Mundane time drain verses enthused creation

Written by Suraj Shah.

Three days doing a mundane repetitive task verses three hours enthused in creating something that will benefit other people too – if you were me, which would you have picked?

Much my work on the web team at Heathrow involves carrying out mundane repetitive tasks. However, I thrive when I find ways to automate the task and eliminate boredom.

How much time do you lose doing things you don’t want to do, yet have to do them over and over and over again?

Time is such a precious commodity for each and every one of us, and we often find ourselves trapped in doing chores that are boring and tedious. What I’ve found though, is that many of the things that we find mundane and repetitive can become simplified and automated.

Getting enthused in creative work

Rather than getting bogged down in the work, we can get enthused and enjoy it. We can create something that goes beyond getting the job done and make it so that it contributes to the wider community.

Barrie Davenport suggests an approach:

Rather than groaning, “I dread this crappy task before me,” ask “How can I create this task in a way that feels joyful, creative, and giving?”

At work yesterday I was tasked with identifying the title of every single page on the website for one of our airports.

If I had done this manually, then once I got into a rhythm, it would have taken a minute or two to copy and paste the link into a browser, wait for each page to load up, copy and paste the title text into the spreadsheet and move onto the next item.

Multiply this by 150 to 200 pages and we’re looking at around 2 to 3 hours per website, without breaks, just for one mundane task, not to mention how numb my mind would have become by the end of it! For 12 websites, with breaks, we’re looking at perhaps three days of work, just for one mundane task.

Contrast these three days I could have spent doing the repetitive task, to the 3 hours I actually did spend implementing a script I found off the web, letting the script run for each of the sites and documenting the process for anyone else in the team to be able to do the task quickly and easily in the future.

It’s something that challenged and fulfilled me, got the same end result, along with bonuses (the automated process, fully documented), in 10% of the time it would have taken if I did it the manual way.

Three days doing a mundane repetitive task verses three hours enthused in creating something that will benefit other people too – if you were me, which would you have picked?

Automating or simplifying mundane repetitive tasks

Now I get that you are rarely going to need to copy and paste page titles from airport websites, but what other mundane repetitive tasks do you and I do in our day to day lives that we could automate or simplify?

  • Handling money: Automate your finances – get paid directly into your account (no more cheques), set up regular savings deposits and set up automatic bill payment.
  • Filling forms: Have people fill forms out electronically rather than you having to manually type out hand written forms that have been sent to you.
  • Co-ordinating diaries: When organising meetings or a social function, get participants to fill out an online poll (such as Doodle) rather than clogging up email inboxes and trying to work out who is available when.
  • Sharing documents: When sending documents to groups of people, load them up onto a central shareable space (using a tool like Dropbox ~ referral link) and point people to it, rather than manually sending the files out to each person that asks for it.
  • Regular communication: When someone expects to receive a text message from you every day or each week, schedule it and let it run automatically (using a tool like SMS Scheduler for Android phones) rather than trying to remember to send them that daily or weekly message.
  • Daily meal planning: Create a simple weekly dinner menu rather than stressing about what to make for dinner each evening.
  • Gardening: Put sand in between paving slabs on your front drive to minimise weed growth, rather than pulling out weeds every month. More at: How to make your yard easier to maintain.
  • Buying clothes: Buy quality garments that last a long time, rather than shopping for new clothes every other week.
  • Daily commute: Live closer to work, or work closer to home, rather than getting stuck in traffic for an hour each way.

This is just the beginning for moving beyond the drudgery of day to day tasks and fretting over how much time you have lost. It is about claiming back lost time and doing more of what enthuses us.

What else could you do to simplify and automate rather than drown in the repetitive and mundane?

(Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University)

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