One book that I really liked was The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I read the book about 6 or 7 years ago and it changed my thinking on business practices.
The basic premise of the book, as I remember it, is for entrepreneurs to free themselves from the slavery of operating the business. In essence, each person in the business should be easily replaceable. Having been through several layoffs in my career and knowing first hand the terror that strikes the hearts of people when they are told they are “replaceable,” this concept was hard to swallow.
The concept in the book is to define jobs in a way that people can easily do them. If any task in the business is done repeatedly, some effort should be made in defining the task and working out the kinks of the process.
Many people like the busy-ness of the business, with the frantic running around and heroics required to do certain tasks. I have worked with people who thrived on the busy-ness, but for me it was a huge energy sink. By spending a little bit of time placing the stapler next to the copier, the panic and pain of making copies may be lessened.
The big picture is to create simple, effective routines for everyday tasks, and spend the time to optimize these tasks, even if they are simple and trivial.
For example, in filing a patent application, I have a set routine I use. I create the transmittal sheet using the last application I filed. On the transmittal, I have all the parts of the application listed, such as the declaration, application data sheet, IDS, assignment, etc. As I go through the transmittal sheet, I complete each of the other forms. When I am done with all the items on the transmittal sheet, I know I have an application ready to file.
When the process is defined and repeatable, it is controllable and improvable. In my application filing example, I noticed the other day that I have two different forms for large and small entities. I use my transmittal form as my checklist and guideline for my filing process, so I added a check-box on the transmittal form for small entities and made the form more generic to accommodate both.
Because the process is controllable and repeatable, I spend much less energy doing the process than I did the first time. While it still might take a few minutes to complete the filing, I can do it without worrying about every little detail, like what font to use, since the process is defined well enough. I can focus only on the details that matter like whether the company is a large entity.
The absolute beauty is that I can work smarter and not harder. After all, laziness is the mother of invention.