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How I Replaced Myself in My Business

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I just got back from a short vacation in Japan. I’ve never been there before but visiting the Efficiency motherland has always been on my list.

After a week in Tokyo and Kyoto, I can say Japan is one of my favorite countries in the world:

  • It’s extremely efficient
  • They embrace technology to make life easier
  • Their ramen is better than my momma’s

As a frequent traveler, there are very few cities that get me excited. But Tokyo was one of them. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, I would recommend you make it a priority to go. When you do, ask me for the insider tips and I’m happy to share them with you.

While I was in Tokyo I didn’t check email or work at all. I was fully present and enjoying the Michelin star bowls of ramen and plates of sushi.

When I told people that I was off the grid for a week and that Asian Efficiency would keep growing and functioning…they acted surprised. In fact, when I came back the company generated more revenue and we made a lot of progress on a new course we’re working on.

Most business owners would have to put their business, income, and projects to a stop when they go on a vacation. They can’t imagine that their business would grow and run itself without their presence.

What’s the secret sauce?


When you have systems in place, you can take a vacation without any worries. When you also have great people that you trust, vacationing becomes even more fun.

This Tokyo trip was guilt-free and I enjoyed every moment of it. I want you to be able to take time off, guilt-free, and have that same experience.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that as the business owner you want to focus on replacing yourself as soon as possible. That’s why I say “business owner”, not “business operator”. They are two completely different people. We start as both but eventually want to move towards being a business owner and have someone else be the business operator.

When I was an employee, I also wanted to replace myself as soon as possible.


It was a requirement before you could get promoted. I thought that was a very smart policy which I’ve borrowed and applied at Asian Efficiency.

The other benefit I realized was when I was away, i.e. being sick, projects didn’t come to a halt. Other people on the team could easily take over what I did. As a team player, I wanted my team members to keep projects moving even while I was gone.

Some people might think that documenting and systemizing everything you do compromises their job security. I would actually argue that you do yourself a favor by 1) having the ability to go away with peace of mind while others can take over and 2) you can move up faster in the company when someone else can take over what you currently do.

I’ve seen this firsthand in our company. Everyone’s role is 100% documented whether you work in customer service or products or finance or whatever. Everyone on the team can go on vacation with their family and not work at all. By the time they come back they’re excited and refreshed to get back to work.

(I truly think this is one of many things we do that make our people happy and loyal.)

Whether you run a business or not, replacing yourself is first and foremost about the mindset. If you’re not thinking about it, it won’t happen.

I consider it one of the most important mindsets you can have in business. It will force you to make better decisions and strategies to create a good business.

I want to encourage you, starting today, to look for ways to replace yourself.

Here’s an 80/20 question to think about: what would have had to happen for you to replace yourself in the next 6 months?

I have to give credit to my friend Tim Francis for this question. He and I have talked extensively about “80/20 questions” in this podcast episode (one of my personal favorite episodes). When you ask yourself this question, you’ll start to look for opportunities to replace yourself. Have a listen to it today.

I also want to give you a couple tactical actions that you can execute right away:

  1. Look at your todo list of today. What’s one process that you can document in a text file or Google doc? Do that today and don’t spend more than 15 minutes documenting it.
  2. I use the Mac app Tapes all the time to document what I do and then have someone else on the team write it into a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). For Windows, use Jing.
  3. Every Sunday, when I plan my week, I answer this question as part of my weekly planning checklist: what’s one thing I can document and hand off to someone else?

Like I said earlier, replacing yourself is a mindset. The more you think about it, the faster it will happen. You don’t wake up one day and someone else does everything you normally do. It’s a process and it takes time.

It took me about two years and a lot of trips to get to the point where I can take off and not worry about what’s going on in the business. Each time I came back, I asked the team: what’s one thing we couldn’t do because I was gone?

(Same idea applies for everyone working at Asian Efficiency. When they come back, we come together and bring up bottlenecks to address.)

Once we identified the bottleneck, we’d address it, systemize it and it wouldn’t be an issue again. Even just last week, I asked the same question and one issue came up. No one could renew a domain name because the account (even though it was shared in Lastpass) had 2-factor authentication connected to my phone number.

Right before this writing post, I fixed that bottleneck as well.

Again, it’s a process. The more you stress-test your business, the faster you’ll get to the point where you can replace yourself. That’s why I see every trip as an opportunity to find bottlenecks and get one step closer to replacing myself.

People on Facebook think I travel all the time for fun and eat food all day. That is somewhat true….but what they don’t see is that I’m also stress-testing the business on how it runs without me.

(The biggest test was a while ago when I was gone and 3 key team members as well. Luckily, nothing bad happened. Viva systems and documentation!)

The sooner you can move from being a business operator to a business owner, the more value you can add to your business, your customers, and everyone else involved.

Got questions? Let me know and I’m happy to help out. If there’s enough demand, I might even offer coaching or create a course around replacing yourself.

-Thanh & the Asian Efficiency team

P.S. While I was gone, we had a lot of great articles and podcast episodes come out. Did you miss any? I’ve got them listed here for you.

Blog posts

  1. Master your Metrics: How to Reach your Greatest Goals – a physician and AE reader shares his personal productivity systems for accomplishing his goals. He takes bits and pieces from popular frameworks and made it his own. MUST READ.
  2. Elon Musk’s 3 Productivity Secrets – who doesn’t want to be as successful as Elon? Yeah, I call him Elon like he’s my friend. He is, he just doesn’t know it yet.
  3. The Definitive Guide to “Batching” Your Work – you probably already know that batching your work is an efficient approach but in this post you’ll learn a simple framework to apply “batching”. I wish I knew this earlier.
  4. Will Smith’s 3 Motivation Techniques That Propelled Him to the Top – one of my favorite actors is also an inspiration for my work ethic. Besides Will Smith and Kobe Bryant, I don’t know other people who’s hard work ethic is documented. Here you can find Smith’s motivational techniques that allowed him to stay focused with an insane work ethic.
  5. Simple Ways to Collect Your Personal Data and Use it for Self-Improvement – are you into quantified self? Measuring data about yourself? Then you want to read this post.

Podcast episodes

We’ve had over 2.5 million downloads for the podcast. Subscribe today if you haven’t already.

  1. How to Implement Getting Things Done (GTD) Effectively w/ OmniFocus (TPS136)
  2. How to Find and Choose the Perfect Todo List App For You (TPS 135)
  3. 6 Ways to Replace Emails, Meetings, and Other Corporate Time Wasters by Using Slack / HipChat (TPS 134)
  4. 10 Practical Tips for Identifying and Implementing Core Values With Your Family (TPS133)
  5. This 1 Psychological Fear Is Holding You Back From Being Uber Productive (TPS132)

Discover the 1 Lifehack of Highly Successful People

This one lifehack led to the biggest breakthrough of my career. People like Steve Jobs and Oprah have used it to catapult their success, and now you can too.


Posted by David Humphrey  | April 4, 2017 at 1:49AM | Reply

Kyoto and Tokyo are top of my list of places to visit. I am planning on making a trip there sometime next year. I plan on being fully present in my experience there. Great things are about to happen, and it all started with one little trick I learned from AE; Pomodora technique. Thanks Thanh for your valuable insights.


Posted by Peter Banerjea  | March 29, 2017 at 7:38AM | Reply

Hey Thanh – great point!
“I see every trip as an opportunity to find bottlenecks and get one step closer to replacing myself”


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