The Big Impact of Little Time Savings

It’s really easy to get blinded by the routine tasks that you do. So much so that sometimes I don’t step back and think critically enough about them. I have a lot of recurring tasks on my to-do list that fall into this category. When it pops up, I do it. Generally without much thought. It’s just a necessary road block to pass so that I can actually start my work for the day.

Lately we’ve been trying to take a critical look at everything we do. As we grow, you can only do so much and still keep your sanity. We’ve been trying to ask the critical questions: Is this something that we need to keep doing? Can I do it less often? Can I delegate it? Can I outsource it? Can I automate it?

One of the tasks that had been taking up an increasing amount of my time is something I call “LockerPulse source management”. The RSS feeds that we pull from are sometimes published with invalid code that we can’t parse, or sometimes the sites are down temporarily. Since we check each site every 15 minutes, it can be a waste of resources to constantly poll and attempt to process a feed from a site that’s down for even a day or two. To combat this, I had been running a check a few times an hour that would kick me an email if a news source hadn’t been processed in over an hour (4+ failures). If I got one of the emails, I’d manually investigate and deactivate the source in our system if necessary. Then, at least once per day, I’d check to see if those sites were back, first by visiting, then by validating with the w3C validator, and finally by putting it through a simulated parsing in our system. If it passed, I’d reactivated the feed.

Over time, as we’ve added news sources and added college sports coverage, this became a 30 minute-per-day task for me. Even worse than being 30 minutes, was that it was in several small chunks. So maybe three or four times per day I was doing this source management for 5-10 minutes. The thought that I had to check on it was always subtly in the back of my mind.

A few weeks ago we talked about delegating it. Then I thought some more, and realized that everything I was doing could be automated. Even the W3C check just required using their API. Over the weekend I put this in place and now I have a system that’s constantly deactivating, testing, and reactivating all day long. It does a better job than I ever could, and it takes zero effort from me. All of this took me only about 3 hours to set up and test.

In retrospect this should have been blatantly obvious, and something I should have done much earlier. But it was one of those things that at first only took a few minutes a day, which I saw as negligible time. By the time it had grown I had just become so conditioned to it that I didn’t realize just how much time it was taking up. 30 minutes/day over a year is 10,950 minutes, or 7.6 full days saved. Not to mention the mental effort expended on starting and stopping something a few times a day, or the tiny bit of stress I had every time I opened my inbox and saw an alert.

All of the tiny, seemingly negligible, efficiencies like this that you can put in place now will eventually come to help your business in the long run. Especially when the “break even time” is less than a week like it was in this case. A few minutes here and there compound over time to make a huge difference.

5 comments on The Big Impact of Little Time Savings

  1. Darrin says:

    Scripts are the best employees, they dont get tired, bored, sick, they just work!

    I’m assuming you set up a cron job to run the series of checks? Is that how it was accomplished?

  2. Rob says:

    If you can, automate. If you can’t, hire.

  3. mike says:

    Scripts are great when they are set up good. I seen alot of new people to scripts and run it and they get so confused. Now if you know what you are doing they are great. Good article

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Very true Mike. I also always monitor my scripts for a few days or a few weeks to be sure they’re working properly. I’m still monitoring this one pretty closely. I have it kick me emails any time it does something, which I auto filter into a folder, and then check once every day or two to make sure it’s doing what it should be. I caught one pretty big error about five days in so you definitely can’t just set it and forget it at first. Even the simplest of tasks I always check back at least a few times to make sure they’re working correctly.

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