A new task at my workplace is reviewing hours of sewer system inspection videos. The goal is to note any and all defects observed. This work is not mentally engaging nor challenging. In general how do you maintain satisfaction with mundane and repetitive work? The company just got a recurring half million annual contract for sewer inspection video footage review and rehabilitation recommendations. So this will be part of the work 30 to 50% of the work week, until more staff are trained, for years to come. Any tips how to go from projects that were always unique and had a clear end in sight (Civil Engineering design and construction) to watching videos and keep engagement in that type of work?
That, indeed, sounds like a boring task. Here are some ideas for keeping yourself engaged and mixing in more meaningful work:
Keep score. Simply having a scoreboard with a meaningful score can make work more exciting (to a degree) and boosts productivity (humans like having goals). Talk with your colleagues about what a helpful productivity metric might be that you can work to improve every day, and, even better, compare to other individuals working on similar tasks to encourage some friendly competition. Maybe the metric could be something like "% of defects detected verified by the PE" and "feet inspected per day".
Take advantage of learning opportunities. If you can integrate some learning opportunities into the task, take advantage of them. Perhaps ask for some time with a more senior colleague to discuss the more interesting defects you find each day and how they should be analyzed/addressed.
Talk to your manager. If you're feeling "brain numb" by the end of the day watching these videos, let your manager know. He/she is responsible both for your productivity and your experience. Even better, propose some ideas for how to help you feel more valued and excited about work:
- Share the boring work across multiple peers. If you have some other colleagues with similar roles, perhaps your manager can spread the task out across multiple people.
- Assign a mix of tasks. Your manager could help you find some extra tasks to break up the day with that would be more interesting.
Find ways to boost your productivity. Sometimes the interesting part of a job isn't the job itself, but how you improve it. If there are ways to make yourself faster and more reliable, experiment with them. It could be things as simple as using a text expander to accelerate filling out a report to automating the video analysis with an image processing algorithm. Your company may even be willing to invest a little to help you automate the task.
Keep yourself sane with music, ect. and buckle down. It may just be worth it to put your head down for a few days and get the task done. The sooner it's completed the sooner you can move on to more interesting work.
At the risk of sounding like a finger-wagging, "back-in-my-day" storytelling old person, I'm going to give you an answer based on my personal perspective, which basically boils down to: don't cut and run every time you're unhappy. My first job was similar to yours, working in a civil engineering firm - although I sat next to the guy watching the footage and wrote software to update databases and GIS maps based on the findings. We also cataloged the nameplate data on every single submersible pump in every single pumpstation or manhole. I did this work for a few years before climbing up the ladder at that firm. As a result, I know what the insides of every mile of sewer pipe in my city look like! (Protip: This isn't as good of an icebreaker at parties as I'd hoped it might be.)
At the end of the day, nearly every job has at least some degree of mundane or unsatisfying work. Generally, no one likes doing it, but some one has to. Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself if the work is acceptable, or if you should be looking for another job. But, I would suggest making that decision based on stepping back and taking a realistic look at what you'd gain and lose by switching jobs, and where you want to go in your career. In other words, don't simply run from a task at work that you don't like. Otherwise, you may be reflecting back on things 10 years from now and realize you've just spent a decade running from problems - and you're now struggling in interviews because you can't explain why you look like a job hopper.
As a second point, if you haven't yet, keep an eye out for opportunities to improve the process. A multi-year contract to do repetitive work may be seen as a good thing by your employer, because it's security in the sense that they've got a known body of work for a known timeframe. But imagine if you could suggest something that cuts their investment in labor to fulfill the contract by even a few percent? That could be a big deal. Spend the time you're doing the work thinking about how to make it easier or faster. Document what you find and make suggestions. Rather than seeing this as a bad thing because you don't like doing it, take it as an opportunity to show off and add some real value. Even if you do end up switching jobs because you still decide you hate the work, having a story about how you documented and improved a repetitive mundane task will be incredibly valuable as you're interviewing for your next position - compared to just saying "I want to leave my current job because it's boring."
On that same note, any time I'm thinking about leave a job because of some factor I don't like, I try to stop myself and think: how will I explain this in my future interviews? Granted, when asked "why are you leaving?" it's often not a good idea to dive into details, but you can always look at the other side of the coin - is there a way to turn this negative aspect into something I can brag about a little? Or, is there a way to turn this negative thing into some kind of personal growth? If I want to leave because I don't get along with a coworker, maybe I should pause the job hunt and reflect on why we don't get along, and if there's anything I can do about it. If I want to leave because I don't like my boss's management style, is there some what I can learn how to better deal with their style? Is some aspect of my personality contributing to him taking this particular style? Or, as mentioned above, if I want to leave because of some mundane or boring task, is there anything I can do to change that task? In other words, running from a problem can cause you to miss an opportunity to grow.
None of this will magically or instantly make the sewer inspection videos more interesting to you - but since you're going to have a lot of time on your hands, it's something to think about as you decide what to do about your problem.
There's a woman right now in the humid heat of an african grassland that's sweating as she hauls a jug full of dirty water for the last mile of her 4 mile journey. She has to do this every day, because otherwise her kids won't have anything to drink for the day. Worse, this water she's carrying is something that will likely kill them, since it's not potable - a million children die each year from diarrhea from dirty water.
... and ...
There's a 3 year old boy in the bad part of town that's being abused by his mother. He knows that it hurts when she hits him... but he has no clue that it's wrong. Because he hasn't known anything else. She's always like this when she can't get ahold of drugs. He's not alone, since this happens to several hundred thousand kids in the US each year.
... I don't know if this is the answer you wanted or were looking for; it's not a pleasant one. But for me personally, I try to think of things like this whenever my life seems bad. Car's transmission blew out? What would that african mother think of my 'problem' that I'll have to get another car? Twisted my ankle and it's going to hurt like heck the next few days? Imagine trying to complain to that 3 year old.
Don't get me wrong. If you want to look for another job, go for it - it's what I'd probably do. But... keeping a sense of perspective really helps out with problems like this and remaining happy in a sub-optimal situation.
Edit: Okay, something I need to clarify. The OP is asking how to "keep engagement with this type of work." The subject of their post is literally 'How do you maintain satisfaction doing mundane work?' I agree with a lot of people that suggest: find a different job that you enjoy more (and wrote as much in the last paragraph). But that's not the OP's question - it's how to keep up a positive attitude. And I've found that one good way of keeping a positive attitude is keeping perspective.