Buried under emails, expense reports, meeting requests, and dozens of other administrative tasks, everyone has that little voice in their heads wishing their to-do list could vanish or magically get completed for them. With automation, that wish may be granted.
Take Reddit user FiletOfFish1066. In 2016, he claimed to have automated his entire job as a programmer: “In the past six years I have maybe done 50 hours of real work,” he admitted. “So basically nothing.” While it may sound like he was living the dream, he actually forgot how to code and eventually got fired.
If there is one thing that FiletOfFish1066 can teach us, it’s that automation can be a powerful way to save time at work (though obviously it should never be a replacement for actually doing your job).
What is task automation?
Task automation is a type of software you can use to finish work activities faster by consolidating processes and reducing manual labor needed to create a task. Automating tasks helps to improve workflow, accuracy, and efficiency.
How automation can help you work faster
All those three-minute tasks you repeat throughout the day take a toll on your productivity. You may find yourself creatively spent, unable to come up with new ideas or see things from a different perspective. Or, you may just burn out and look for shortcuts, which can lead to mistakes, recklessness, or avoidance.
This mental strain has a name: decision fatigue. The more choices you make, the harder each one becomes for your brain.
Automation can free up your time and mental energy to focus on things that matter. Instead of thinking about how to respond to an email, you can brainstorm impactful ways you can improve your product, service, or customer experience.
Here are six ways to automate simple work tasks:
1. Sort and respond to emails
On average, workers receive 200 emails each day and spend two and a half hours reading and replying to those emails. It’s no wonder that inbox zero has become the ultimate goal, and with some easy automation tricks, it seems more attainable.
First, set up smart labels in Gmail or rules in Outlook to automatically sort emails you receive based on sender or keywords. Even better: if you’re an Evernote Premium user, you can automatically forward your emails into Evernote so relevant messages stay alongside related notes.
For those emails that only need a quick response or acknowledgement, create email templates and canned responses so you’re not typing, “Sounds good!” or “That works for me” every time.
And lastly, use Boomerang, a Gmail plugin, to schedule email responses so you don’t need to remember to follow up.
2. Proofread your work in real time
How embarssing is it to make a typo in an email, blog post, or (gasp) on your website? Keyboard slips are all too common, and while you can have coworkers proofread important content, they probably don’t have time to edit every single thing you write.
Browser extensions like Grammarly and After the Deadline automatically correct mistakes like contextual spelling errors, incorrect grammar, or poor vocabulary usage. For more complex proofreading, the Hemingway App identifies long, complex sentences, weak phrases, passive voice, and more.
3. Save time scouring the news
Something as simple as reading the morning news can quickly turn into a black hole of current events. Instead of tracking down relevant stories, have them come to you.
Flipboard’s Smart Magazines learn what you like based on your reading habits and automatically compile stories specifically for you in the app. TheSkimm delivers a daily digest of top headlines into your inbox with a fun and quirky twist.
For more customized news, set up a Google Alert with the keyword you want to monitor. Then, set up a filter in Gmail to automatically forward the message to a dedicated notebook in your Evernote account, where you can read it at your leisure.
4. Leverage AI to schedule meetings for you
You don’t need to wait until you get the corner office to have an executive assistant. AI assistants Amy and Andrew, created by x.ai, schedule all your meetings for you, saving you the endless back-and-forth that easily drains hours each day. There’s nothing to download — simply CC Amy in an email and she will look at your calendar, email with your guest, and send a meeting invite to both of you.
Amy can also help you remember your doctor’s appointment or coworker’s birthday. All you need to do is email Amy with the date, time, and details of the reminder, and she’ll block off your calendar.
5. Create custom automation rules
With Zapier, you can search for your favorite apps (like Evernote), and choose from a list of “Zaps” (integrations), or create your own workflow. For example, creating Trello cards from Evernote notes or creating Google Calendar events from Evernote reminders.
IFTTT also lets you search for pre-built integrations, called Applets, or create your own. To extend Evernote, you could create a draft in Gmail when you add a new note, sync new notes in a notebook to Google Drive, create a draft post in WordPress when you add a new note, and more.
6. Build custom workflows for repetitive computer tasks
Think of that coworker who knows so many computer shortcuts that he or she seems to be using a completely different machine from everyone else. While you may not be that sort of power user, you can get one step closer with custom workflows.
Automator is a tool included in OS X that allows you to automate tasks on your Mac, without needing to learn any programming. With a list of built-in actions, you can quickly create workflows for repetitive tasks like changing file names, resizing images, or backing up important files.
For Windows users, there’s the built-in Windows Task Scheduler. You can create a basic task, select the frequency of that task, and identify the trigger. For example, you could open the same programs each time you log on or delete all files in a folder that are older than one month.
Automation will continue to redefine your job (and that’s a good thing)
Automation is a touchy subject for some people — there’s always the looming fear that someday, robots will come and take your job. There’s no question that automation will continue to change how you work, but it will likely redefine your job — not eliminate it.
According to a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, increasing automation means that new jobs will be created, existing roles will be redefined, and you may even have the opportunity to switch careers entirely.
And, if you do get to the point where you never have to schedule a meeting or respond to an email again, well, that’s just an added benefit.