Faced with a mind numbing, insurmountable challenge, you stare at
your screen, thinking of all the hours that are about to slip by you as
you chip away at the never ending task you’ve been set.
As the instructions are laid out beside you, there’s a feeling in your gut. That feeling is telling you there is always a better way, it just hasn’t been found yet.
Here are some steps to help save yourself from the tedium that awaits you.
In 1966, Michael Polyani observed that there are some things we are
able to do, but we just can’t explain such as “identifying a distinct
species of birds based only on a fleeting glimpse” (check out David
Autor’s paper discussing it here).
I believe the Polanyi paradox, “we know more than we can tell”, is the perfect spotlight for those destroyer of time tasks.
When it’s possible to draw parallels between a modern-day constructed task and human instinct, with evasive explanations such as “this is the only way” or “just because”, this is when you will find a better way.
Often these destroyer of time tasks are accompanied with a novel-sized block of instructions, or a lengthy in person walk-through. Use these to your advantage. take these instructions and skip to the end to get an understanding of what you’re aiming for, and with this understanding of how it should look at the end, aim to get a sense of what you need from the beginning in order to reach there.
Think of yourself picking up a book, and intentionally ruining the story line, skipping straight to the end to see how it’s finished, and reading a few pages at the start purely for context.
These next steps require a pinch of humbleness and a shovel worth of perseverance.
Your first step is accepting you will not be the first human being to face the problem you are facing now, you just need to find the humans who have already kindly noted the ways you can solve it. For me, approaching it in this way helps to overcome the fear of the blank page – I know there’s a better way, and although I may not know it myself, I know it’s out there and it’s not for me to conquer the blank page entirely on my own.
Perseverance comes through in your research strategy. This will change depending on your own skills and abilities, but isn’t impossible if you’re starting from nothing. Start by googling the most generic description of your overall task, and as you start researching, work your way down in to the specifics as you grow more confident. Your initial questions like “improving reporting process” will slowly become “transform SQL data” or “automate through VBA”.
As soon you know it’s possible for a computer to mimic everything you do on your mouse and keyboard, you begin to recognise the moments when you, the human, are being treated as the machine.
The next time you have the gut feeling as you’re handed a Dickensian sized series of instructions, act on it; take the time to read up on your problem, intentionally ruining the story line, and see how others have crafted the story, I can guarantee you will find a far better alternative out there.
Remember, you are not a machine.
Previously published at https://www.automateall.co.uk/AlwaysABetterWay