A few years ago I found myself without a job, little savings, and the bill for an engagement ring I just bought coming due shortly. Out of desperation I took an open temp job doing Data Entry.
The job was contracted through a large well regarded bank. I can’t remember the exact title of the position, but it sounded much more important than Data Entry. Maybe it was loan processing or something.
Every day I did the exact same thing. I would take information online and hit CTRL+C and CTRL+V it into a PDF that would get uploaded online. There was very little physical typing, mostly just copy and pasting between documents. I did this all day every day for nine months.
Here are just a few things I learned:
Do What You Can To Make Work Better (but not too good if you hate your job)
Without an iPod to listen to, I would have been miserable. It was a blessing and a curse. I was able to make my work experience tolerable, but it was a job I didn’t want in a field I had no interest being in. If I didn’t have the iPod to listen to, I’m confident I would have found my next job much quicker.
Always Look For Opportunities to Learn
Because my position required almost no critical thought, my mind was free to be other places. With the freedom to listen to an iPod, I spent most days listening to audiobooks and podcasts (EconTalk, Radiolab, and Adam Carolla were favorites). On average, I probably went through about 3 books a week. I was able to go through several history, business, and economics books at a quick pace.
I think the technical term for this is multiplexing. Look for opportunities to multiplex.
Make Every Day Different
There is a good reason Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies. The message of not letting your life be a constant routine is so important. While I couldn’t change the work I was doing at the job, I could change what I listened to on my iPod and what I did with an hour lunch break.
About 90% of my lunch breaks were spent at the Mall of America. Even if I brought lunch that day, I would still walk to the mall across the street and do a lap or two. Each day I would make a goal to experience or notice something new. Whether it was a store I hadn’t been in or a quirk people have, I did something so each day wasn’t simply an exact replica of the last.
If every single day is the same, you’ll learn nothing. Learning comes from new experiences and new challenges.
Treating Your Job as a Performance Will Get Better Results
Being a fairly competitive person, some days I would challenge myself to see how many loans I could process. This would include turning on a Girl Talk album and focusing on how fast and efficiently I could complete my work. This ended up feeling more like a performance than actual work. I couldn’t keep this motivation up every day, but it did increase my productivity.
Make Incentives Clear
A few months into the job I realized my productivity didn’t matter that much. There would be no immediate gratification if I processed 50 loans in a day and the person next to me only processed 25. We both got paid the same and worked the same hours. If I had kept up the high pace indefinitely, it might have paid off, but it was a situation and industry I wanted to get out of. Though I didn’t want to stay at the company, I noticed this among other employees – if you don’t have a visible path of advancement, it can be harder to get the best work out of people.
Appreciation Matters (Even if it’s small in scale)
Once a month we’d gather to recognize people who stepped up or beat their quotas. Some people would receive $10 gift cards, others a stuffed animal as a symbol of hard work. Though the gifts were small and sometimes trivial, the act of recognizing someone for their work still mattered to moral.
While this was an experience I never plan on repeating, I was at least able to learn a few new things despite work that wasn’t mentally stimulating.