instance, she hired temporary assistants on Fancy Hands to plan her husband’s recent birthday party. These “virtual assistants” brainstormed themes; found a venue; planned the party; even devised thoughtful extras she said she’d never have come up with. “I thought I’d never need to outsource these kinds of actions,” she explained, “But frankly, none of us have the time we need.”
The result of this extreme devotion to work is that we overwhelm ourselves, to the point where even the most trivial decisions become a source of stress. “Even small decisions like replying to an email or returning a phone call, each of those stresses you out a little bit and wears you down,” argued Sethi. Asprey agreed: “There’s a stress for 40 different apps, choosing which one to use.” To a degree, they’re correct. Decisions do cause stress, and willpower does decline if you overtax it (this is why habits are so powerful — because they move important tasks out of the realm of conscious effort).
So the next time your instincts are telling you to press on, to climb higher, to put one more piece of your life on autopilot, consider: even Sisyphus got to walk downhill half the time.
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