The Grumpy Designer’s Advice for Avoiding Painful Tasks


Every job has its highs and lows – web design is no different. For me, I often find my highs when there are opportunities to be creative. Whether it’s through crafting a design mockup or bringing it to life with code, that’s where I find my happy place.

On the other hand, there are tasks that bring the exact opposite of creative joy. These are the items that I have to do, but really wish I didn’t. For the most part, it’s the “grunt” work – repetitive tasks that tend to make me talk to my screen a little too much.

Because of my disdain for all things that aren’t fun, I’ve challenged myself to find ways to avoid doing them. No, that doesn’t mean skipping the boring stuff. Rather, it’s about developing processes for getting them done faster. The more speed, the less pain.

And because I hate to see anybody suffer through mind-numbing work, I’m going to share a few pieces of advice. Each one is a lesson I learned the hard way. Hopefully, they save you a few fist poundings on the table (seriously, the staff at the coffee shop can’t take it anymore).

Look at Every Angle

Have you ever been presented with a task and immediately thought, “I know exactly how to do this…”? Well, I’m kind of a master at that strategy (grumpy people have zero time for deep thought or reading instructions). The problem is that my initial instinct is often dead wrong. Somewhere around the thousandth cut-and-paste, I realize that there might be a better way to get this done.

The point is that, eventually, you learn that there is more than one way to do something. For example, let’s say that we’re redesigning a website we’ve built with WordPress. And one of the challenges is to get some of the content over from the current site to the new one. Yes, only some. Maybe there are a lot of really outdated blog posts that we no longer need.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this. We could:

  • Manually copy and paste content over between sites;
  • Import all of the current content, then delete what we don’t need;
  • Create a custom export file that only contains the content we want to move over;

All three methods will work. However, the key is to find what’s going to (potentially) be the least painful of them. But we can only get there by slowing down and thinking things through.

By the way, the last one on the list is probably your best bet.

A glass prism.

Embrace Automation

Not to get all sappy on you, but one of the more amazing things about the age we live in is the incredible amount of computing power at our fingertips. Even a low-end computer these days can help us accomplish an awful lot of work.

So, when faced with an unenviable task, it makes sense to look for ways to automate the process. As in our WordPress redesign example above, automatically importing content looks a lot better than cutting and pasting. It’s also way more efficient. Plus, removing the human factor means mistakes are less likely.

The only downside to automation is that there is often an initial learning curve. It usually means figuring out an app or technique, which can be, well, painful. For instance, having to figure out the command line had me all out of sorts.

In the beginning, automation does come with a cost (your time and possibly your sanity). But once you get the hang of whatever process you’re automating, the rewards are worth the effort.

Of course, not everything can be fully-automated. Still, there might be some areas that can be made partially so. This could be the difference between patting yourself on the back or throwing your monitor out the window a few times.

A computer circuit board.

Break It Down

When all else fails and you’re stuck doing something dreadful, there may be part of you that wants to sit there and knock the whole thing out in one torturous session. This is something I’ve done a number of times. It usually ends with an aching body and a thirst for beer.

Yes, it’s done. But the marathon process likely made you fully miserable. This isn’t healthy for your body or your mind. In short, this just brings more pain – which is what we’re trying to avoid here.

Therefore, it’s advisable to break this terrible task down into bite-sized chunks. Work on it for an hour, then go do something else. Come back to it later in the day for another hour.

This will take longer to finish off, no doubt. But it also allows you some time to breathe and focus on other things. When you get back to your own private prison, you’ll at least feel a bit more refreshed.

Slices of lemon on a plate.

No Pain, Much Gain

As they say, life is short. And it’s much too short to spend your time on grunt work. Luckily, there are ways around it – if you’re crafty enough.

Think about the different approaches you can take. If there’s a way to automate at least some of what you’re trying to accomplish, go for it – even if it means having to learn something along the way. And, even in the worst-case scenario, find your inner patience and don’t force yourself to do it all in one shot.

Then, you can laugh in the face of what used to be a painful task. You might be the only one in the building who knows what you’re laughing about, but so be it. You know what you did!

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