Ask HN: What are some repetitive tasks you do at work?

46 points by zihua 3 months ago

Hey guys: I’m starting to realize that a sizable chunk of my work is actually quite repetitive. For instance, I’d have to log into GCloud console every once in a while to check if I still have enough credits… Do you guys have these repetitive tasks at work? I’m thinking of using coding up some automation scripts and I’d love to see where else people might use it on!

PS: what kind of jobs do you guys do? I’m a software engineer at a small startup

digitalsushi 3 months ago

I work at a fortune 100 insurance company in a dedicated IT subdivision of the company.

Fairly quickly, one might find that all requests are repetitive. It can be quite productive, professionally, to just assume that whatever you're asked to do, will be asked for again, and to learn how to pre-empt those requests by writing the first solution directly as automation code.

It doesn't have to be rocket science. Just keeping all the interesting bits in variables is the first 50% of automation.

You can become known as a miracle worker fairly quickly by just keeping a "commonplace book" of old one-off scripts, quickly found, in a personal git repo. Keep the company secrets left out to protect your skin, but a manager is often very quick to notice the person who can almost instantly replicate a previous request.

Having those snippets available also cross-pollinates - how many times have you repurposed one script into another? Careful now, once in a great while those turn into money making products, especially when the unrelated ones are hooked together.

These days, my little snippets are largely the boring, gross parts that act as the heavy barriers to automation - learning the URL endpoints for automation, learning the automation types, just getting a session that can do work. From there, the base case often yields a full strategy with another 10% of the work - modern APIs are so good you can generally just guess what is required and half the time it works without reading the docs.

Try coding it up. Worst case, you learn, best case, you invent a company. Middle of the road, though, you end up being a few people's go-to person, a wonderful place to be in this increasingly competitive world.

  • purplezooey 3 months ago

    The Promus of Formularies, Elegancie, and Python Scripts

lubujackson 3 months ago

This is a great way to find ideas for a startup btw... the classic one is finding out what tedious stuff people do in Excel all day then simplify and automate.

I will say for me I spend probably too long opening a series of programs and getting set up before I can work. I believe there is software for this, but my dream is to have it simple and customizable by project. I would love to be able to open everything to the right directory and the right apps for working on different projects, or adjust the ones I need at any time based on being at a different point in the project.

All told this is just a few minutes every morning, but always a minor annoyance.

  • ttamslam 3 months ago

    I would absolutely love a keyboard shortcut per project so I could hot swap between services without having to worry about killing containers, building new ones, opening and then resizing/positioning editors, opening (resizing/positioning) spec docs.

    I agree this sounds trivial, but the overhead of getting my multi-monitor setup just right when switching to a new service in the codebase is enough to kill flow.

    • vcavallo 3 months ago

      window manager plus tmux could probably take you far. i agree that “trivial” frictions like this really add up to stress and work avoidance

  • cyberfart 3 months ago

    Can you not solve this by not closing your essential programs and putting your device to sleep instead of powering it off?

    PS: Don't do this without battery/ups fallback.

    • maccio92 3 months ago

      I believe his complaint was with multiple projects, each one has it's own set of essential programs, and switching between projects means closing down one set and opening another

rivercam 3 months ago

"I’d have to log into GCloud console every once in a while to check if I still have enough credits" => that is the perfect task to automate with "Kantu".

In a nutshell it is a macro recorder for the web browser (Open-Source browser extension for Chrome and Firefox).

angelmass 3 months ago

I try to script everything that I have to do on a regular basis, or that I have to do repeatedly and have to look up how to perform each time. For me, this is a random assortment that I can remember off the top of my head:

* creating a json for meeting notes from a template based on the type of meeting (1on1, mentorship, some project, etc), that includes action items and other relevant metadata from the last meeting of that type with that person/group * creating a todoist item for a particular project * killing any running processes that match a particular string * various git hooks for linting or mirroring changes between GitHub and bitbucket * scraping the AKC website to see if there are any new puppy litters listed for the particular kind of dog I’m looking for, and emailing the results to myself and my girlfriend * loading a particular subset of deidentified prod data into my local db for dev work * adding/enabling openssh to a docker container to be able to use a remote ssh interpreter

But in general, something I heard a while ago in reference to finding niche work when contracting as a dev in an industry that you might be unfamiliar with is “find what people are using excel for, and automate it”.

GlenTheMachine 3 months ago

Honestly? Make “status update” slides. If I had a tool that could take a Markdown list of weekly achievements, turn that into slides, automatically add a schedule or Gantt chart that was adjusted to the current date, and pull from a set of stock boilerplate verbiage to fill it out to the required page count I would pay a hundred bucks for it out of my own pocket.

And yes, I do know about pandoc.

trillic 3 months ago

This was essentially my job description at my first internship as a "Systems Administrator" at a business consulting firm. The firm was fairly small and they didn't want to give a 17 year old the keys to the to the kingdom so I just wrote excel macros and some bash/python for anybody who wanted automation but didn't know how.

Raed667 3 months ago

I found myself having 2 time sinks:

- git: even with a lot of "bash automation" when it comes to cloning projects, rebasing and merging is still a pain.

- Switching databases/workspaces when working on different versions of a product. Fixing a minor bug could take a few hours waiting for things to pull, setup, build, run etc..

hnruss 3 months ago

I'm a software developer at a small company.

My typical daily flow is usually like so:

- Check email, slack, etc. and respond

- Review PR

- Test PR

- Respond to PR

- Review case requirements

- Respond to case requirements

- Write code for case

- Test code for case

- Create PR

Some of my coworkers use AutoHotkey for automating common tasks, but I don't feel like I'd save that much time by using that. I probably waste the most time waiting for builds, which can take up to 20 seconds. I tend to lose focus when I have to wait for things, which probably impacts my productivity.

I don't really do a lot of repetitive tasks. This is something that I really like about being a software developer. If I had a task that was annoyingly repetitive, I'd automate it myself.

charlieo88 3 months ago

"Uh… we have sort of a problem here. Yeah. You apparently didn’t put one of the new coversheets on your TPS reports."

I have to format my daily work log two different ways, one in a PDF and one in a word document.

  • Random_Person 3 months ago

    I have the same problem, so I spent a month of my free time writing a reporting tool that does this for me. It sorts my activities into tasks and updates, and I can generate reports based on dates/tasks/etc. It's been a life saver for those stupid reports.

  • demygale 3 months ago

    pandoc will do this for you

  • maccio92 3 months ago

    Do you work for satan?

henripal 3 months ago

I do machine learning/data science consulting, mostly for startups. Literally 80% of my time is cleaning data and coding up basic ML for their excel spreadsheets :)

  • zihua 3 months ago

    Man that's so annoying... what do you mean by "for their excel spreadsheet" though? Also, have you tried something like AutoML?

    • henripal 3 months ago

      Most of the data outside software startups is in Excel spreadsheets :) And yes - believe it or not I rolled out a Beta version of an AutoML app for spreadsheets app today!

      • toomuchtodo 3 months ago

        Is this something you’ve opened sourced or are charging for? Very interested either way!

        • henripal 3 months ago

          Email me (email in profile) - not open source but completely free Beta. Just trying to figure out if it's something people would be interested in. (Edit: email rather than DM)

      • swuber 3 months ago

        It my experience, even within software startup most data is in excel spreadsheets :)

quickthrower2 3 months ago

I use git a lot and I find it quite repetitive, but I know if I spent a bit of time I could compose commands into scripts and all that.

Apart from that, no not really. I guess that’s the perk of working at a small company. One day I’m DevOps, the next I’m Front End, the next DBA etc.

analog31 3 months ago

We have a product that can be customized in a particular way. After quoting several custom orders, I created a Jupyter notebook that automates my computations for both the quoting process, and ultimately for manufacturing if an order comes through.

Then I taught my colleague how to use the tool.

m-p-3 3 months ago

Hardware inventory taking, I need to figure out a faster and less tedious way of doing it. Was thinking maybe building a kind of barcode system to speed up the data-entry process when going out on a floor to eliminate the possibility of mistyped data.

  • ScottFree 3 months ago

    QR codes and a handful of cheap smartphones are a fairly easy and low cost method of doing this. You can even make an android app to streamline the process even farther.

    Of course, I'm still trying to find a good solution for printing those QR codes. Printers suck and printing labels is it's own special kind of hell.

jadeydi 3 months ago

I'm a software engineer too, I'll check us error logs nearly every day.

  • cyberfart 3 months ago

    This is something definitely worth automating in my experience.

neves 3 months ago

I must every month allocate how much time I spent in each task/project

ape4 3 months ago

Read Hacker News ;)

rolph 3 months ago

Justification of expense requests. Drudgery!

Im a contractor so what i do is, "What do you need done?".

ill0gicity 3 months ago

My most common repetitive task at work? Writing scripts to avoid repetitive tasks.

  • mrccc 3 months ago

    You should automate that!

Rerarom 3 months ago

None. (I am a pure math researcher.)

  • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

    Not sure if serious or joking.

    You don't stand up every now and then to stretch your legs?

    You don't take a sip of coffee or tea or water periodically?

    You don't ever run out of ink or pens or paper and have to get new ones?

    You don't ever check your email or flip through math journals looking for interesting new papers being published?

    You don't ever turn on a computer or turn it off/put it to sleep?

    These are all repetitive tasks and I have a hard time imagining you do none of them or anything like them in your work life.

    You don't refresh HN ever to see if there are new stories related to your pure math?

    You don't ever type your ideas into a document and email it to someone?

    You don't ever log in to any financial account to view balances?

    You don't ever check your phone to see if someone has texted or if there is an important message waiting?

    You don't ever spin a pen on your fingers while you think?

    You don't ever pace around while thinking?

    You don't ever have something online you have to manually log into to check for work? Vacation days? Researcher collaborations? Grant results? Nothing?

    You don't have to get gas to fill up your car tank? Do you work remotely? You don't have to check the bus schedule or wait for the subway? Doing the same thing every day that doesn't really require your mental energy - like filling up your tank of gas on the way to work - is something I would call repetitive.

    You don't ever click on links to open video chats or type in phone numbers to make phone calls?

    • chpmrc 3 months ago

      The keyword should be "tedious", not just repetitive. I wouldn't want a machine to automate my getting up and stretching or making and drinking a coffee, those are activities that are arguably needed to keep oneself sane while working.

      • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

        Maybe you don't want such a machine, but I sure do! And I consider all of those things tedious, and repetitive. I get that not every startup idea or problem-solution set is for everyone - but come on, I'm out here pitching dozens of real-world relatable problems that real people have.

        I honestly don't believe that there are people with 0 repetitive tasks in their lives that could see no improvements with software (or hardware?). It's just not possible.

        • chpmrc 3 months ago

          Like I said, not repetitive, tedious. And tediousness is purely subjective. So I agree with you that we should have machines to do tedious tasks for us, I just don't agree that the tasks I mentioned are tedious for enough people to justify having a machine for them.

    • maxxxxx 3 months ago

      You forgot "breathing" and "peeing". Maybe a startup could solve these repetitive time wasters

      • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

        Sure. I don't see why not? Peeing is an enormous time sink on humanity and would be absolutely ground-breaking if a startup could make signifiant progress there.

        If you were being sarcastic and intentionally telling me to stop being creative and thinking big-picture, please don't do that. I hate when HN just shuts down all creative thinking with sarcastic laughter.

        I don't see breathing as a tedious repetitive task because it happens mostly automatically and can be done in parallel with other work quite easily. But I could be wrong and I suppose there's room for improvement there too. CO2 detectors and air quality monitors in meeting rooms - as a standard - would likely boost productivity and reduce other tedious work as employees will be able to breathe easier (with better knowledge about CO2 in the office, more efforts for improved ventilation would likely happen).

        • maxxxxx 3 months ago

          To me your list sounded like you were making fun of the previous poster. Very "small picture"

          • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

            I'm not making fun of anyone! To me it sounds like the poster is making fun of all of us fools who have repetitive tasks in our lives.

            > 'What repetitive tasks do you do?'

            > 'None. I'm in pure math'

            ...just seems snarky and condescending. I'm listing real problems that most people have, that are indeed repetitive, mostly work-related, and could have solutions (at least partial solutions).

            • derekp7 3 months ago

              I think the issue is that most people don't see many of the items on your list as either solvable, or something that gets in the way of work or other activities. But one item on the list did stick out for me -- pens/paper. Back when I worked for a catalog / contract office supply place (there used to be a bunch of small ones back before the mid 90's), they had a company that they worked with which would go out to customers and manage their office supply closet inventory for them. And automatically place orders for anything that was running low. Was a real time saver for many of our customers back then.

    • tguedes 3 months ago

      I wouldn't consider any of those tasks repetitive.

      Well your first batch, you added more after I commented.

      • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

        Oh I'm still adding. I consider them all repetitive, but it's okay to debate some or most. The point is I'm guessing about a stranger's life and I'm bound to hit on some repetitive tasks they do.

        The answer 'none' is just condescending to the point of silly and it's obviously not true. I'm hoping to illuminate how there are repetitive patterns in everyone's life. Even 'pure math researchers'.

        • scott_s 3 months ago

          I think you're interpreting the original question too broadly. Based on the follow-up, the question was meant to mean "what repetitive tasks do you do at work that can be automated through software?"

          • spaceheretostay 3 months ago

            So the commenter is on HN, but has literally zero (0) things that could be automated through software in their life? I just don't believe it's true.

            Sorry if some of my guesses were not in line with the question directly.

        • JudgeWapner 3 months ago

          what's so bad about repetition anyway? It's like grabbing a hammer and scouring a building looking for loose nails to justify its use. why not focus on difficult problems instead?

agoldis 3 months ago

Arguing with my boss

djohnston 3 months ago


  • ConfusedDog 3 months ago

    Heh. 1000 meetings later, we still need more meetings for reducing repetitive tasks. I feel like this world is no longer real.

    • maxxxxx 3 months ago

      Let me schedule a weekly "Drive Team" meeting to address this.

Proven 3 months ago

Drink coffee