There’s a foundational practice in software development called the DRY Principle: Don’t Repeat Yourself. In short, whenever you catch yourself writing the same code twice, there’s an opportunity to be more efficient.
We could all benefit from using this principle in our own lives. No one wants to waste time. Yet most of us do the same thing day-after-day. We rewrite the same emails. Create the same docs. Go through the same Slack conversations.
(The opposite of the DRY principle is WET, which, depending on who you’re talking to, stands for “write everything twice” or “waste everyone’s time”)
No matter what your job, you can benefit from finding opportunities to reuse and recycle work you’ve already done. And while some places are pretty obvious, many aren’t.
If you want to stop repeating yourself, here are a few key places you can create templates and workflows that weed out repetition so you have more time for things that matter.
How to discover where you’re wasting time
Let’s start by jumping into an old cliche: “What gets measured, gets managed.”
In order to see where you can apply the DRY principle to your own life, you need insight into how you’re actually spending your time.
There are a few ways you can approach this, but the Top Categories report in RescueTime is a great place to start. For example, here’s my top categories and sub-categories reports for Q4 2018.
This report tells me I probably want to focus on how I’m spending the 15+ hours in meetings or 11+ hours in email and project management tools and look for places to use templates and processes.
Once you’ve found the websites, apps, and tasks you’re spending the most time in, you’re ready to start applying the DRY principle to them.
Templates: Make Custom Templates in Google Docs
Today, pretty much every job requires some form of writing. Whether in the form of blog posts, strategy docs, presentations, company/team/investor updates, or just shared places to work on ideas. This makes your word processor one of the best places to look for DRY principle opportunities.
Most docs you work on will have some sort of repeatable process. For example, when I sit down to write a blog post, I go through the same repeatable steps when setting up my file: Title, Subtitle, Focus Keywords, Links to relevant articles/inspiration, Outline of subheds, Intro/hook, etc…
Even though this is a well-worn process, I can save time by creating a writing template with these sections already pre-set. Not only does this save time, but it also saves mental energy and helps push me into “Writing” mode instead of “set-up” or “Research” mode.
For this article, I’m going to run through how to set up a writing template in Google Docs as that’s what I use the most. However, you can easily find similar tutorials online for your tool of choice.
- Setup doc however you want
- Save as “[Document type] MASTER TEMPLATE”
- Right-click the file in Google Drive
- Select Make a copy
- Use the Copy whenever you need, but leave the MASTER TEMPLATE as is.
(Note: You can use Google Doc’s Template feature to make this slightly easier. However, it’s worth noting that any template you add to their collection is automatically made public.)
Emails: Use Gmail’s canned responses
How many of the same emails do you send every single day? For some people, that’s all they do. And while it might take you just a few seconds to bang out a message of “Sorry, not interested.” or “Thanks for reaching out. Here’s a link to my most recent resources…” that time adds up.
Instead, e-mail templates or “canned responses” can help you burn through your inbox faster than ever. We wrote a full guide on how to create canned responses in Gmail along with 10 templates you can use. Here are the basics:
- First, enable canned responses under Settings > Advanced > Canned Responses
- Now, you can save any email you’ve written as a new canned response. Simply write the email and then use the More button and select Canned responses > New canned response and name and save your template.
Networking: Automate and template your follow-ups
Networking and meeting new people can be exciting and fun. But the process of exchanging info, staying connected, and following up rarely is. Luckily, you can create a repeatable and largely automated process using Google Forms and Zapier.
Here’s how RescueTime CEO, Robby Macdonnel explains it:
“Instead of business cards, I use a Google Form to collect a name and an email address (nothing more or it gets weird), and then use Zapier to send an info-packed intro email that I’m also cc’d on.
“Then, I just pop open the form (I have a bookmark on my home screen), hand them my phone, and ask them to put in their name and email, explaining what will happen when they fill it out. Interestingly, the act of handing over my phone to them seems to add a nice personal connection to the interaction.”
Here’s how to set up a follow-up template for yourself:
- Create a Google Form with whatever intro questions you want to capture (again, I recommend keeping this extremely lightweight. Name and email only). Make sure the results are saved to a Google Sheet.
- Use Zapier to connect your spreadsheet to Gmail (or whatever email provider you use.)
- Create your own version of an intro email, written with the goal of giving people all the information they need to take the next step in a meaningful conversation.
- Bookmark the form on your phone so you can get to it quickly when you need it.
(Note: Zapier is an amazing tool for automating all parts of your life. Check out our post on 7 productivity automations to help you get more done every day.)
Meetings and Calls: Use Calendly to skip the back-and-forth
When it comes to scheduling meetings or calls, most people end up spending way too much time going back and forth trying to find a time that works for everyone.
One way to solve this is to use a tool like Calendly to automatically show only times where you’re available. Calendly gives you custom links to send to people who want to book time with you.
For each meeting type, you can set your availability, the length of the meeting, and a template including any info they need to know that will be sent to both of you once confirmed.
Common messages: Text expanders
If you find yourself writing the same things in different places, you might want to consider setting up a text expansion app (like the appropriately named Text Expander). These tools let you create shortcuts or “snippets” of text that will automatically fill out when entered.
This could be as simple as creating a snippet of “tyvm” that is automatically replaced with “Thank you very much” or something more complex like instructions or processes. For example, you could set a text expander to automatically fill “pitch instructions” with a full explanation of how to pitch you ideas/projects/guest post ideas.
You can also use text expanders to run scripts based on your snippets. For example, you could write “talk to you nxmon” to refer to “next Monday” and have your text expander include the full date (i.e. “Talk to you next Monday (March 4, 2019)”)
This is just scratching the surface of what text expanders can do and this guide on Lifehacker is a great place to learn more. If you want to see all the ways a text expander could help you utilize the DRY principle, check out this list of useful snippets put together by David Sparks.
Processes: The 30x rule for delegating small tasks
So far, we’ve only really covered places where you can use tools and messages to save time, but the DRY principle can also be powerful when it comes to your day-to-day tasks.
Most of us have basic low-value tasks we do every day that could easily be delegated. Except we don’t. We figure it’s easier to spend the 5-10 minutes doing it ourselves each day rather than train someone else. But again, in the long-run, those few minutes add up.
Here’s how management consultant, Rory Vaden, explains it:
“Most managers would think it’s crazy to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a 5-minute task because they think ‘it would just be faster to do it myself.’
“That is because most managers are stuck in classic ‘urgency’ thinking of only evaluating their tasks inside of the construct of one day. In which case, it never makes sense to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a task that they could do themselves in just 5 minutes.”
Instead, Vaden says that for any task you can delegate and repeat, you should allocate 30X that time to train someone else.
According to the 30X rule, even spending 2.5 hours delegating and training someone to do a 5-minute task will save you 1100 minutes (that’s over 18 hours!) in one year alone.
(The math is: Total Task Time (5 minutes 250 working days) – Training Time (5 minutes * 30)).
Going DRY takes effort, but the return is compounded
Many of us repeat ourselves daily because we believe it’s easier or faster to just get through it. But continually fixing small things has a huge compound return not just on your time, but your frame of mind.
The best way to think of this is how Michael Lopp explains it in his post on leadership “hacks”:
“There are five more small broken things on my desk that – in less than 10 minutes – I could fix. These are small broken things I’ve been staring at and stressing about for a month, and in 10 minutes that compounding guilt is better.”
The less you have to worry about small things, the more you can focus on the big picture. That’s what the DRY principle is all about.