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The Hidden Value in Performing Simple and Repetitive Tasks

December 12, 2017

By Laurie Clarke, Chief Operating Officer, The Tatham Group 

Image by Gearrific

Whether it’s having to make a meal or do the dishes, we are inching closer to automating those basic, everyday tasks. Researchers at Moley Robotics have already succeeded in bringing us the first robotic kitchen using motion-capture technology (image above). Two robotic hands can do everything from mixing and chopping to pouring and stirring on command by emulating recorded motions.

It is remarkable. But are we aware of the cost of automating what is simple and easy?

I have always been the kind of person to write down my goals, grouping them to create a daily to-do list to effectively move through as many tasks as possible. After one particularly stressful day at work, where nothing went as planned, I went home, got on the phone with my mother and complained about how the stress of my job was starting to make me feel—overly anxious to say the least.

I asked my mother…is this just the new normal?

Her response was, at first, confusing.

“Wash and dry all of the dishes by hand after dinner.”

…What?

Maybe she didn’t fully understand all of my responsibilities or my mounting anxiousness. I asked her to elaborate. She discussed a study she read that proved how completing repetitive tasks with a distinct beginning and end triggers the body to relax, minimizing feelings of anxiety and stress.

According to a chartered psychologist with The British Psychological Society, focusing on simple and specific tasks can “concentrate the mind and avoid de-motivating thoughts from entering.”

As I concentrated on how I could incorporate her wisdom into my life, I found moments where I could decrease anxiety and decompress. The most impactful one was starting to make dinner as a transition from work to time with the children. It took a little reframing on my view of cooking after a long day at the office but the act of preparing, serving, eating and cleaning after dinner served a welcome mental shift into a relaxing evening unplugged at home.

It was amazing how re-engaging in this simple repetitive activity gave me immediate comfort. I began to sleep better, which made it easier to get up to workout in the morning and succeed in more areas of my life as a mom, coach and friend.

Feeling the success of completing simple, repetitive tasks with clear beginnings and ends, I started to think about work and our habit to delegate the simple and easy tasks. Is that wise?

So often, we transfer or automate small repetitive tasks to maximize productivity. Intuitively, it makes sense because it gives us more time to do more complex work. But is it improving our productivity, or, is it having an adverse affect as we give up the tasks that could give us closure or help us transition into tougher assignments?

There is value in simple and easy work, especially that which offers us a clean break from what we were doing. We do not have to do it all, but we mustn’t erase it all either. Think about some of them:

Balancing a budget

Categorizing/grouping information

Performance tracking

Creating checklists

These small, repetitive tasks can often serve as active rest — granting time to breath and reduce our level of stress and anxiety without having to actually get off the treadmill and break momentum to meet our goals.

Recognize there is potential for those tasks to unburden your mind, reduce your stress and anxiety, and recharge your batteries to tackle the more complex and complicated tasks at hand.

 

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