Why do we need automation

Increase productivity through automation

Do less and still be more productive, is that possible? That's fine. In fact, it's pretty easy. The magic word is automation.

We just have to let computers and smartphones do the work for us. By handing over routine tasks and simple processes to them. Ideally, these then run in the background and we don't need to worry about anything. We can invest the newly gained time in the really important matters.

What kind of activities are suitable for automation?

The best are tasks from which we can derive rules and conditions in order to automate them with the help of technology.
These automations always work on the same principle. First, an event occurs (e.g. a mail from a specific sender or a specific subject) and this then triggers a previously defined rule (e.g. forwarding the mail).

Processes that you can easily automate

  • Filter (move to folder) or forward emails
  • Save documents in a specific location
  • Transfer mails to project management tools
  • Create frequently used text blocks with a keyboard shortcut
  • Post blog articles and status updates in multiple social networks
  • Mute devices and inboxes for specific times and situations

Why should we automate simple work processes?

Because they are particularly bad for productivity. They harm us in two ways:

1. They cause constant interruptions

Every small task, no matter how simple it is, how quickly it is done, is always a potential troublemaker. It interrupts the work flow and disturbs concentration. At the same time, it costs us energy to get back to work.

2. There are tons of them

No matter how quickly and routinely we work through individual things, in their entirety they take up a lot of time. So we spend most of the day not on important matters, but on numerous ancillary activities that are supposed to help us cope with the actual work, but in truth, above all, prevent us from doing it. If they stay where they are, over time they become an indomitable mountain of obligations and represent an almost insoluble problem.

What types of automation are there?

Complete automation

You don't have to do anything here. Everything runs completely automatically. For example, when new e-mails are automatically sorted into folders or forwarded according to certain rules. Or when Facebook status updates are posted to other social networks at the same time.

Partial automation

You still have to lend a hand here, but many small intermediate steps are automated. One example is forwarding emails to project management tools. First of all, you decide individually which email will be forwarded at all. If you give it a specific subject or keyword, the assignment within the project management tool takes place automatically. You can quickly convert a simple email into a new task and have it right there where it belongs: in your project management software.

Services and apps for automation

There are a number of automation services. In addition, numerous applications already have the option of creating rules or communicating with others via interfaces.

Mail programs

Most of them already have a lot on board. A simple automation that works with common mail programs is filtering. Instead of manually moving emails to folders to have a better overview, we set rules that do this for us. Criteria for these rules can be, for example, the sender or the subject.

Mac OS X Automator

With the Automator, Apple's OS X offers its own application to develop simple automations and processes without any programming knowledge.
There are ready-made Automator actions and instructions here.
An example of an Automator action:
Automate paperless offices with PDFs from plug-ins with Automator

Automations with IFTTT and Zapier

The easiest way to use automation is with web applications such as IFTTT or Zapier. With these services, rules can be designed or existing ones can be used. Computers and smartphones are linked to other apps and web services such as Evernote, Gmail, Trello, etc. in order to automate a task.

Examples of automation with IFTTT or Zapier

  • Mute your cell phone at work
    In order to be able to concentrate on your work, notifications should be muted. With IFTTT you can mute your Android smartphone as long as you are in the office. This can also be done at other locations or at other times
  • Status updates from social media
    You also want to tweet your Facebook posts or vice versa. With IFTTT you can link both accounts. This also works with many other social networks, for example to automatically share your Instagram pictures on Facebook
  • Save Facebook or Twitter status updates to Dropbox
    You want to keep track of your status updates in the various social networks without having to laboriously scroll through your timeline. Then link your accounts to your Dropbox to automatically save posts there
  • Save appointments in Dropbox
    You also want to save all appointments in retrospect. No problem, all you have to do is connect your Gmail account to your Dropbox
  • Automatic birthday message via Facebook
    One of your many Facebook friends always has a birthday. Instead of sending a new message every time, congratulations are automated. This saves you time and you can't forget it. Is that impersonal? As if an individual Facebook message was more personal
  • Save all photos uploaded to Facebook in your Dropbox
  • Add new iOS contacts in the Google account
  • Save photos that you are marked on Facebook in your Dropbox
  • Save emails to Evernote
  • Notification email about new free Kindle book

This is just a selection and new ones are being added all the time on both Zapier and IFTTT.
Overview of Zapier actions (Zaps)
Overview of the IFTTT actions (applets)

Link apps for automation

We often need the same data in different programs. Ideally, they communicate via interfaces and simply pass the information on. Even if there is no connection, they can be automatically forwarded via email.

Automatically forward emails to project management software

Do we receive information or documents about a project by email and need them in a project management program such as Trello, Asana, Evernote or Nozbe. We can easily pass on data with you. Because these services provide users with email addresses that can be used to send emails directly to the tool. If you set up a corresponding rule in the mail program beforehand, which filters mails by subject, sender or content, it happens automatically.

Automate pre-tax returns

The pre-tax return is a necessary but annoying evil for the self-employed. With the appropriate tools, it can run largely independently. Here is an example of how this annoying process can be significantly simplified with the banking app MoneyMoney, the accounting software VertriebPro and the tax software Steuerrück.app.
In MoneyMoney, the sales of the past month (or quarter) are first called up. Then you can redirect them to SalesPro with one click. The individual items can be edited there if necessary. Then you generate the data for the input tax registration, transfer it to the tax return.app and from there to the tax office. Once everything is in place and you don't have too many sales, the input tax is sent within a few minutes with a few clicks. Although it is not one hundred percent automation, numerous steps are carried out automatically, which normally cost time and nerves and are potential sources of error.
This only works like this on the Mac, but there are likely similar options for Windows.

Special automation software

Alfred (Mac only)

An app just for automating and simplifying work processes. Alfred offers a range of ready-made functionalities that can be used to simplify life. With the so-called workflows, processes with web services and apps are automated without even opening the application.
There are a number of helpful workflows available for download. If that's not enough, you can create your own workflow.
I've built a simple workflow that calls up two apps that I use to concentrate on my work. On the one hand there is Pomodoro One, a timer for the Pomodoro technique, and Noizli, an app with nature sounds. Instead of calling up and starting both programs individually, a key combination is sufficient.
The so-called snippets are also really great. This means that any text can be created automatically using a shortcut. This goes from the simple "Best regards" to extensive text blocks and works in all programs. To do this, I first create the document and then assign it a key combination. If I call it up, the text is inserted.
Launchy - alternative for Windows
Phrase Express - alternative for text blocks and much more (Android, Windows, iOS, OSX)
Breevy Text Expander - text blocks and faster writing, alternative for Windows
Text Expander - Text Blocks and Faster Writing, OSX and Windows

Mailbutler (Mac only)

An annoying inbox is a huge productivity killer. There are numerous ways to temporarily mute the inbox using the computer's on-board tools, but these have their weaknesses. With Mailbutler, on the other hand, I can specify when mails should be loaded and when not. Once set up, it runs automatically. Mailbutler offers many more useful automations and simplifications. For example, I can time and track emails and much more.

The benefits of automation

  1. It saves time. Every task, no matter how tiny, takes time. And a lot of small jobs quickly add up to a big time waster.
  2. It promotes concentration. The less we are interrupted, the less our focus is disturbed and the better we can work.
  3. It makes us more productive. When we know that the many small tasks can be reliably mastered, that nothing is lost and that everything can later be found where we want it to be, we don't have to worry about it. This calms you down and at the same time ensures that we can devote our undivided attention to the important challenges.

Summary

Instead of working, we spend a lot of our time organizing the work. However, some of these activities can be automated so that we have more time for the important tasks. Many e-mail programs already have this type of automation on board, we just have to set them up. Special web services like IFTTT and Zapier, or specialists like Mailbutler and Alfred, offer a multitude of possibilities to make our lives easier. Once the automation is set up, we no longer need to deal with it.

tl; dr We don't have to do everything ourselves. Computers and smartphones offer many possibilities to automate tasks