Routines that Automate

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

What make  computers powerful and ubiquitous is their ability to automate easy (and eventually complex) tasks. When I was watching Apollo 13 the other night, I saw the NASA engineers checking the calculations of Astronaut Jim Lovell using their slide rules. Slide rules and other such devices are mechanical in nature but soon calculators and now our smart phones easily automate calculations as simple as addition or as complex as amortization tables. What would happen if we began to apply automating principles to our lives  so that everyday tasks moved away from being mechanical nature to becoming automated. Building life routines and rituals creates smart responses that make our life easier and more effective. Of course, we already do a ton of automated tasks in our lives like walking the dog in the morning, brewing up a pot of coffee, and giving our spouse or partner a hug before we head off from work. These automated responses (and its good that the hug is automated) don’t require much thinking and enriches our lives. But think about the tasks that are not automated in your life or that could be more efficiently automated in your life. The other day I talked about the Myth of Multi-Tasking ( how we are trying to do more at the same time with the end result being a decrease in both the quantity and quality of what we are doing. So what would automating a part of your life look like…A few years ago I had a colleague who was committed to keeping a paper free office. His real objective was to get as much material as he could into a digital format and store as few files and other paper documents as he could. As he went along he refined his process but he started off with some very simple rituals that included:

  • All correspondence and papers had to be sent to him electronically. He would receive paper documents but they had to have an electronic backup
  • He bought a card and paper scanner and ran everything that he could through them on Friday afternoon so that he could leave his office “paper free” for the weekend
  • He would review his email folders and clean them out every six months on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Not sure why he picked these dates but they kept his practice in play.
  • He would only keep two file drawers in his office (both in his credenza) and these would be cleaned out every (you guessed it)  summer and winter solstice. Since he did not have much paper, this practice did not take much time but it was more about the ritual than the results. He would brag and laugh at the rest of us at least twice a year.
  • He alerted others to his practice and carried around a tablet computer that allowed him to keep minutes, track ideas, and recall information that might be necessary for meetings. While others came in with files and notepapers, he was there with his tablet in hand.
While I’m not sure whether the image of himself as being “all digital” was more important to him than his actual “paper spend” there is no question that he was dedicated to this project and definitely did his part to move our company along the digital divide to greater efficiencies. Over time, I would see a few more papers on his desk but he was certainly more diligent about this practice than anyone else in our company. The key to automating your life is making sure that you are managing the automation process and that the automation process is not managing you. So, for example, if you are on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and My Space and are sending out similar messages on each network…well you are being controlled by your automation!. So a few tips
  • Choose your automation goals: Is it about work efficiency, creating fun or a self management goal such as increasing your exercise routine.
  • Examine what is currently working for you and how you may want to refine  it. Kaizan, the Japanese word for “change for the better” is about always striving for improvement.
  • Changing habit or routines may take up to 30 days to put into place. You might want to log onto a website like “Don’t break the chain”, that can help you keep everyday commitments by marking an “X” on the calendar. After a few days, you don’t want to lose the momentum of your success.
  • Find an automation buddy, someone who might have the same or similar goal as you do and exchange support and ideas on how to make your life more efficient.
Fortunately, we’ll never be as efficient as a computer and that is what makes us all  the more interesting. And by finding simple and effective ways to be automated in our lives,  we’ll have more time to be more interesting.]]>

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