Work smarter, not harder: task automation
It mostly took my becoming a virtual assistant to see the value in automating tasks, with new dates and deadlines to remember I needed to make my own work as seamless as possible.
After discovering services like IFTTT and Zapier, I saw how I could make parts of my personal and professional life continue to run without my conscious effort. *The tips suggested do require basic tech savvy and working with automation services*
The most obvious reason to automate tasks is the amount of time it saves you from having to manually do the work yourself. There are some forms of task automation we use regularly without thinking about it because it's a part of our habits: setting up auto-pay for bills, allowing phone notifications, or scheduling timers and alarms.
The other benefits of task automation are less obvious but equally if not more important.
Task automation allows you to stop being required to remember unnecessary dates, information, and can save you from repetitive tasks eating up your time. It frees up the worry that you forgot to do something when it's always taken care of. Once you start reducing your physical workload, you begin to see systems throughout your work, even the work you still need to do yourself.
How to start automating tasks:
- Take a moment to sit down and write out the apps/services you use most often. Think about how you interact with these services, what tasks/work you use them for, and how any of these services share crossover between one another.
For me that's:
Social media services
How I use them together:
I share something on social media and also enter that content in a spreadsheet to track results.
When receiving certain types of e-mail, I also enter information into my calendar.
When I form a new contact I also want to keep notes about how we met and their contact information in Evernote.
- Now, think about the types of repetitive tasks you do.
Checking the weather every morning.
Reading certain news topics regularly.
Weekly/monthly repeating events like bookkeeping.
- Pick the services you use together most and your top repetitive task for your first automations to try.
- Use IFTTT to link your accounts together and start automating your work. There's a fairly straightforward approach to the automation "recipes": an action on one service triggers an event to happen on a second service. You'll find a lot of suggestions for ideas to try, again I suggest to hold off from testing them all at once until you get comfortable with the automations you actually need.
Some ideas to start:
These are a few of the automations I find most useful and appreciate on a regular basis.
- I receive a basic weather report every morning at 7am posted to a Slack channel.
- I receive a gentle notification banner at the top of my phone every morning at 9:30am to remind me to take a moment to relax and meditate before starting my day.
- On Sundays, I get one e-mail round up of all the top news in the topics I follow from the previous week.
- When I receive an e-mail I need to follow up with later, I give it a star and an event is automatically created in my calendar for the following morning so I don't forget about it.
- When I have a business expense I can push one button (thanks to iPhone home screen widgets) and a new note will be created in Evernote for me to upload the receipt/expense information into it later when I have the time.
Once you grow comfortable with your first automations add in new ones until you have a collection of self-running tasks that no longer require your direct attention.
*If reading this has you thinking, I completely see the value but I have no desire/comfort to set these systems up or know which ones would work best for me, let's talk!*
photo by cathryn lavery // cc