Do more with the DRY principle


Take a minute and think about your daily tasks. I’m sure a lot of them are likely to be repetitive and time-consuming whether you’re working in an office or from home. But is there a way to reduce that workload so you can be productive instead of busy?

Fortunately, there are several strategies you can try. Examples include Eisenhower’s matrix or Pareto’s principle. But have you tried the DRY principle?

What is DRY and how does it work?

Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, in their book The pragmatic programmer, coined the phrase “don’t repeat yourself” in 1999. They describe DRY as “Each piece of knowledge should have a unique, unambiguous, authoritative representation within a system.”

In software engineering, DRY is a technique for reducing repetition in code. Coders streamline coding using a single, reusable source, called a snippet, whenever appropriate. Hence the name, don’t repeat yourself.

In addition to saving time, writing the same thing multiple times means there’s less room for human error. After all, if you make a mistake once, you’ll probably make two. Also, if you decide to make changes, you only have to do it once.

The bottom line is that less code is good. This saves time and energy. It is much easier to maintain. And it also reduces the likelihood of bugs.

While the DRY principle originally applied to software development, it can be adopted in other facets. For example, on a daily basis, how many e-mails do you send and receive? Essentially, you recreate the same structure with slightly different wording with each email. And, when your calendar is already booked, it can be very tedious.

DRY requires you to take note of all your actions throughout the day, one at a time. You can include tasks from the following categories to meet this requirement:

  • Unexpected events, such as a phone call from a client or an urgent text message from a colleague.
  • Monthly and annual obligations, such as annual reports and one-on-one meetings with team members.
  • Daily routines and your top priorities.

Once you have compiled this list, you can determine which ones apply to the DRY principle. From there, note how repetitive, time-consuming, and intimidating each one is, and write them down. If the best candidates are qualifiers of the DRY principle, you can automate as many of them as possible.

In some cases, you will not be able to automate all tasks. However, you can streamline some parts.

Where do you repeat yourself?

Have you ever used a system like Getting Things Done (GTD)? If so, the DRY principle should be easy to understand because both follow a similar process. DRY, however, aims to avoid redundant processes.

To start, keep a daily journal for at least a week. Then you should track your time for a more accurate picture for about a month. This allows you to take note of your routine tasks. But it should also help you identify less frequent occurrences.

Here are some tips you can use when tracking your time.

  • Add unscheduled or unscheduled tasks, like responding to a customer’s email.
  • Keep track of monthly and yearly tasks. Examples of these are quarterly reports, audits, invoicing and technical maintenance.
  • Ask others what their routine tasks are to fill in the gaps.

I hope you now have an overview of your tasks. Next, you need to decide which tasks are best suited for DRY.

You can do this by using the tools you rely on to track your tasks. For example, you can create tags or labels for each category in your to-do list or time-tracking app. Categories can then be added as columns in a spreadsheet. Or, you can go old school and write them down with pen and paper.

To facilitate this process, focus on the corresponding categories;

  • Pain points. These are the activities you dread so much they make you procrastinate
  • Bottlenecks. What tasks are bogging down the rest of your day?
  • Tasks that require a lot of time. Review the results of your time tracking and determine which tasks are consuming the most of your time.
  • Repetitive work. What tasks do you find yourself doing over and over again?

By categorizing your tasks, you can now identify which tasks are suitable for DRY. DRY is most likely to benefit tasks that are repetitive in nature. You can eliminate repetitive tasks from your list if they are not essential so that you can focus on what is important.

Create templates

After finding out where you are repeating yourself, you can now find ways to eliminate them. And, perhaps the most accessible starting point is to use templates.

In most cases, templates are blank documents that need to be filled out. You can either create one from scratch or download a prefab one online. Either way, templates will save you time since you’re no longer constantly creating emails, invoices, or calendars every day.

Generally speaking, models are most needed in the following areas:

  • Emails. Office workers receive an average of 121 emails per day. Therefore, you may send the same emails repeatedly. You can create your own template by deleting all personal information and saving it for later use.
  • Internal communications. Examine your most recent communications and look for patterns. Even a minimal template can ease your stress and save you time.
  • External documents. Contracts, proposals, invoices all seem to look the same. However, when you delete the information specific to your customers and partners, you will have a template to use and you can customize it according to your needs.
  • Presentations. Prepare a presentation template if you give more than one presentation per year. Then, no matter how different each layout is, the basic structure can remain the same.

One more thing with models. You should treat them as non-static documents. So you should update the template if you notice that you keep making the same changes.

Automate routine tasks

During your working day, you perform several repetitive tasks. But which business tasks should you consider automating?

To start, make an appointment. It’s easy to schedule appointments with calendar apps. You can email your calendar or link it to your website. You can now show others your availability so they can select a time and date that works for them. Once chosen, the event will automatically be added to the schedules of all attendees.

Sorting and responding to emails, posting to social media, and filling out online forms can also be automated. This also applies to proposals, billing, customer service and data backup.

You may only need to spend a few minutes on each task. But they quickly accumulate and divert your attention.

Follow the 30x rule

So far, we’ve only discussed the many ways you can take advantage of time-saving tools and messages. However, DRY can also be useful in your daily activities.

“Most managers would think it’s crazy to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a 5 minute task because they think ‘it would just be faster to do it myself'”, notes Rory Vaden, management consultant. “That’s because most managers are stuck in the classic ‘rush’ of thinking about only evaluating their tasks within the construction of a day.”

“In this case, it never makes sense to spend 2.5 hours training someone to do a task they could do themselves in just 5 minutes,” Vaden says.

According to Vaden, you should allocate 30 times more time to train others on any task that can be delegated and repeated. For example, a five-minute task delegated and trained for 2.5 hours will save you 1100 minutes (over 18 hours!), according to the 30-X rule.

Mathematically speaking, this is the total task time (5 minutes 250 working days) – training time (5 minutes).

It’s all about staying dry

Since all these processes are done in the background, you will have more free time as you will not need to perform repetitive tasks manually. So, when it comes to time management, the DRY principle is an effective tool to experiment with.

By maximizing your production now, you’ll have more time to spend on the things that matter most in the future. And, to get started, take a look at your current workload and see if there’s anything you can automate using the DRY principle.

Image credit: Francesco Ungaro; pexels; Thank you!


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