Repetition, then definition, then repetition

Well, Seth beat me to part of what I wanted to say today: The weight of repetitive tasks (2021-03-03). But maybe I beat him to part of what he wanted to say as well: Automate and win (2018-03-22).

This afternoon, before logging out of work for today, I wrote myself a note for tomorrow. The note was basically begging my future self to sort out what my daily, weekly, and other regular workflows are. Right now, a month into the New Gig, everything is a reaction—reaction to, reaction from. I'm living the life of my cat, but with no midday naps.

You can do a reasonably good job at your job without really knowing what your job is, for good or ill. Do what the crowd cheers for, avoid what they boo. Hey presto—you're a star now.

It's a dumb model though. There's so much missing. Overusing the musical analogy, there are emotional and musical arcs within songs, across songs, across albums. A moment on stage with an instrument is connected to the moment before and after, which connect to many other moments that include business and logistics and practice and crafting and so on. Some of those moments are are, some of those moments are repetitive drudgery.

It's a superpower to turn the repetitive things into a smooth flow that is practically invisible. To automate a thing properly, you have to live the repetition to know it needs automated, and how. Then you can define it. Definition is the most important step, and it doesn't get enough attention. You can automate work that gives you wrong answers, or correct answers to nonsense questions, or brittle solutions that trap you in a particular way of thinking or doing. Define the work well, then you can build a machine—literal or metaphorical—to do that work for you.

Not all repetition is bad, but avoidable repetition that steals your time from your art is bad.


"The main business of humanity is to do a good job of being human beings," said Paul, "not to serve as appendages to machines, institutions, and systems."

—Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Player Piano (1952).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.