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? rbrenzAVaUeRREqeakrphner@ChacAZVGejPptNUdshVEoCanyon.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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When the job market eases for job seekers, we often see increases in job shifting, as people who've been biding their time make the jump. Typically, they're the people we most want to keep. How can we reduce this source of turnover?
- The Questions Not Asked
- Often, the path to forward progress is open and waiting, but we don't recognize it, or we convince ourselves it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.
- The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part I
- In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.
- The Reification Error and Performance Management
- Just as real concrete objects have attributes, so do abstract concepts, or constructs. But attempting to measure the attributes of constructs as if they were the attributes of real objects is an example of the reification error. In performance management, committing this error leads to unexpected and unwanted results.
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: Part I
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 2: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part II
- When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap. Available here and by RSS on September 2.
- And on September 9: Holding Back: Part I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior? Available here and by RSS on September 9.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenXhuIaGzrjFQHwOXsner@ChacFmPvDOmEKcSRqInmoCanyon.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
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Managing in Fluid Environments
- Most people now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Download to
your calendarCharleston, South Carolina: October 15, Monthly Meeting, Charleston Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Download to
your calendarMITRE, in Bedford, MA: November 17, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN. Register now.
- Wherever you are: it's a webinar: May 4, 2016, Webinar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute. Register now.
- The Race to the South Pole: The Organizational Politics of Risk Management
- 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 organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management, its application to organizational efforts, and how workplace politics enters the mix. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history and workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Team Development for Leaders
- Teams at work are often teams in name only — they're actually just groups. True teams are able to achieve much higher levels of performance than groups can. In this program, Rick Brenner shows team leads and team sponsors the techniques they need to form their groups into teams, and once they are teams, how to keep them there. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: