Daniel Wasserlauf

Automation First Mentality

Posted byDaniel Wasserlauf

I work in the software industry. Automation is apart of my ethos, that is to say I think about automation a lot. The ideas around making tasks easier and more automatic comes up frequently enough I’ve began to think about automation outside of a software context. Our brains automate tasks for us all the time. A task such as driving was once a dauntless sweat inducing idea for me, and is now no more than an afterthought. Our brains have a natural form of automation built in! I find this ability to naturally automate extremely fascinating and I wanted to explore it more. Specifically, can I figure out a thought process so I can get stressful and repetitive tasks to feel automated for me.

The Mentality
Whenever I come to a repetitive task or problem I approach it by not immediately handling the problem, but rather asking myself a simple question, “How can I make this easier in the future?” As an example, doing dishes used to stress me out growing up. After I left my parents home I realized how often I need to do them but I still would get bothered by the task, it wasn’t automatic for me. After just asking “How can I make this easier for myself?” My association with the task began to shift. I bought myself some rubber gloves because the water was hot, and I started to listen to podcasts, audio-books, or the news. I also shifted how I thought about doing them. Doing dishes, outside of a thanksgiving meal for 20, is generally a 15 minute task. These changes in my cognitive approach to the task have now changed my feeling and association to the work. The chore has become automatic for me.

I feel it relevant to say, automating tasks isn’t always as straightforward as buying some gloves or listening to something while doing it. When I ask the question “How can I make this easier in the future?” I don’t have an immediate response or a great picture of what the future may look like. In software we have a vision where every problem is solved by clicking a readily available button. This reality is something software strives for, but it is rarely the destination. When attempting to answer “How can I make this easier in the future?” I have a few tools which have helped immensely; Searching for what others have done before, being open to revisiting the “Why” or meaning behind the problem, and realizing my real world constraints such as time or money. These seem obvious but when I am knee deep in figuring out what I need to do to get a computer to work, I find myself coming back to these same mental habits.

Finally I have found it to be imperative to talk about what I am trying to automate with as many people as possible. I realize talking about problems and being able to present them well is a skill we rarely practice, and sometimes it felt awkward to talk about that I was struggling to do what seemed like a basic task. But the important idea is to realize we all have stress, and many people share the same stresses as we do, just because a task is basic doesn’t mean its automatic.

Conclusion

Recently I have begun approaching repetitive problems with asking myself “How can I make this easier in the future” sometimes software is the answer to my problems, but in many other cases just changing a frame of reference or giving myself the right tools to be more successful has had profound impacts. Even if I am not successful in automating a task right now because its too hard, or there are other problems which I need to deal with. I find the process of attempting to solve the problem to be enough.

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