February 21, 2003
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Over time one of the most troublesome parts of any high-tech
career can be the routine that is a large part of any computer job. Day
in and day out, you punch the same buttons, change the same tapes and
answer the same support calls. You might think that routine is killing
any affection you might have had for your job. In fact, if you use routine
in an appropriate way, you will find that it can give you the freedom
and flexibility to rise above the day-to-day humdrum realities of your
job and reach for something more.
Getting it down
Routines are something you build over time. After several months or years,
certain actions become almost automatic. Use this to your advantage. Whenever
and wherever you find a routine, look for ways to hone this routine to
the finest edge. What might have taken you an hour to complete in the
past can eventually be whittled down to minutes. Improve each of your
routines until they occupy the absolute minimum number of minutes in your
day, while still performing them in the best way possible. Quality should
never suffer, of course.
Now comes the fun part. Take each of the minutes of work that you have
trimmed from your routines and apply them to doing something new, or learning
something new. By reducing your routines to a bare minimum you open up
the time for entirely new avenues of experience.
I can assure you, though, that if you are feeling oppressed by the routine
nature of your job and do not address these issues, you will soon find
yourself looking for a new job or even a new career. Routines can never
be removed, so it is up to you to manage your routines, instead of letting
them manage you.
What to do?
Now, the hard part; what do you do with this new-found time. What have
you always wanted to do in your career or your life? Have you wanted to
investigate programming in Perl? You get 30 minutes or more while the
tape backup system prepares new tapes. Carry your Perl book with you and
hit a few exercises while the system resets. Keep a web page behind your
backup log so you can read up on the latest develops in your field. Take
a few minutes to jot down some notes about a project or business you might
want to start. Don’t let those precious minutes slip by. They can
be the stepping stones to a better place.
Perhaps you have projects that have languished due to the routines that
are out of control. Use this time to move each of them one step ahead.
Don’t try to accomplish each project in one fell swoop. Find the
“next action” that needs to be done to move a project ahead
– and then do it. This next action could be something as simple
as making a phone call or sending an email. Actions like these are easily
accomplished in the minutes you squeeze from the refinement of your routines.(For
more information on time management and deciding on “next actions”,
check out David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done.)
Finally, you might find that the most productive thing to do with this
extra time is search for a new job. There is nothing wrong with being
dissatisfied with your job. There is, however, a big problem if you are
dissatisfied and not looking for a way to make things better. If you have
found that the routine nature of you work is driving you crazy, and you
can’t seem to find a way to make it better, polish up your resume
and start looking. Finding a new job will not be easy, but it won’t
be as damaging to you psyche as working at a brain-numbing job day after
Routines may be a part of every job, high-tech or not, but there are ways
to use routines to your advantage, refining them to their most precise
elements. This will free up precious minutes that can be used to improve
yourself, move projects forward or even find a new, and better, job. It
may be difficult to change your attitude about the routines in your life,
but you can use them to your advantage instead of letting them dictate
the direction of your job and your high-tech career.