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

Unnecessary Boring Work: 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: 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? rbrenuClTHmEfVCJuWwunner@ChactDNiYOocqPENtFsGoCanyon.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:

Submitting a status reportStatus-Report as a Second Language
Sometimes, the clichés the losing team's players feed to sports reporters can have hidden meaning. So it is with Project Status Reports, especially for projects in trouble.
A rocking chairPoverty of Choice by Choice
Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team at the South Pole in 1911Coping and Hard Lessons
Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Children playing a computer gameComing July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
Office equipment — or is it office toys?And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenvxpwsddxlemxTeqJner@ChacsZwFbrOxDaWRxRdpoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development 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. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
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.