Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 30;   July 23, 2014: Unnecessary Boring Work: Part I

Unnecessary Boring Work: Part I

by

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.
Industrial robots assembling automobiles

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 organizations
mailboxes. 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Unnecessary Boring Work: Part II  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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? rbrenJiTuJrAGmZAgYmOoner@ChacTvuGHameuGANeOZXoCanyon.comSend 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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A light bulb, the universal symbol of creativityAsking Brilliant Questions
Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin (left) with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan GreenspanThe Paradox of Confidence
Most of us interpret a confident manner as evidence of competence, and a hesitant manner as evidence of lesser ability. Recent research suggests that confidence and competence are inversely correlated. If so, our assessments of credibility and competence are thrown into question.
A spider plant, chlorophytum comosum.What Enough to Do Is Like
Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternWorkplace Anti-Patterns
We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A computer mouse, the tool we use so often to hijack our own mindsComing December 7: Preventing Meeting Hijacking
Meeting leads, meeting Chairs, and facilitators must be prepared to deal with meeting hijackers. Hesitation, or any ineffectual action, enhances the hijacker's chances of success. Here are suggestions for preventing hijacking. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
Bee with pollenAnd on December 14: Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you do? How can you regain control? Available here and by RSS on December 14.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenwrkaMsRoXWaxDrnvner@ChacRLmqiMEAUknByHdToCanyon.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

Public seminars

Strategic Thinking for Project People
When Strategic Thinking for Project Peoplewe think tactically, our focus is the "next doable step," or perhaps, the next two or three doable steps. When we think strategically, we place far more emphasis on the longer-range objective. In project work, effective strategy can dramatically reduce the level of tactical effort required to achieve the longer-range objectives. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers 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 organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.