On Automation

The drones

They are everywhere. Unless you live in a post-apocalyptic bunker with years worth of canned food, you will see the “drones”. Those are individuals who don’t care to do the same things hundreds of times a day.

They will go home at night, proud of their hard work. They think a paycheck should be in proportion to the time they worked on a job, rather than on the job itself.

https://frozenlock.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/wpid-drone.jpg

Automation is way of thinking

Everyone is more or less a drone, even the most active Emacs user. To overcome this “default” mode, you must constantly stop, look at what you are doing, and decide if there’s a better way to do it. My personal experience: whenever I do stop and ask myself “Surely there’s a better way to do this?”, there is indeed!

I connected to IRC like a drone for weeks before it occurred to me I could simply enter my login and favorite channels in a function to connect to them automatically by a simple M-x erc-connect. By the way, IRC is an indispensable productivity tool. Got a question about a particular software? Join the channel and ask it to dozens of experts.

Automation makes you look bad

This claim will surely appear to be insane to most of you. How could being more productive makes you look bad?

Imagine two colleagues: Mark and Jason. Both have the same task to do in a given day. Let’s say Mark finds a way to automate his task and complete it in 30 min instead of 8 hours (quite an accomplishment, but bear with me a little longer). Now suppose he decides to play to the last Mario on his Nintendo 3DS for the rest of the day. Even if he does the same amount of job as Jason in the day, everyone else will think he is lazy. To be a good employee, you must always look busy. More than busy in fact, you must always be running everywhere!

The same goes for organization: if you are organized and on schedule, nobody notices you. However, if you are late and need to disturb everyone to finally getting things done, people will tend to think “Whoah, look at all the efforts he’s doing to get this piece of info! He’s bothering all these poor souls just for me!” Think I’m crazy? How often have you asked for a document to someone and been amazed at how fast they sent it to you? Now, would you have the same level of astonishment for the individual who makes sure you already have it, or don’t even need it? No! Never!

And a last one just for fun: If you solve a problem before it even occurs, your are invisible. If you wait until it shows its ugly head and then solve it, you are an hero.

Why bother then?

Clearly automating things isn’t to our advantage then! Why bother? First of all, because not everyone fall in the look-busy trap. Other “productive” individual are able to see through it. Kinda like the blub paradox, from Paul Graham’s Beating the Averages. Want to work with the bests? Start by being one of those bests!

Second reason: to make interesting stuff! If you do the same thing again and again, you brain will rot! Letting the machine do the boring stuff goes a long way in making your job enjoyable. I’m way happier since I stopped counting the components needed for my projects!

Finally, as I stated before, automation is a way of thinking. Once it becomes a habit, it will not only transpire at work, but also in your personal life. This is a real motivation, as every gain in time you make is yours to keep.


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