Maximizing your time is one of the tenets to success. It is the reason why you hire other people to do things outside of your most productive areas. You can learn a lot by doing the detailed, uncomfortable work, as I talk about in The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, but most often it is like Bill Gates mowing his own lawn: A waste of time, talent and opportunity.
I recently revisited Gay Hendricks' best-seller The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, and he describes the issue succinctly:
The best way to do things within your zone of incompetence is to avoid doing them altogether.
A colleague of Hendricks spent hours trying to fix his new home office printer. After 13 (yes, thirteen) hours, he finally gave up and hired a neighborhood college kid to set it up. It took him an hour and $100.
How much does Hendricks' colleague get paid for his business? About $1,000 an hour. His colleague wasted the opportunity to make another $13,000. This is the zone of incompetence.
Apply it not just to your career, but your life
Emma Johnson talks about smart delegation in her upcoming book, The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children.
Despite watching her money and raising two children alone in New York City, Johnson still swears by outsourcing her housekeeping and her laundry. Why? She knows the financial sacrifice to unload those tasks pales compared to the stress and exhaustion they would cause - and that time, like Hendricks' colleague, could be used to actually make more money.
One big exception
It is important to look at outsourcing in a balanced way for one small and one really big reason. One, you do not want to outsource an experience that will actually make you better at your main competence. For instance, founding, programming and bootstrapping the app So Quotable taught me a breadth of tough skills, and, without those skills, I'm positive I wouldn't have led my following app, Cuddlr, to success.
More importantly, though, is you should not offload less meaningful activities if they actually help you think through your best ideas. The Power of Onlyness author Nilofer Merchant swears by walking (as do I), Arianna Huffington absolutely needs naps and Richard Branson works half days to be his best.
Do not feel guilty if doodling with the new home printer or cutting the proverbial lawn provides space for you to think about your next great strategy. Just make sure you're not wasting your time out of austerity, stubbornness or habit, as it may be more costly than you think.