The Hidden Danger Of Repetitive Work
Since I’m a bit of a word geek, yesterday’s post about the benefit of repeat work started me thinking about the difference between “repeat” and “repetitive”. Yes, I’m that much of a word-lover. Sad, isn’t it?
For those who struggle with similar words and expressions, “repeat work” is when a client asks you to do another job for them. “Repetitive work” is when a job involves doing the same thing, again and again – such as filling in forms, copy/pasting URLs into a spreadsheet and the like.
Repetitive work is dangerous. Allow me to explain.
In the past, I’ve had some weird and interesting jobs. Before I moved to France, I’d never had a job for more than six months. Given that I was some six years out of University, that means I’d had a lot of jobs! Fast food, bar work, teaching the Army, freelance computer nerd, cashier, working with printers, English tutor, charity stuff… done it. Never dug graves, though.
I have a philosophy about work: I believe every job teaches us something useful. Every position has value. No job is worthless. Yes, I’m the employee who carries the old lady’s basket while she’s doing her daily shop: it helps her and I get to talk with someone who might have something interesting to say.
So I was hardly ecstatic when I ended up stacking shelves at the local Waitrose supermarket to pay the bills, but I attacked the job with enthusiasm and gusto. I figured it was a chance to learn about how supermarkets work, to meet some new colleagues and to help customers. That dull repetition would free my brain to wander, to think interesting things instead of being concentrated on strenuous, brain-crushing, mental work.
Anyway, I’m rambling. I’m supposed to be telling you about the Hidden Danger of repetitive work, right? OK, OK, I’m getting to it.
Here’;s the thing: after three weeks of putting chilled food on the shelves, refilling butter and cheese displays, rotating stock and calculating reductions on almost-out-of-date pork pies, my brain stopped working.
I’m not kidding. I actually ceased being able to actively think. A sort of dull haze settled into my head and I struggled to put a normal sentence together. Doing those “30% reductions” actually took time, instead of just being a quick, mental calculation (I’m generally quite good at simple mental arithmetic).
Now, this is no reflection on my colleagues – they were intelligent and interesting people who were fun to work with. It was just the mindless repetition of the work. It was killing my brain cells.
So there you have it – my warning to you today is to be careful of repetitive work. You may think it leaves you time to ponder and philosophise… but it may just be deadening you to more energetic thinking.
Do you find repetitive work liberating or deadening?