On Automation

To automate or not?

People have been asking me about automation so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the concept.

My thoughts so far:

Why spend five minutes doing something when you can spend 2 hours messing up automating it?

It's obviously sarcastic but important. So many people look at every little thing on their desk as an opportunity to automate and it's just not true. The best forms of automation are not sudden things that we have to do. They are repetitive tasks.

Part of the reason why people often get this wrong is that they're focused on doing less instead of being better. This concept alone is huge when looking at automating your work.

Should you even automate it in the first place, or are you better or just not doing that particular thing anymore?

Most of the time, people are better off just not doing it anymore. The only reason they have so many random tasks in the first place is poor self-management.

People don't need more automation to be more productive or "better." If we were to do a better job of managing ourselves, we'd do work that matters most, and only that work. Suddenly, what we automate is crystal clear.

Perhaps they believe this can't be done. That's possibly true. Putting ourselves in a position where we don't have random stuff to do is hard and takes time. What happens when your boss loves to drop random shit in slack and ask you to do it? You're pretty screwed.

So I can sympathize. It's really not easy. But it's important. You're not going to be able to automate your boss's randomness, so you'll never be able to automate what they give you. Same for a client, a partner, an employee or whoever else.

Maybe don't look so much at what to automate, or how to do it. Spend a little more time creating an environment that reduces the bad kind of randomness instead.

When randomness is down, you can then eliminate low-value work (don't do it anymore). With less randomness and no low-value work; suddenly, you have an environment that lets work become meaningful. Automation is usually not the answer. A work environment that allows maximum effectiveness is of much higher value.