Automation is on everyone’s lips these days. It seems like a perfect solution to the scarcity of IT specialists of all kinds on the job market. You just have to put in some work to create the automation solution to do the job for you and off you go! You instantly and automatically start saving resources and money! Or do you? How to ensure that what you put in place is not an efficient way of wasting money automatically, but truly efficient automation?

We’ll discuss how to automate to get amazing results by considering the following topics:

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Costs of running automated processes

First of all, let’s clarify a few things. Automation is great. You should automate. But unfortunately, automation won’t work by itself forever. As with any other machine, automated processes need maintenance. Why? Because of changes of components working as its parts. You update your software constantly these days. Most often you install security updates to keep the software safe. Developers also implement new features for their products to outperform their competition. Sometimes these updates change some existing features taking part in the automated processes. Some changes may come unnoticed, so you want to watch and test the process to ensure that it runs correctly.

Of course, the maintenance of an automated process takes a lot less time than performing the whole process manually. Yet, it needs a lot more expertise than doing the work manually. You won’t do automation with just any IT specialist. You need an expert in both the automated matter and the automation itself. This kind of expertise is not easy to find nor cheap to get. Runnning the automated processes of course costs computing power which you pay for in the form of electricity bills. Automation costs a lot of money and resources. Not as much as the its equivalent in the manual work, but a lot more than nothing. When you automate things, you want to make the result to be as efficient as possible. OK, but how to do it? How to get the biggest return of investment in automation?

Efficient automation mentors

We want to learn the path which will help us to save as much money as possible while doing the automation. So, we’ll learn from people who have taken it to the state-of-art level.

Timothy Ferris is the author of the book “4-hour workweek“. He made his name as an ultimate businessman. He’s also known for growing his businesses with an aim to work on them as little as possible. As a result, he works more than 4 hours per week, but not so much more. He managed to set his business to enjoy life outside it for a lot bigger part of the time than to work on it. At the same time, his businesses provide him with enough money to sponsor many life pleasures. Timothy worked out a way to become wealthy not only with money but with both – money and time. How efficient must be his automation implementations to achieve this level of freedom?

Another gentleman, whose methods we’ll study is the famous Elon Musk. Elon is known for both being the richest person on the planet and the CEO of several big companies at the same time. He has the same 24 hours per day as we do. Yet, he manages one of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, the biggest private space company, and many others. How well must he have automated his enterprises to make it happen?

Timothy Ferriss’ approach to efficient automation

Let’s start with Timothy Ferriss’s way. From his book, you can learn that he is a great fan of automation. Yet, it doesn’t mean that he says to automate everything. His great line from the book is:

“Never automate something that can be eliminated, and never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. Otherwise, you waste someone else’s time instead of your own, which now wastes your hard-earned cash. How’s that for incentive to be effective and efficient?”

Mr. Ferriss gives us his recipe as simple as it can be. Why bother to automate something, which can (and should) be eliminated altogether? Working on finding things that don’t have to be done and stopping doing them seems much easier than automating. Or is it?

For some reason, we often take everything we do and try to delegate this work to machines, software, or scripts. It seems like doing the right thing. It will release our employees’ time, so it has to be right!

Why getting rid of something is not as easy as it seems?

Technically it is very easy, but mentally and psychically it often generates much tension. The elimination of some action or process will be a loss for somebody in the organization. And a feeling of loss is not an easy one to deal with. As you can learn from Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking fast and slow”, there are a few things, which we as humans fear more than loss. The person whose action you try to delete may fight hard for this operation to stay. Sometimes it can be a quite brutal fight…

Of course, Automation of processes can be a loss for someone too. Especially for someone who did this work every day for years. Still, automating it means that at least the work is needed. Eliminating means that nobody needs that work anymore. Maybe nobody needed it before too? Showing this to the affected person will harm him or her with a lot of pain. Eliminating some actions may also mean that someone will lose his or her power to be in charge of something. Especially getting rid of redundant approval steps in the processes have this kind of consequence. As you can see, elimination can be a lot more painful than automation.

How to deal with bad feelings related to elimination?

So, should you give up eliminating unnecessary actions? Not if you want to create an efficient environment! So how to do it? You can do it the hard way – by eliminating not only the action but the person too. Still, you may want to keep the person while getting rid of the process. In this case, you’ll need a lot of empathy to address it. As Chris Voss teaches in his book “Never split the difference” – recognizing negative dynamics dissipates them. Talk to people you think can get upset about the elimination. Tell them how they may feel about it. Hear what they have to say. Summarize their point of view. It sounds easy, but when you try it, you’ll find that it isn’t. If you want to learn it, read Chris Voss’s book or consume the content at his company’s website.

What about the delegation?

You know that you should cut unnecessary actions before automating them. Still, be aware of the second half of Mr. Ferriss’ line too. Never delegate something that can be automated or streamlined. The action at hand may seem like it can’t be automated or the automation will be complex and expensive. Do double-check. These days you can have sophisticated automation solutions very cheaply, sometimes for free! They can do things, which you may expect to need advanced coding skills. You can often find tools like Zapier or IFTTT very helpful in some of these cases. To learn about several similar tools, check out this post at

Elon Musk’s approach to efficient automation

Elon Musk proposes a little bit different approach to automation. His way is a little more complicated and needs more steps. You’ll see that it is more comprehensive too.

“Make requirements less dumb”

You should assume at the beginning that all requirements are initially wrong. No matter who gives you the requirements – they are always wrong. They are – true fact. If they come from a smart person, you can hesitate to question them hard enough, but they are still wrong. Elon says that you should challenge all requirements, no matter how smart they seem.

Why do you want to do it? If you question what you have to do at the beginning, you save a lot of time, effort, resources, and pain afterward in doing it. If the requirements are wrong, they will become obvious sooner or later. Then you’ll realize how much you’ve paid for fulfilling them. But by that time, you’d already lost the cost without appropriate return. It will be much cheaper to think it through at the beginning than to fix or replace it at the end.

Look at it this way… Insects like mosquitos use evolution to advance. They bring thousands of children into the world, of which only a small fraction survives long enough to reproduce. They are born and they die very quickly too – within days. This is their way to set their tiny nervous systems right according to the environment. People don’t have to do it. We have brains. We can plan, predict and analyze. And this is exactly what Elon encourages you to do. Don’t be a mosquito. Don’t advance by making mistakes. Predict them and prevent them before they happen.

“Try and delete part of the process”

Delete as much from each process as you can. But it’s still not enough. Elon says that if you’re not forced to add deleted parts at least 10% of the time, you don’t delete enough. You have to be that brutal to make everything as simple as possible.

Why? That’s kind of obvious. Extra overhead won’t stop generating costs when it’s automated. It will generate costs in a more obscure way, as nobody will do it manually.

But why delete parts of the processes just to bring them back at least 10% of the time? Isn’t it wasting of time and resources? Elon suggests it to overcome bias, which we are all victims of. Everyone at least from time to time feels that he needs to add something “just in case”. If you want to achieve ultimate automation, you have to find a way to overcome it. And this is what Elon does for this purpose.

“Simplify And Optimize”

After the previous 2 steps, you have only a bare minimum of the requirements or the process. You may think that now you can start automating it. Unfortunately no, you can’t. Take what you have left, simplify it, and optimize it. There’s still some juice to be squeezed out of it. You don’t want to pay for this juice every time your automation runs. So squeeze it as early as you can. Of course, do the previous 2 steps first to prevent optimizing things, which you don’t need anyway.

“Accelerate Cycle Time”

Now, with slimmed down and optimized requirements or processes, you’re on your way to… do one more thing before automating it. Think about how to accelerate it. How to make the process work faster? You may think about how to make things simpler, but it does not always mean faster. Now, without adding unnecessary stuff, think about how to make the process go faster. And think it as hard as you physically can. The effort will repay every time the process will perform.

Finally… “Automate”

Now you’re free to design the automation. But don’t start before pushing as hard as possible to complete all previous steps. You already know why following this approach is important. You also know some tools to make automation as easy as possible. But is Elon’s way easy to apply? Not really…

Even Elon Musk himself admits that he’s guilty of not following these rules. In fact, he admits that he has gone through all the steps oppositely to find out that the thing should be eliminated. As a result, many times he had to pay for unnecessary automation.

If you want to follow Elon’s approach you have to consider all the things and aspects of your process. You have to focus on each step and apply it drastically. It won’t be nice or easy. But it will let you achieve “Elon Musk” kind of results.

Want to know more about the approach directly from Elon? Check out the interview with Elon (especially 13:30–28:30) performed by Everyday Astronaut:


Automation is a great way of making your IT department cheaper to run and faster to complete tasks. It saves your team’s time and your company’s money. You invest resources only once – at the implementation phase – and then you collect your returns repetitively. This statement is of course true, but only if you do it properly. If you don’t, you repetitively waste your company’s money. Running automation isn’t free. It’s usually a lot cheaper than manual work, but not free. Especially if on some steps there are people involved in some actions – like with automated business workflows. Ineffective automation is always very dangerous. Resources are automatically wasted while most, or even all people see it as a cost saving. It’s automated after all, so it must be good…

Automate wisely. Use Timothy Ferriss’s and Elon Musk’s approaches to put automation in place correctly. And benefit repetitively by automating the necessary stuff and by eliminating the unnecessary!

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Does this post seem incomplete to you? Do you have another opinion or other great resources to learn IT Manager’s skills? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!