Use the tools available to stop doing the work you shouldn’t be doing anyway

Posted by Jim Hitch, a co-founder of Legal Futures Associate Casedo

Hitch: Cut out the pointless tasks

We are increasingly taken for granted in the world of Do It Yourself. I’m not talking about the wonky shelves and bubbled wallpaper of traditional DIY. Instead, I refer to a world in which we’re required to do some of the work we have ostensibly paid for, such as in banking, travel and technology.

We’re all both familiar and frustrated by this. In the workplace, this has translated into the woefully inefficient ‘streamlining’ (job losses) of swathes of support staff, such that those who remain are paid to spend a seemingly increasing percentage of their time doing tasks that would be done more effectively and efficiently by someone on a different pay scale.

This fallacy of modern capitalism has been well documented (by Cal Newport and others). Ironically the digitisation of the workplace has exacerbated, or perhaps created, these issues.

Whilst those of us not in leadership can do little about this structurally, there are ways in which we can cut down on these tasks to give us more time to get on with the job we’re actually paid for. Here are three suggestions.

Find the right tool for the right job

We often knowingly use the wrong tools just to get tasks completed, whether it’s editing a PDF with a free application because you don’t need a PDF Editor license enough to pay for it, or sitting on a piano stool in the spare room on the rare occasions you work from home.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach for tasks that are infrequent. The problem arises when you find that you’ve been sitting on that stool for six months and are now at home 60% of the working week – and you’re wondering what happened to your back.

PDF Editors are a case in point. They are editors but how many of us use them to edit PDFs? The idea of editing a PDF is to some extent an oxymoron – the format itself was never created with post-production editing in mind.

Almost all of us read PDFs; what we need is a tool for bringing our documents together in a single place (whether they are PDFs, Word docs, images, emails, or what have you) to read and make sense of them. Who gets sent only PDFs anyway?

Our Casedo tool is one such piece of software, others, such as LiquidText, work very well solely with PDFs.

Tip: Try to take a step back and look at the tools you are using. Are they fit for purpose, or are you making them work for you?

Use automation

Automation in terms of software workflow has been around for decades. Douglas Adams famously quipped that he’d rather spend a happy half a day writing a Word macro that would save him five seconds of work, than doing what he was supposed to be doing (ie, writing).

Things have moved on since then. Automation has been a huge area of growth in tech, and it’s something, with the rise of ‘no-code’, even us mortals can easily make use of.

No-code is coding graphically, linking tasks together through drag-and-drop interfaces, with easy-to-follow instructions. Think of using graphical building blocks to put together a web page rather than writing html – that’s no-code. Zapier is the best know of the tools that can link over 7,000 applications together seamlessly, in any which way you want.

You see this everyday when you sign up for an online newsletter or a subscription. It could be that a form filled online triggers emails to be sent out, appointments to be made, even documents to be posted. All this can be done without the intervention, or the need, of a human.

I strongly recommend taking a look at tools like Zapier, and don’t assume I’m just talking about work here.

Tip: Think of the tasks that you seem to repeat endlessly and see if there isn’t a way to automate them. The domestic app I use the most? With three children, I’m often trying to get a GP appointment. Doing that and the school run is a challenge. I use an Android Auto Redial app to keep calling until I get through (there are iOS alternatives).

Work with AI

While automation is grunt work, AI can do unique tasks, in the manner of an fairly helpful PA. The trick with AI is to know that while it is artificial, it is by no means intelligent. If you’ve ever tried to get ChatGPT to write something for you, you’ll have not done it again. But if you have asked it to draft an article for you, you might have had more success.

Think about what an AI is – it’s a large language model, all its answers are based on things that have already been done, so no wonder it can’t produce unique content well. However, if you ask it to produce a type of document, that can work.

We had an extended trip to Australia last summer with the family, I fed our all the info and bookings I had into an AI bot and it spat out a very commendable itinerary. Also recently, I have been hosting webinars to do with a charity I work with, and asking attendees to add their email addresses to the comments, so that I can email them after the presentation.

I copied the whole comments section and then pasted it into an AI bot to strip out everything but the email addresses, a tiresome piece of work that would have taken ages myself.

Of course, there are confidentiality issues with using online AIs (such that Italy has banned it) and you shouldn’t feed in any confidential or sensitive data into them.

However, there are alternatives. Install and use an (albeit slower and less capable) locally installed GPT so that you can be comfortable that none of your data is being shared. This sort of use of AI is essentially getting a job done that would be too time consuming for you, but not worth creating a bespoke workflow for because you’re only doing it once or twice.

Tip: Try ChatGPT if you haven’t yet but treat it sceptically. With any task, be prepared to ask lots of follow-up questions until it produces what you wanted in the first place.

Judicious use of the above will do a huge amount to cut out pointless tasks, freeing you to do more, or if you wish, less.


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