Imagine it’s Wednesday and you have a big assignment due at the end of the week. You plant your bottom at your desk, iced coffee at the ready, with every intention of buckling down and doing the work. But as soon as you open your laptop, there are dozens of tasks begging for your attention. There’s new data you need to copy-paste into Excel; team members who need to schedule meetings and are asking for your availability; and a notification reminding you that you’re due for a computer back-up.
Instead of letting simple tasks steal your time away from what matters most, automate them! When you automate a task, you program a computer (or other machine) to do it for you. Whether you’re a freelancer or the CEO of a large enterprise, automation tools can truly transform your workday and even your personal life.
If you’re interested in spending less time on the mundane and more time on the meaningful, then keep on reading.
What is automation?
First, a quick definition. Automation is the process of getting technology (e.g. software or machinery) to perform actions for you. Process automation comes in many different shapes and sizes, but people especially love to use automation for repetitive tasks.
Today, you can find automation features in almost every app in the market. For some apps, automation is just one player in their entire feature set. For others, automation is the entire platform (e.g. Zapier and IFTTT). Check out some of the benefits of automating tasks below.
Benefits of using automation at work
The most obvious benefit of workflow automation is time saved. How much time do you spend on run-of-the-mill tasks like updating spreadsheets, uploading social media posts, and scheduling meetings?
Even better, what would you do if you had more time?
You might engage in more deep work, be more present with your loved ones, or follow more creative pursuits. Our society has long praised the hustling, busybee archetype, but we’re now waking up to the idea that busywork isn’t necessarily valuable. And it certainly doesn’t help our stress levels.
When you automate your work, you streamline your day and create room for more of what you love, whatever that is!
Another benefit is that automation reduces human error (especially when it comes to tasks involving data entry). Automation can also prevent burnout, while helping you be more productive.
Work automation examples
Let’s take a look at the types of tasks that are perfect candidates for automation. Which of these would you be happy to move off your plate?
- Repetitive tasks: Smartsheet found that workers are most eager to automate repetitive tasks like data collection, approvals, and updates.
- Automatic backups: Use automation to back up your computer regularly, and never fall victim to a computer crash or other tech problem again.
- Marketing tasks: Struggling to publish social media posts consistently? Use an automation system like Hootsuite to plan your content and upload to all your channels at a scheduled cadence. You can also automate tasks related to email marketing, tracking metrics on your WordPress website, and more.
- Administrative tasks: Many activities can count as administrative work, but the most common are data entry, scheduling, invoicing, and email — simple tasks on your to-do list that add up when you do them manually.
- Spreadsheets: Got more important things to do than put together that spreadsheet? Automate it. Popular spreadsheet apps like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel have a plethora of shortcuts for automatically formatting your cells, making calculations, creating reports, and more.
- Project management: If you use a project management tool (e.g. Asana, ClickUp, Trello), take full advantage of its automation features. For example, you could automate notifications and reminders, reviews and approvals, and bottleneck identification. You could also create templates that serve as the framework for your most common project types.
Clearly there are so many possibilities when it comes to automating your tasks. So where should you start? Here are some tips to jumpstart your journey:
How to find out which tasks should be automated
When figuring out which tasks to automate, think about your Genius Zone. Your Genius Zone (also called your Zone of Genius) is the space where these two things overlap: 1) the things you love doing; 2) the things you’re good at doing. Put another way, they’re high-passion and high-proficiency activities.
Your goal is to spend more time in that sweet spot — and to automate, delegate, or eliminate all the tasks that aren’t in your Genius Zone. Pull out a paper and pen, or open a fresh document, and start to list out your daily activities. Walk yourself through a typical day.
Take all the tasks that land outside your Genius Zone — these are the ones you can automate using tools like the ones we’ll cover in the next section. We suggest that you automate your work first, then revisit this exercise with your personal tasks.
The best automation tools
Now, let’s get to the good stuff! Below, we’ll cover our favorite task automation software that’ll streamline your day — whether you’re a small business owner or a contributing member of a large enterprise!
Ever wish you didn’t have to spend so much time on time management? Automate the process with Clockwise, a first-of-its-kind time orchestration platform. Using artificial intelligence, Clockwise helps you and your team find the best times to meet, while also creating uninterrupted blocks of Focus Time in everyone’s schedules.
It’s the perfect solution for teams that meet regularly and still want time for deep work. Plus, it’s the only ChatGPT-powered calendar that lets you use natural language to manage your calendar.
Just connect it to Google Calendar, input your preferences, and watch as Clockwise:
- Frees up time in your schedule to focus on what matters most to you
- Reschedules meeting conflicts without the dreaded back-and-forth
- Optimizes your calendar to reflect your preferences (e.g. what time of day you prefer to have your meetings, when you like to take your lunch break, etc.)
- Protects your most important routines and habits, like walking your dog or meditating, via smart holds
It’s free to get started with Clockwise — just make sure you use your work Gmail account at sign-up. Premium plans start at $6.75 per user per month, billed annually.
Image source: Zapier
Zapier is a no-code automation platform that connects over 5,000 apps. Since it’s compatible with so many apps, from productivity to CRM platforms, you’re certain to discover an automation that works for you. If you’re someone who uses an overwhelming number of apps, Zapier is great because it’ll bring cohesion to all your tools.
Zapier calls their automatic workflows “Zaps.” To create your own Zap, start with an app, then choose a trigger and action. For example, maybe you want to automatically send an email to people who fill out the online forms on your webpages. You’d start with Typeform, then set your trigger as “new Typeform entry” and your action as “send email in Gmail.”
It’s a simple way to get your apps talking to each other without any manual data entry. Just note that this “talking” isn’t real-time. Depending on your Zapier plan, Zapier transfers data between your apps every one to 15 minutes.
Zapier is free to use for single-step Zaps and up to 100 tasks per month. Paid plans start at $19.99 per month when billed annually.
Image source: IFTTT
IFTTT stands for If This Then That. Like Zapier, it lets you automate tasks through the power of integration. IFTTT is compatible with about 700 apps and services, notably less than Zapier’s selection. The plus side? You pay less for similar features. Zapier charges at least $19.99 per month for 20 automations, including multi-step automations. IFTTT charges only $2.50 per month for the same.
Since Zapier and IFTTT both offer free trials, we suggest trying out both task automation tools. You might discover that IFTTT has all the functionality you need. Or, you might find that Zapier is worth their pricing!
IFTTT is free to use for simple integrations and includes two Applets. Paid plans start at only $2.50 per month.
Image source: Slack
Zapier and IFTTT are both considered IPaaS solutions, which stands for Integration Platform as a Service. However, you don’t need a third-party service to automate your workflows. Many apps have built-in automations that you can start taking advantage of today! Let’s start with an app you likely already use — Slack.
Here are a few examples of things you can automate in everyone’s favorite workplace communication tool:
- Send information to a Google Sheet (no more copying and pasting required)
- Schedule recurring messages
- Streamline the onboarding process by sending key information to anyone who joins their team channel
- Automatically turn on Do Not Disturb mode when you’re in a meeting
That’s just a snippet of how Slack lets you optimize your day with workflow automation, either through Workflow Builder or Slack API. Check out Slack’s tutorials and knowledge base to discover even more ways you can automate daily tasks.
Slack is free to use, but you can upgrade to premium features starting at $7.25 per user per month, billed annually.
Image source: Google
Out of all the administrative tasks, email is the most universal, the most mundane, and the most time-consuming. Thankfully, Gmail has several native features that let you bring the power of automation into your daily email workflow.
Our favorite way to automate our Gmail inboxes is by using filters. You’re probably already familiar with the filter that automatically weeds out junk mail and labels it as spam. But, there are so many more ways to filter your inbox, without having to do it manually.
Here are a few examples:
- Automatically forward any emails you receive from Person X to Person Y
- Add “Receipts” label to any email with the words “order confirmation” in its subject line or body
- Mark any emails from Person Z as important
Be sure to check out our full blog post all about Gmail filters here. We’ll break down everything you can do with filters and how to create one in a few simple steps.
Gmail is free to use.
Image source: Asana
Not only is Asana one of the best project management apps out there; it’s packed with features that let you automate your workflows. In Asana, automated workflows are called Rules. And get this — teams who use Asana report that Rules help them save over 70 steps every week. That’s a lot of time saved!
Here are a few examples of what you can automate in Asana:
- Update dependencies when deadlines shift
- Create custom project templates so you don’t have to start your projects from scratch every time
- Standardize the process of submitting and accepting work requests
Along with Asana’s Form Builder, which lets you create custom Rules, there’s also a selection of pre-made Rules and third party integrations that you can start using immediately.
Asana is free to use, but you can upgrade to premium features starting at $10.99 per user per month, billed annually.
Work smarter, not harder — with automation. Modern knowledge workers know how important it is to have tools that help them automate busywork. Chances are that there are several manual tasks in your workload that you can automate today.
To take back your time, start by taking inventory of your day-to-day routines and business processes to identify routine tasks. Automate all the tasks that don’t fall within your Zone of Genius. We recommend starting with scheduling, data entry, and emails. Use task automation software like Zapier or IFTTT, or use the automation features that are built into the tools you’re already using.
- To automate your calendar management, try Clockwise — a time orchestration platform that creates more time in everyone’s day.
- Use Workflow Builder in Slack to automate your everyday tasks.
- To streamline your email workflow, try out filters in Gmail.
- Use Rules in Asana to automate some of the tasks related to project management.
- For everything else, try no-code automation platforms like Zapier and IFTTT.
What will you automate first?