Take a minute and think about your everyday tasks. I’m sure that many of them are likely to be repetitive and time-consuming — whether you’re working in an office or from home. But, is there a way to reduce this workload so that you’ll be productive instead of being busy?
What is DRY, and How Does it Work?
Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, in their book The Pragmatic Programmer, coined the phrase “don’t repeat yourself” in 1999. They describe DRY as “Every piece of knowledge must have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.”
In software engineering, DRY is a technique for reducing repetition in code. Coders streamline coding using a single, reusable source, aka “snippet,” whenever appropriate. Hence, the name, don’t repeat yourself.
As well as saving time, writing the same thing multiple times means that there is less room for human error. After all, if you make a mistake once, you’ll probably make it twice. Plus, if you decide to make any changes, you only have to do this one time.
The bottom line is that less code is good. It saves time and energy. It’s much easier to maintain. And, it also reduces the likelihood of bugs.
While the DRY Principle originally applied to software development, it can be adopted into other facets. For example, on a daily basis, how many emails do you send and receive? Essentially, you’re recreating the same structure with slightly different wording with each email. And, when you’re calendar is already booked, this can be very tedious.
DRY requires that you take note of all your actions throughout the day, one at a time. You can include tasks that are within the following categories in order to meet this requirement:
- Unplanned events, such as a phone call from a client or urgent text from a colleague.
- Monthly and yearly obligations, like annual reports and one-on-one meetings with team members.
- Everyday routines and your top priorities.
Once you’ve compiled this list, you can determine which ones apply to the DRY Principle. From there, take note of how repetitive, time-consuming, and intimidating each one is, and mark them down. If the top candidates are DRY Principle qualifiers, you can automate as many of these as possible.
In some cases, you will not be able to automate all the duties. However, you can streamline certain parts.
Where Are You Repeating Yourself?
Have you ever used a system like Getting Things Done (GTD)? If so, the DRY Principle should be easy to understand as both follow a similar process. DRY, however, aims to avoid redundant processes.
To get started, keep a daily journal for at least a week. Then, you should track your time for a more accurate picture for a month or so. This allows you to take note of your routine tasks. But, this should also help you identify less frequent occurrences as well.
Here are some pointers you can use while tracking your time.
- Add unplanned or unscheduled tasks, like responding to a client’s email.
- Keep track of monthly and annual tasks. Examples of these are quarterly reports, audits, invoicing, and tech maintenance.
- Ask others what their routine tasks are to fill in any gaps.
Hopefully, you now have a bird’s-eye view of your tasks. Next, you need to decide which tasks are best suited to DRY.
You can do this using whatever tools you rely on to track your tasks. For example, you can create tags or labels for each category in your to-do list or time-tracking app. The categories can then be added as columns in a spreadsheet. Or, you can go old school and write them down with a pen and paper.
To make this process easier, hone in on the corresponding categories;
- Pain points. These would be the activities that you dread so much that they cause you to procrastinate
- Bottlenecks. Which tasks are bogging down the rest of your day?
- Tasks that require a lot of time. Review your time-tracking results and determine which tasks consume most of your time.
- Work that repeats itself. Which tasks do you find yourself doing over and over?
As a result of categorizing your tasks, you can now identify which tasks are suitable for DRY. DRY is most likely to benefit tasks with a repetitive nature. You can eliminate repetitive tasks from your list if they aren’t essential so that you can focus on what’s important.
After discovering where you’re repeating yourself, you can now find ways to eliminate them. And, perhaps the most accessible place to start is through templates.
In most cases, templates are blank documents that need to be filled in. You can either create one from scratch or download a premade online. Regardless, templates will save you time since you’re no longer constantly creating emails, invoices, or calendars every day.
Generally speaking, templates are most needed in the following areas:
- Emails. Office workers receive an average of 121 emails each day. As a result, there’s a possibility you’re sending the same emails repeatedly. You can create your own template by removing all the personal information and saving it for later use.
- Internal communications. Examine your most recent communications and search for patterns. Even a minimal template can ease your stress and save you time.
- External documents. Contracts, proposals, invoices all seem to look the same. However, when you remove the information specific to your clients and partners, you’ll have a template to use, and you can customize it as needed.
- Presentations. Prepare a presentation template if you deliver more than one presentation a year. Then, regardless of how different each presentation appears, the basic structure can remain the same.
One more thing with templates. You should consider them as non-static documents. You should, therefore, update the template if you notice that you’re always making the same changes.
Automate Routine Tasks
During the course of your workday, you perform several repetitive tasks. But, what business tasks should you consider automating?
For starters, scheduling appointments. It’s easy to schedule appointments with calendar apps. You can send your calendar via email or link it to your website. You can now show others your availability so they can select a time and date that works for them. Once chosen, the event will be automatically added to schedules for all attendees.
Sorting and responding to emails, posting to social media, and filling out online forms can also be automated. This is also true for proposals, invoicing, customer service, and data backup.
You may only have to spend a couple of minutes on each task. But they add up quickly and divert your attention.
Follow the 30x Rule
Until now, we’ve only discussed the many ways you can leverage tools and messages to save time. However, DRY can also be useful in your daily activities.
“Most managers would think it’s crazy to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a 5-minute task because they think ‘it would just be faster to do it myself,” notes Management consultant Rory Vaden. “That is because most managers are stuck in classic ‘urgency’ thinking of only evaluating their tasks inside of the construct of one day.”
“In which case, it never makes sense to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a task that they could do themselves in just 5 minutes,” says Vaden.
According to Vaden, you should allocate 30X that amount of time to train others for any task that can be delegated and repeated. For example, a five-minute task delegated and trained for 2.5 hours will save you 1100 minutes (over 18 hours!), according to the 30-X rule.
Mathematically speaking, it’s Total Task Time (5 minutes 250 working days) – Training Time (5 minutes).
It’s All About Staying DRY
Because all these processes are getting done in the background, you will have more free time because you won’t need to perform repetitive tasks manually. So when it comes to time management, the DRY Principle is an effective tool to experiment with.
By maximizing your output now, you will have more time to spend on the things that matter most in the future. And, to get started, take a look at your current workload, and see if there is anything you can automate under the DRY Principle.
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