Automating boring tasks

Author: Manon Dubreuil

We all know about them: those dull or repetitive tasks that we’d like to skip or wish we could automate. Whether it’s filling timesheets or updating documents, everyone has a pet peeve they’d love to get rid of. Pieter-Jan, Full Stack Java & AEM developer at Emakina, decided to act on his hatred of boring tasks and developed solutions to save himself time and learn new things. He even gave a full talk on the matter at the Devoxx conference this year in Poland. Here are his tips.

Choosing the right task

Unfortunately, not every task is suitable for automation. You have to take two main parameters into accounts: how frequent and how tedious the task is. The more frequently the task occurs, the more time you’d save by automating it. And if the task is particularly tedious, in addition, it means that it would free up your brain for more interesting tasks that require actual thought and reflection. That’s how Pieter-Jan identified a few tasks to automate, that’d be worthwhile and save him time.

Automation in action

Let’s take timesheeting for example. Depending on the project you’re working on, it might take long to do. You may even have to add timesheet entries on different tools for the exact same work. It’s definitely a task that can be considered as a tedious and repetitive part of every working day.

On this specific example, we’ll take Fusion as timesheeting software, as it was the one Pieter-Jan used when he decided to automate it. Thanks to the jQuery library coupled with Jira’s JQL and Powershell, it makes it possible to fetch the right data – i.e. what work was performed and for how long – and store it under a JSON format. Python, coupled with Selenium, deciphers the JSON file and simulates the manual entry the user usually does when timesheeting.    

It might sound a bit technical for some of us, and setting this up takes time. But it doesn’t take long before you’re saving a lot of effort and frustration. It might also help you dust off your knowledge of one of the languages mentioned above and learn new functionalities.

Automate, repeat

Once you’ve done it once, you know the drill. And you’ll get to see that you can actually automate many tasks. In his talk at Devoxx Poland, Pieter-Jan explained how he made his life easier by automating other tasks, such as posting deployment updates or updating your environment.

We leave you with his best advice if you’re inspired to start automating tasks of your own: “Excel is great starting point for automating boring tasks! Everyone is familiar with excel and it has a lot of built-in functions that can help you.” While it won’t make the tea or water the plants, it means you can get on with the more satisfying aspects of your working life, like problem solving and creativity.

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