Is increased productivity worth the time required to learn new skills?

There’s a story making the rounds about a senior lawyer (perhaps a partner in a firm) and a sizeable spreadsheet. This lawyer needed to find rows in this spreadsheet that met specific criteria.

When a colleague checked into his (her?) progress, he saw this lawyer bent over two piles of paper with a highlighter.

Yeah. That.

I heard this story because I write a technology column for a legal trade publication. It’s not the only anecdote involving clueless legal professionals driving up legal bills by adhering to egregiously inefficient work habits.

I, on the other hand, love to find ways to reduce the time required to do routine tasks. My blog is full of such tips. I have more work-saving habits to publish here. I doubt I’ll ever run out of such tips. And that’s without considering all the software I need to learn in 2018.

However, I sometimes wonder whether all the time I’m spending getting more efficient is the most effective way to spend my time. There has to be a balance between time spent redoing work process and time spent getting work done.

To this end, Aaron Wenner of CiteRight recently sent me this link. Here’s the graphic, and it certainly speaks to me.

The longer version of the question: How long can you work on making a routine task more efficient before you’re spending more time than you save?

The X-axis of this chart is “How often you do the task.”

The Y-axis is “How much time you shave off” (“shave off” in this context means “save”).

For instance, if a task takes you 6 hours (as the above lawyer/spreadsheet work likely does), and you do the work every week, you can justify spending 2 months to make the task more efficient.

Businesses like Wenner’s started because their founders saw an opportunity to sell their productivity-enhancing ideas to busy professionals who need the tools yet have neither the time not the talent to create them on their own.

I understand Wenner’s drive. I’m studying translation and, in 2018, I’m taking a course on computer-assisted translation tools. I’m looking forward to it. But I all too often fall into the trap of thinking there isn’t enough time to spend streamlining the work I’m already doing. Sometimes, though, I do manage to take time out to do exactly that. It’s a constant battle.

Do you regularly face any tasks that could stand to be streamlined? How do you handle them today? Let me know in the comments below.

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