How much time do we spend on the routine grinds of everyday life? From “Nine to Five” we’re engrossed in tasks such as navigating software, Internet research or managing email. From work, we commute home to find household chores like cooking, cleaning or laundry (or kids!). Even leisure activities like catching up on favorite websites, finding a TV show to watch or finding a book to read can have unseen, tangential time-costs. Every day we spend an immense amount of time doing mundane things that, while necessary, are not necessarily enjoyable. They all amount to our grind.
We resign to performing these little duties because they must be done. Unfortunately, the day-in and day-out repetition of our grind habitualizes our inefficiency, thereby blinding us to the way we do things. Our daily grinds waste our time and we don’t even realize it.
Learning Grind Skills
Given the above obstacles, how do we go about mastering the mundane?
One way to hack our grind is by inquiring about how others do things. Of course, this approach is problematic for the same reason we fail to see our own inefficiencies — unless they have actively worked to improve their grind, our efficient friends and coworkers usually don’t realize their own efficiencies. Everyone assumes the way they do it is the way everyone else does it even as this is often not the case.
Okay, so what can you do?
Be more aware
Simply suspecting there might be a better way to do things, you’re more likely to catch an offhand comment or pick up on someone else’s behavior. From there, you can inquire further as to what they mean and/or what they are doing.
By way of example, fresh out of school, I worked in public accounting, which required hours of work navigating spreadsheets via Microsoft Excel. I knew a few of the most common “hot keys” like those for copying/pasting, saving, printing, etc. It was only when I overheard one colleague asking another how to do a particular spreadsheet task via a keyboard progression instead of using the mouse that I realized my understanding of Excel was rudimentary. Just this incremental understanding amounted to an Excel epiphany. I soon was adding more mouse-less spreadsheet mastery to my repertoire. Within a month I was amazing co-workers, people who considered themselves Excel gurus, at how quickly I could navigate and create a spreadsheet. My improvement was akin to typing 100 words per minute instead of the age-old “hunt and peck.”
Improved awareness heightens observation, thereby increasing the likelihood of accidental learning. The trick is in being aware of how you do things currently while acknowledging their might be better ways. From there, look for clues that others are accomplishing the same thing in a different manner. Be comfortable enough to inquire further, understand their methods and experiment with them on your own.
Amplify awareness through exposure
Surround yourself with competent individuals and observe how they do things. Expose yourself to people who think and act differently than you. This process can be uncomfortable if it breaks you away from your cocooned “routine.” Rather than be uncertain or fearful, look forward to the challenge of confronting the status quo. Exposure in conjunction with awareness can dramatically increase your chance of accidentally learning a revolutionary grind skill.
Mundane mastery can result from an excessive amount of experience. There’s only so much practice I plan to have folding laundry though, so this method of learning can have limited returns. However, for the tasks that you spend an enormous amount of time on, taking the time to investigate better ways to manage that grind should be a given. Learning these tried and true skills of mastery should then become your goal.
Sometimes we know outright (or suspect) that there are better ways to do things but are too lazy to acquire these skills. I consider myself a lazy person, but even so, I have realized that the effort I put into learning a grind skill is a front-loaded cost that has monstrous long-term benefits. Just look at typing or even more basic — reading.
So what are some grind skills, anyway?
Stay tuned as I blog about the grind skills I’ve acquired such as staying on top of the blogosphere, email management and the aforementioned mastery of keyboard shortcuts (over reliance on a mouse) as applied to general software. If you can think of any grind skills you’d like to share, please comment or contact me.
There are more efficient ways to manage routine tasks, and if we can learn these “grind skills,” we can master the mundane and and find time where none before could be found.