Unnecessary Boring Work: Part I
by Rick Brenner
Work can be boring. Some of us must endure the occasional boring task, but for many, everything about work is boring. It doesn't have to be this way.
KUKA industrial robots assembling automobiles. Industrial robots have taken over much of the boring and dangerous work in factories. They have done so, in part, because the human labor they replaced was visible in the manufacturers' accounting systems, which made the decision to automate much easier. Desk work is different. Automating desk work also results in savings, but because the automation doesn't replace everything the human does, the accounting system is unable to easily display the savings. Photo (cc) Mixabest, courtesy Wikimedia.
If you know anyone younger than 20 years old, you know first-hand how engrossing digital devices are. And if you work at a desk, among others who work at desks, you probably know how bored some of them are. They work at computers (when they aren't in meetings), doing whatever, and they're bored. The under-20s are so involved in the virtual world that they lose track of time; the desk workers are so bored that they watch that digital clock in the corner of the screen, just waiting for the thrill that comes when one of the clock's digits changes.
How can this be? The under-20s are doing something that's fun. The desk workers aren't. But why is what we do at work boring? Here are some reasons why there's so much boring work.
- Insufficient automation
- Although much of the boring work can be automated, deciding to invest in automation is very difficult for most organizations.
- Someone would have to write, test, document, and maintain the tools that carry out the automation. And (probably) the users would have to be trained. The company would have to invest first, before it could reap rewards later in the form of higher productivity. Although the investment would be visible in the chart of accounts, the return on investment is enhanced productivity, which doesn't appear in the chart of accounts in any clearly recognizable form. But worse, the return on investment would not necessarily appear in the accounts controlled by the part of the organization that would be making the investment. This makes the politics of internal investment even more problematic.
- The result is that what computers could easily do automatically must instead by done by people.
- Unnecessary tasks
- Eliminating unnecessary tasks is difficult because the mechanisms that create them can be complex. For example, consider policies that limit the total volume of a user's Although much of the boring work
can be automated, deciding to
invest in automation is very
difficult for most organizationsmailboxes. These policies are usually intended to save money on storage equipment. Users who approach these limits must trim the volume of their stored mail. That's work, much of it boring, necessary only because of the mailbox size policy.
- Limiting mailbox size seems cheap (or even free) because the cost of compliance isn't accounted for directly. But when viewed from a more global perspective, acquiring the equipment necessary to store more mail, while sponsoring the training necessary to show employees how to reduce the bulk of their mail, is actually cheaper. Both of these tactics appear to be more expensive than mailbox size limits, because we don't account for the cost of complying with policies governing mailbox size limits.
- Imposing a ceiling on stored mail volume eliminates the need to buy more storage equipment, but it does so by creating mounds of boring work, which is not accounted for. Most organizations have many tasks like this. They seem to be sensible, but they aren't.
We'll continue next time with more sources of boring work. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Enjoy Your Commute
- You probably commute to work. On a good day, you spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or two — each way — commuting. What kind of experience are you having? Taking control of this part of your life can make a real difference.
- What have you learned today? What has enriched you, changed your understanding of the world, or given you a new view of history or the future? Learning something new every day is a worthy goal.
- Accepting Reality
- Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
- Risk Management Risk: Part I
- Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
- Clueless on the Concept
- When a team member seems not to understand something basic and important, setting him or her straight risks embarrassment and humiliation. It's even worse when the person attempting the "straightening" is wrong, too. How can we deal with people we believe are clueless on the concept?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: