What high-performance jobs have a surprisingly boring aspect to them?
February 7, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

I've heard people say, "If you love doing paperwork, you'd make a great cop." What other high-performance jobs have a hidden or not commonly known aspect to them people might find surprisingly boring?
posted by agregoli to Work & Money (50 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Anything in biotech or medical devices. GDP (Good Documentation Practices) also stands for Great Mounds of Paper. There is a lot of technical paperwork that has to be approved at all kinds of different levels.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:23 PM on February 7, 2012

The President of the USA spends an incredible amount of time posing for photographs, particularly at holiday social events. Photo after photo after photo. What a bore that must be.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:24 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Academics and professors are usually plagued by incessant grant writing.
posted by peacheater at 8:25 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Being a rock star. Can you imagine the tedium of playing a handful radio hits that everyone loves now, over and over and over again?

When you think of how tedious that must be, some boring office jobs can look exciting in comparison.
posted by jayder at 8:29 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Playing the same hits to a receptive crowd is awesome. Being in a van or bus travelling all the time, may not be.
posted by xtine at 8:31 PM on February 7, 2012

Yeah, the cGXPs are hugely tedious exercises in paperwork. The lab work may be kinda fun the first few zillion times you run the QC assay, but maintaining a bulletproof paper trail is excruciating.
posted by Quietgal at 8:35 PM on February 7, 2012

I'm an emergency department doctor and I spend more than half my time at work sitting at a computer doing 'documentation'.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:42 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Commercial pilots, especially those on international flights, have surprisingly little to do.
posted by Ookseer at 8:45 PM on February 7, 2012

Pretty much any kind of healthcare worker is going to spend a ton of time charting/doing patient care documentation. Progress notes are the bane of my existence.
posted by purlgurly at 8:52 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've always thought actors doing movies or TV must be bored out of their skulls sitting there getting hair and makeup done, waiting for the cameras and whatnot to get set up.

Disclaimer: I don't actually know anything about the business of acting.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:53 PM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: Architects: permitting and code research, consultant management, various other specialty things depending on the project. People generally seem to think that being an architect just means drawing pretty pictures all the time and having clients worship your genius, but this is typically far from true. A substantial majority of the time spent on a project is involved in getting it ready for permit. The actual permitting of a project at the building department can be like entering the 7th level of hell, or like visiting the DMV 4 times in one day.

Sometimes the financial stuff can be cumbersome as well - I worked on a project that was a reconstruction of a 60-room hotel damaged by a fire, so the budget was covered by insurance, but the insurance company would only pay for what was in the building originally, and they had their own forensic architect (yes, there is such a thing) go through the building and document every single item that was in it (and put a projected cost on it). The resulting document was a 300-page list in a 3-ring binder documenting, room by room, what was in the building before everything was removed because of water damage from the firefighting effort. I had to go through the entire book and determine which components were in which rooms to be able to put the same items on our drawings, because every room was *slightly* different. It took weeks.
posted by LionIndex at 8:53 PM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Following up on Ookseer's answer, it's said that flying is 99% boredom, 1% sheer terror.
posted by zsazsa at 8:53 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Running your own small consulting business. It's one third bookkeeping, one third advertising/marketing/finding the next job, and one third actually doing the thing you started the business to do. Two of them are not likely to be things you love doing.
posted by kindall at 9:16 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I always thought the worst part of being a Rock Star would be the recording of radio station promos.

"Hi! This is Steve Perry of Journey and you listening to KCBO Boulder."

Imagine doing that for 300 different radio stations. Ugh!
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:27 PM on February 7, 2012

Being a race car driver: 3-5 layers of nomex that DOESN'T breath inside a car with no AC when it's 115 out in the shade, and 125 in your car. And Drivers Meetings before events that make the most boring meeting on a Friday you ever sat through seem like the best TV ever. And don't even get me started on what being an F1 or NASCAR mechanic is like...
posted by strixus at 9:35 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was a this American life episode about the tedium of being an astronaut. Apperently there are a lot of meetings.
posted by Wolfie at 9:45 PM on February 7, 2012

Movie director. Lots of incredibly dull meetings, boring stretches on the set, loads of people asking inane questions, hours of tedium in post. And then, there's the press junkets.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 PM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: Biology. Cannot tell you how much time I've spent sleeping on the floor of small airports or stuck in a camp or on a boat waiting for weather. Months of my life. Plus 4-5 month of data review and 2-3 months if report writing a year. Plus grants, permits, writing protocols, training techs, buying gear, packing gear, shipping gear (no sir, its not really an explosive. I swear!) setting gear up, mcguyvering gear in the field, taking boats apart, taking engines apart,taking it all home, cleaning it. One year we broke our whole boat down twice a day and put it in an airplane, then took it out and put it back together. For a month. Then when you get where you're going? You count things. And take hundreds of tiny measurements.

I draw the line at counting invertebrates from samples of mud but some people do that for a living.
posted by fshgrl at 10:05 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

A recent article about James Franco said the reason he's involved in so many projects at the same time is because most people don't realize that actors working on a set have a significant amount of downtime as lights, cameras and so forth are adjusted between takes. Lots of time for him to just sit with a laptop.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:28 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a former sportswriter, there's a lot of sitting and waiting for things to happen. Waiting for a game to start. Waiting for a game to finish. Waiting for an athlete to exit a locker room. Since you don't dare miss any of this, you wait. Sure, you're at a game but think about it -- a baseball beat writer will stand for the national anthem at least 162 times a year.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:33 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's often said that fighting in a war involves long stretches of boredom.

The real answer to your question is probably: every job. Every job has its menial tasks.

If you look at the book The Creative Lawyer by Michael F. Melcher, he makes the point that every career involves "B.S.," and he quotes several people with various jobs talking about theirs (pp. 40-41). For instance, a physician who specializes in HIV treatment says: "My job requires large amounts of boring and repetitive paperwork, especially for people applying for disability or Social Security benefits." A fire chief says: "There are numerous mandatory night meetings. Most of the meetings are exhausting and unproductive — we constantly rehash the same issues. . . . While it is fulfilling to go on emergency calls as a firefighter, that is actually a small percentage of a firefighter's day."
posted by John Cohen at 10:50 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins has written about being a test pilot for the Air Force back in the 60s. Every single weird shimmy, buck, and bang (as well as their sleds' splendid performances) needed to be exquisitely documented in context by the pilots once they were back on the ground.

I'd bet that it hasn't changed.
posted by Chutzler at 11:22 PM on February 7, 2012

Campaign staffers. On the outside, it looks exciting and bustling, but there is a high level of tedium to about 95% of jobs on political campaigns.

Similarly, most people have no idea how much time candidates spend on the phone making fundraising calls. Good politicians will spend 3-4 hours a night making these calls. Glamorous!
posted by lunasol at 11:39 PM on February 7, 2012

For teachers: grading papers and tests. It's certainly not a hidden aspect of the job, but I'm sure there are a lot of people who don't realize just how time-consuming it is. Grading 100 multiple choice or short answer tests, or 100 pages of math problems...now that's an exciting way to spend an evening.

I worked in advertising, and there were days where I'd spend hours doing nothing but calling vendors to remind them to confirm receipt of insertion orders. Not my favorite part of the job!
posted by SisterHavana at 12:08 AM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Surgeons spend relatively little time actually operating on people. Much of their time is spent making postoperative rounds, in clinics seeing patients (so they will have someone to operate on) and doing the paperwork endemic to all medical specialties. If they are in an academic setting they also spend time outside the OR preparing and giving lectures and writing papers.
posted by TedW at 3:01 AM on February 8, 2012

Photographer. On location. My job is 90% moving furniture and 10% shooting pictures.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:22 AM on February 8, 2012

Being a race car driver: 3-5 layers of nomex that DOESN'T breath inside a car with no AC when it's 115 out in the shade, and 125 in your car. And Drivers Meetings before events that make the most boring meeting on a Friday you ever sat through seem like the best TV ever. And don't even get me started on what being an F1 or NASCAR mechanic is like...

Disagree with the driver part - it's a completely cushy job unless you count the several years of trying to find the money to raise to a level where you get paid for it. That is the boring bit, but it stops once you get to the right level. If 125 in a nomex is a problem, then they don't train enough and its their own fault.

Race Car mechanics: totally agree. Whenever people hear that I am in Motor Racing, they always say what a cool job it must be, and how awesome it is I get to travel all over the world and the things I must have seen... blah blah blah. But in reality, my trips away consist of seeing the following:

Airport - they all look the same after the second one.
Drive between airport and track - apart from a glimpse of roadside life, you don't see much.
Hotel - see airport.
Track - a track is a track, just the signs change language. Chances are, as a mechanic, I won't even get to see the track other than the pit lane anyway.
Drive between hotel and airport (see above).

There are no 'evenings' usually (you're still working - usually 14-16hrs a day) and you only get a day off on a tip if something goes completely wrong with the planning or you work for a particularly well-off team (as in too much money for the level of racing they are at). The chances of you getting a decent try of the local food are relatively high if your race event goes well (no crashes) but that's about it. Mind you, everyone tends to be super conservative on food choices until the last night anyway because you CAN NOT risk being ill if you get it wrong. There are no sick days in racing.

The general working on race cars is also a grind. Most of the time is cleaning and checking. Take things apart, inspect, change, rebuild. The same stuff (usually most of the car) between each race. Long, long hours and sometimes you have to take broken and bent pieces off and change them. But that sort of variety is not fun. It's annoying. People always say "But you get to work on those awesome cars", but honestly, a racing car to me is about as fancy to work on as a Ford Focus is for a dealer mechanic. It's just... normal.

My wife is jealous of all the travel I have had, but despite me ticking most of Europe, UK, Canada, US, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt and Malaysia off my visa stamp list only one of those was a holiday (Vacation) for a week, the rest were work trips. I got one day off in Mexico (in two trips), 5 evenings and two weekends in Malaysia (I was there for 3 months) and two days in Valencia to be a tourist that I can recall where I had actual freedom to go anywhere (although with other team members, not on my own). That's in twenty years.
posted by Brockles at 5:21 AM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: In my senior year of college, I got an interview with the Jet Propulsion Lab. As an engineer (especially one interested in space and aeronautics), this is one of The Places To Work. I get to the interview, I'm nervous and incredibly excited, and one of the first questions I get asked is why I want to work for the JPL.

I spouted something about how stoked I was about engineering and how I really wanted to work on the bleeding edge of technology - basically gushing about how much science and engineering rocks my socks. The interviewer immediately follows up with, "Well, you realize that as an engineer you'd really only be spending about ten percent of your time doing actual engineering?"

I had no response to that. The rest of the interview just went downhill from there.

And for better or worse, it's true. Most of my time at my current job is not solving technical problems but bureaucratic ones.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:27 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a computer field technician. I gained zen-like clarity when I realized my job isn't fixing computers, but making clients happy. And more often than not, my client is not the person sitting at the desk, it is some CIO or purchasing board or politician.

My day is 40% driving, 30% obtaining parts (research, ordering reordering, etc.), 10% looking for people inside a building, 10% filling out paperwork and 10% actually fixing on computers.

This is the reason my job was called "customer engineer" in old IBM parlance.

My boss is a manager, but most of his job is more like he is the executive secretary to his dozen or so employees- collecting our forms and billing for our time, filtering and collating information from and to us, fielding calls from the clients' executive secretaries looking for us, and listening to us whine.

I've known a lot of electricians whose job was almost nothing but digging trenches. There are a lot of "network analysts" at my job who do nothing but pull cable and, more recently, climb towers to remove birds nests from wireless antennas.

In my prior job, I was a General Manager for a computer store. There was almost zero management going on, it was primarily making price signs and selling. Prior to that, I was an assistant manager at McDonald's. That job was actually what it purported to be- most of my day was actually managing people, product and equipment.

(Plug for a television show that I love: Flying Wild Alaska. Shows a lot of what really happens at small airports and in small airlines. And also glimpses of other Alaskan jobs, where the entire year's work is done in the course of a week, and most of that week is waiting.)
posted by gjc at 5:40 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Software development involves a lot of time understanding the way end users experience the software. This means you spend 80% or more of your effort toward fixing bugs, not new feature development. Of that 80% easily half of it involves meetings, research and written communication.
posted by dgran at 6:23 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

CGI artist, time spent:
15% figuring out how to achieve cool effect
30% waiting for cool effect to simulate/calculate/render
40% figuring out why cool effect did not render correctly (software bug? network down? operator error?)
10% addressing picky notes that the moviegoing public will never notice, even the Blu-ray frame steppers
5% let's go get coffee!
posted by shino-boy at 6:31 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was going to say architecture too which is all project management if you're not a design partner of some sort: managing the design team - both your own team in the office and all of the consultants from engineers through cost estimators - going to the various client user group and oversight comittee meetings, dealing with the city, networking with current and prospective clients, doing the usual invoicing and scheduling, etc etc.

I expect doing almost anything at a high level involves a lot of paperwork and management though. Unless you have unlimited wealth every firm or institution needs to bring projects or commitments in on time and budget, or at least not lose money and reputation. gjc's comment I gained zen-like clarity when I realized my job isn't fixing computers, but making clients happy and more often than not, my client is not the person sitting at the desk, it is some CIO or purchasing board or politician. is about right.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:52 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Globe-trotting freelance writer (goes home and sits in a room alone for days staring with a blank mind at a blank screen).
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:01 AM on February 8, 2012

Urban planners don't spend a lot of time planning out and making pretty drawings of neighborhoods (the actual drawing is usually contracted out to an actual artist). They don't do much deciding where buildings go or what streets are going to look like because the process is extremely political. Lots of idealists go into planning only to find their decisions are often disregarded or overturned. There are a lot of (sometimes contentious) community meetings and reports resulting from those meetings.
posted by desjardins at 7:14 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

GIS* analysts/developers spend more time collecting data, cleaning junky parts of it, and writing metadata than they do actually designing maps. If they use ArcGIS, they spend a lot of time waiting for map layers to render and dealing with software crashes.

*Geographic Information Systems, the people who make cool maps like this, but also uglier stuff like this.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Photojournalism. Big events, such as professional games and national political events you often have to get there several hours early to beat traffic, get settled or to mark off your spot. And wait.

Even with more local stories. Going somewhere and just sitting there in your car while the reporter and editors figure out their next move is pretty common. I have wasted days of my life sitting in my car.

There is also a daily grind with the job. It is not all big events and action. A lot of what you shoot is pretty mundane.
posted by WickedPissah at 7:21 AM on February 8, 2012

Working in sensitive, selective security way back in the day was boring...for every 40-minute event helping someone in a life or death situation, there were months in between sitting around reading whatever you can find (before browsing the Internet days) or chasing a raccoon out of the garbage. But, boy, those rare instances of saving a life made it worth it, though!
posted by TinWhistle at 7:32 AM on February 8, 2012

It's not exactly a boring part of the job, per se, but most people don't realize that being a book editor involves as much or more networking, talking on the phone, and taking lunches with agents as it does actual editing. Working at a major publisher is not really a job for introverts.
posted by MsMolly at 7:33 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm really surprised no one has said lawyer. Some of it is interesting and intellectually stimulating, but document review? Writing objections to interrogatories? Reading 30 cases on a tangential issue? Researching your judge's position on bankruptcy law? Not really that exciting. It's the part that's rarely covered on television shows.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:46 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding "onlyconnect." Lawyers do obscene amounts of paperwork.

Also, judges. People think of judges as sitting on the bench and calling the shots during exciting trials. Quite aside from the fact that most trials are not nearly as interesting as the ones on TV, judges need to write dozens of pages each week for the judgments that they hand down. Length depends on the judge's personal style, but regardless, it is a LOT of writing.
posted by hypotheticole at 9:10 AM on February 8, 2012

Firefighting. Going on interesting calls (not nearly as many as you would think; there are a lot of people who call 911 because they've "felt bad" for 2 weeks and just "decided to call EMS") is great. Training is fun; sometimes. Jumping off buildings, live fire, cutting up cars...that's the good stuff. Weekend fire colleges are a blast, so are seminars and conferences and NFA. Standing in the bay tying knots or going over ICS (Incident Command Systems) 6 times a year gets old. Don't get me started on HazMat.

When we're at the station, there's a lot of paperwork, from the chiefs down to the guys on the back of the truck. We have a lot of meetings. Station duties: clean the kitchen, clean the bathrooms, clean the bedrooms, clean the dayroom, clean the weight room, dust the office. Inspect the truck. Wash the truck. Cook. These things all have to be done by lunch time, every day (holidays and Sundays are not days off). Reading and studying; lots and lots of studying and sifting through material to find what pertains to your department, or even your company; what I need to know in a 95%+ high SEO residential area is not what's going to work when I'm across town in a 100% industrial area with no hydrants and a power plant. Oh, and checking hydrants. Drive around to hydrants assigned to that month; open hydrant caps, check threads, flush hydrant. Repeat. For 20-30 hydrants. In an afternoon.

Driver training: "okay, get on the truck. We're going to do territory study for the next 2 hours." It can be fun or at least informative for the engineer, but when you're riding backwards, all residential areas look the same. And map study at the house is painful.

Just give me a damn fire or a car to cut up; I'll keep my mouth shut for another few tours or so.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 9:13 AM on February 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, teaching. SisterHavana got most of the paperwork/grading side.

But yeah, also, the number of hours I spend walking around the class checking homework is staggering. Or walking around the class putting a meaningless checkmark or stamp on papers that I will probably not grade again and don't matter to the overall education of the student. It's just a "Hey! You sat in your seat and did as you were told! Well done!" That makes my class sound more useless than it is, but there are some things that can only be done with lots of practice - like studying etymology/vocabulary, correcting sentences to learn grammar, etc. And if I don't at least pretend to grade it, they won't take it seriously. So, yay! Stamps! Even high schoolers love stamps.

Or answering email. Seriously? Like three hours+ a day. We're an email heavy school, and I'm the person in charge of technology on campus, so I probably have more than most. But still. Hours. I know that's most office jobs, but I don't think people realise how much time teachers spend on computers: email, attendance, creating documents, searching the internet for lesson ideas or enhancements for lessons, doing research for a lecture, making powerpoints, entering grades. I seriously spend half of my 10-15 hour working day at a computer sometimes.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:40 PM on February 8, 2012

CSI: The pretty young thing receives evidence at lunch time, puts the evidence wipe into the chromatograph, machine goes ding, has an answer in 4 minutes.

Real life, from a recent event:
10 pm Sample arrives
10-11pm, dealing with chain-of-custody issues
11-12am, miscellaneous running around. See: chickens, headless.
12:30 am, tech arrives. Was up for midnight feeding of newborn anyway, and so glad of break.
12-4, machine warm-up, maintenance, stabilization, tune and calibration
4-6 sample runs and analysis.
6-8 write up
9 am report to client.

And that's a high priority sample, with pretty much no checks or confirmations. Regular forensics samples take at least 3-4 weeks, frequently 3-4 months depending on workload: about 10% prep work, 10% instrument time, 30% QA, 30% analysis and 20% report writing.
posted by bonehead at 2:17 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wanted to be an archaeologist in high school and volunteered in one of the archaeologist's labs at my college. He had me wearing a lab coat, using a toothbrush to scrub dirt off of pottery shards and then using white-out to number them. He was kind enough to tell me that "about 90% of being an archaeologist" was doing work like that. I fled the field and have never regretted it.
posted by jabes at 2:52 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zero-till grain farming, yo. Maybe 10% of the whole work year is spent doing farm-y things like field operations and observations. Another maybe 3% selling and getting the crop to market. The other 87% would be researching, making calls, driving to town to pick up parts, repairing equipment and buildings, bookkeeping, completing massive amounts of paperwork. Very little 'dig your hands deep into the soft warm soil while watching the sun rise over the fields of gold.' How it manages to require something like 7000 man-hours per year is beyond me.
posted by bluebelle at 7:01 PM on February 8, 2012

Investment banking.
As advertised, investment banking is not all about hanging out at NYC clubs with models, bottles and blow. Mostly, it's just tedious spreadsheet modeling and mindless presentation editing. And double checking. Lots of double checking.
posted by Lucubrator at 7:06 PM on February 8, 2012

Not to be glib, but with any job, there's a reason they call it "work".
posted by maryr at 8:07 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you look at the book The Creative Lawyer by Michael F. Melcher, he makes the point that every career involves "B.S.,"
posted by John Cohen at 3:50 PM on February 8

Most people's jobs are incredibly opaque, and given this degree of BS, hard (boring?) to explain. Whenever I meet someone and ask them what they do I am forever frustrated with the answer. A job title tells me almost nothing. My second question invariably "what do you actually do?" which depending on the person is somewhat more insightful.

posted by oxford blue at 11:53 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a newspaper editor, I only spend probably 10 hours out of my 50-plus-hour work week actually editing and working with reporters on stories. A huge chunk of time is involved in just staying on top of communications - I can get hundreds of emails and dozens of calls in a day, and serve on non-controversial civic nonprofits to keep our paper in the public eye. I also probably spend 10+ hours a week in meetings with other middle managers in which we talk about what we did, what we're doing, what we're going to do, and how we're going to do it. And I spend a lot of time on what I consider boring administrative tasks - creating and reviewing budgets, approving invoices, tracking freelancers, dealing with paperwork (for pay checks, expense reports, authorization to hire forms, performance reviews, etc., etc.) and so on.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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