10th April 2018

The Future of Work is How You Choose to Automate Tasks

Automation works.

We have experienced the productivity of robots versus people in farming, manufacturing, and segments of transportation and retail over the last 100-150 years. Now, in the past 30 years, software and robots have thrived at replacing a particular kind of work: the average-wage, middle-skill, routine-heavy work, especially in manufacturing and office admin.

So, what’s next?

Nearly half of American jobs today could be automated in a decade or two according to a research paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne.

Now, what does all this mean for you?

As automation explodes in all sectors of industry, it creates incredible access to software that you can use to automate and delegate many of your routine heavy administrative tasks; tasks that consume significant amounts of your time and mental energy.

You only have 168 hours a week and a finite store of mental energy as well, according to research by social psychologist Roy Baumeister. And once you become mentally depleted –  something that Baumeister calls ‘decision fatigue’ – you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. So the more choices you make throughout the day the harder each one becomes for your brain and it will eventually look for shortcuts – either recklessness or to do nothing. Neither of which are optimal choices.

Knowing what we know about the effectiveness of automation, we can conclude this: automating and delegating some of your tasks not only optimizes your time spend enabling you to allocate your time to high value tasks and projects, but also ensures that you can preserve high quality decision making, execute on tasks faster and virtually error free and avoid the black hole of procrastination.

So, where do you start? And what do you automate right now?

  • Consider automating tasks that have become so routine for you that you could figuratively process them in your sleep. These are the tasks that do not require full attention or really any form of attention.
  • Automate processes that are time consuming, boring and/or routine.
  • Automate tasks that don’t require human finesse like communicating with someone. Look at your existing workflow processes and determine if there are pieces of that process that could potentially be automated if the entire process cannot. For example, we use different software than our accounting software for our online credit card purchases and as a result have to import the sales data into our accounting software for reconciliation. We cannot automate the reconciliation, however, we were able to automate the importing of the data.

Now that you have decided what you want to or can automate, here are a few tools to support you in making that happen efficiently:

  • Zapier – This app will easily connect the web apps that you use to automate a task. For example, you can connect Evernote to other task management apps like Asana and Trello and to your Google calendar. Or you can save your PayPal sales to a Google docs spreadsheet or post new BaseCamp activity to Slack.
  • IfThisThenThat (IFTTT) – This is a web service that allows you to plug information in from one app to another even allowing you to create custom tasks to mirror a specific workflow. For example: “If [this thing happens on one service], then [do that on another service]”, such as “If I post a new photo to Instagram, then download it to Dropbox.” You can also use pre-made recipes. Recipes are simply pre-built tasks made by other users that you can add to your IFTTT account.
  • TextExpander – This tool enables you to insert fixed bits of text – called a snippet in TextExpander – by typing in short abbreviations. For example, you might create a snippet for email copy that you use repeatedly throughout your week, like responding to a request for additional information; or you might create a snippet containing the addresses and phone numbers for the top three coffee shops where you regularly meet with clients.
  • Pocket – There is a tremendous amount of content and new stories constantly revolving on the web; oftentimes, you’ll see a headline of an article that you’d like to read, however, you don’t have time to view or read right now. So, put articles, videos or pretty much any content that you’d like to save for later into Pocket. You can save it directly from your browser or from apps like Twitter, Flipboard, Pulse and Zite; then, when you are ready to read it you can read it from your phone, tablet or PC without an Internet connection.
  • Mint – This tool enables you to automatically track all your checking accounts, saving accounts, and credit cards in a central location, neatly categorizing and displaying the transactions along the way with informative graphs. And it will send reminders to alert you that a bill is due.

As you explore your workflows and look for opportunities to automate, don’t go overboard and automate tasks that bring you meaning and joy in your work and enable you to showcase and leverage your unique strengths. The best automation is strategic automation, so think strategically about where and how you can automate.

Because your time and energy are finite – and you’ll never be able to automate them. So, automate your tasks and watch your productivity soar.