Most people I know do some kind of work that requires at least a few repetitive tasks. Odds are that this applies to you as well, to some degree. And a lot of those repetitive tasks you perform can be automated, if you are willing to figure out how to do it. However, most of the time it doesn’t seem worth the effort to do the automation, especially when you first start a task and you are facing a looming deadline. You say to yourself, “I only have to change these 20 lines, and then I’ll be done. Why should I spend so much time to automate a task that won’t take that long to do manually?”
While this logic may seem sound in the short-term, I believe in the long-term that it is faulty. Quite frequently you end up needing to repeat this manual task far more times than you initially expected. So you may believe that you only have to change those 20 lines in the beginning, but if you end up having to change those 20 lines many times, then you will have wasted a tremendous amount of time that you could have automated away.
Now you may say to yourself, “Well, I’ll just change it manually the first time through, and if it becomes obvious that I will need to repeat that action a bunch more times, I’ll automate it at that point. But the problem with that thinking is that in my experience, it is almost never obvious how many more times you will need to do that action. It could take you only one or two more times to fix whatever problem you are having (or accomplish whatever task you are doing), or it could take you MANY more times, and there is no way to tell how it will go in the beginning. So, you keep telling yourself, “This should be the last time I need to make this change. It’s not so bad…” Fifty iterations later, you find yourself still manually changing those 20 lines and wonder, “Why didn’t I automate? Gah! Well, I’m probably pretty close at this point, I’ll just keep making this change manually. It’s not worth it at this point to automate.” Another fifty iterations later: “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life!!!”
Additionally, if you are able to automate a task sufficiently such that other people can run it with ease, you are making their lives a lot easier, and adding a lot of value to your organization. You may believe that whatever tool or task you are working on won’t be used or done by anyone else ever again, but the odds are that it will at some point be needed again in the future. And if that future person (which may be you) has to keep manually changing those 20 lines, the amount of time wasted increases even further.
You may also think to yourself, “Well, if I automate this task, that could be much more challenging to others to understand in the future, especially if they need to understand what is going on with this action. They will understand much more easily if the changes are manual.” While this may be true in the very short-term, just like making the changes manually may seem the better option in the very short-term, this is not the best option in the long-term. You and your organization would be far better served to document your automation and teach your pupil how it works rather than forcing them to do the work manually. Not only does this keep the value of the automation, but it also allows your student to learn about automation so that hopefully they can use it for other tasks in the future. This instruction also makes you know the automation better, because teaching something to someone else is one of the best ways to learn and fully understand something yourself.
Another important reason to automate is that in the end it is a whole lot more FUN than tedious manual changes. This is similar to a shift in mindset I experienced when back-packing through Europe: instead of seeing the difficult things as obstacles in your path, look at them as growth opportunities that you can take advantage of and even have a blast with! The work you will have to do to automate something will definitely be far more challenging when you first start work on it, but as you get increasingly familiar with automation methods, you will find yourself enjoying how your new knowledge will rapidly take care of things that used to take many minutes or hours of your life. In addition to the fun of seeing painful manual changes getting wiped out by automation, you will also begin to see how interesting these techniques are, and how you may be able to use them to take care of other issues you are having. And every time you automate something, you further develop your automation skills, so future opportunities to automate will be far easier to take advantage of. It’s a great upward cycle that leads to greater and greater amounts of automation that saves you lots of time and energy, and adds a lot of value to your system.
If you aren’t as familiar with automation technologies and techniques, you may wonder, “How do I even start the process of automating this?” For example, if you are business owner that sells a non-technology product and aren’t as familiar with modern computing systems, you may have no clue how to start automating sales of your product online. So as a result, you won’t set it up and you may miss out on a great deal of online business.
Whether you are a novice, expert, or somewhere in between, I find that often the best place to start is google.com. For example, if you want to automate aspects of your business or personal finance, there are an almost infinite number of websites you can get help from. If you need to figure out how to automate the movement of a lot of files in windows, there is a ton of material online about windows batch scripts and other methods to do this. If you use something like MATLAB (an engineering software development platform) or other programming language, there are countless resources online at your disposal to automate almost anything. No matter what tedious task you want to rid yourself of, start with Mr. Google and go from there.
Often we go for the initially easiest solution to our problems, and this approach can serve us well in many aspects of life. But I believe in the long run that for many tasks, paying your dues upfront with automation will lead to the greatest amount of time savings, efficiency, happiness, and value for your organization. Keep that in mind the next time you just have to change 20 lines.