Automation kills productivity

Why automated repeating tasks are bad for your productivity? Why you should slow down to keep up? This article contains the answer.

Automation kills productivity
This article was initially written for my Russian micro-blog (and now is lost forever). I decided to translate it to English mostly because it covers why Todorant doesn't have and will never have repeating tasks.

If you have a task manager that you've set up perfectly — it distributes tasks for you, creates repeating tasks, even takes tasks from the backlog and adds them to your day — but you still can't keep up with what needs to be done and can't complete anything, then this article is for you.

When you delegate the planning of your tasks to a machine, you create a boss for yourself who manages your life. This boss is stupid — it does not understand that you have a hot deal on a plane ticket for the next three days — and that you simply can't work where you are going (e.g., the Internet on Cuba is not that good).

But it is also ruthless — it constantly reminds you of itself, annoys you every day on Cuba about a thousand unfinished tasks, causes you to blame yourself for resting instead of working. And after the trip, you don't feel rested at all. Why does it happen?

Because you should stop delegating and automating the most important part of your productivity — planning. Take a step back, spend 15 minutes a day planning tasks manually. Automate everything else — but not the planning process itself.

This process has to be thoughtful. It has to be slow. This is why repeating tasks kill productivity. Suppose you have to go to the gym three days a week. You add a Google Calendar event, which is set to repeat three times a week at 7 a.m. on weekdays. And then you successfully forget about the task.

You just delegated the thoughtfulness to an unconscious stupid algorithm. Every time you forget about the gym — or even worse, every time you ignore Google reminders firing 10 minutes before the task — you are slowly driven to madness.

There are two ways to solve this problem. Both slow down the planning process and give you exactly as much inconvenience so that you can not thoughtlessly set tasks that are destined to fail.

Create tasks for the months to create tasks for the days

The first way is to manually add repetitive tasks. If a task is to go to a gym three times a week, you can create 12 tasks per year on the 1st days of the months like "add tasks to go to the gym for this month". And then, when the time comes to complete this task, you can manually create 12 tasks for the month like "Go to the gym".

Is it difficult? No, not really. Instead of spending 15 seconds to create a Google Calendar task once, you will spend 5 minutes to create tasks for a year (one for each month) — and then 5 minutes every month to create tasks for the actual dates. You will surf memes for 5 minutes less every month, but you'll start going to the gym, instead of constantly missing the workouts and feeling bad about it. Do you think giving up 5 minutes of memes a month to finally achieve a fitness goal is worth it?

Create tasks that include creating the next tasks

The second way is to add tasks like "Go to the gym and add the next task". That's how I learn German now — yes, sometimes I don't open textbooks all week, but I can feel the progress — and nothing demotivates me from completing tasks like "Read a chapter of the #german textbook and add the next task".

Another cool thing is the flexibility of this approach. For instance, this weekend I didn't have a single moment to learn German. On Friday before I red a chapter of the textbook — and knowing that I wouldn't be able to study on the weekend — I added the next task for the upcoming Monday.

Here's another example: I have a sourdough starter in the fridge that is six months old now. It has to be fed once a week with flour and water — and I have never forgotten to do it, because every Monday I have the task to "Feed #sourdough and add the next task".

And you know what's even better about the two approaches above? If you slow down to add a task, you can reconsider your priorities. I bake one loaf of sourdough bread a year, and that's if I'm lucky and have time. Why do I have to spend time taking care of it? Every time I plan my tasks manually, I think about whether they are worth pursuing. I remove the tasks that are no longer relevant. A soulless automated machine can never do that for you.

Sometimes it's worth slowing down the critical processes rather than automating them. In the end, these short compulsory audits will make the system healthier and better overall. Keep in mind: automation kills productivity.