Have you ever said the phrase:
"There's just not enough time in the day,"?
Emails, Slack messages, coworkers striking up a conversation about their weekend getaway - there are dozens of distractions that take us out of our zone during the work day and really hurt our productivity. This stops us from finishing the tasks we need to and ends up causing us to work more often in order to keep up.
With our increasingly connected lives, it's hard to keep work at the office. The benefit of technology, however, is that it is becoming easier to automate simple tasks so you can focus on using your brain to overcome bigger challenges.
There are so many resources available that teach us about automation tools like Zapier and IFTTT. These tools are designed to link apps and services together so you can daisy chain tasks from different providers and avoid having to use multiple apps each time you want to check off a task or set a calendar event.
The downside to these resources is that many of them offer up various solutions with no real chronological progression of how someone might use them throughout the day.
With a great deal of experience in small business environments, I have really come to understand the value of automation - the "set it once and leave it" - in my day to day activities.
Here are 10 ways to automate your workday and help you "find the time" to get on with the things that really matter:
1) Snoozing & Scheduling Emails With Spark
If you're like me and tend to miss emails, especially if they come in after hours, there are several email clients that offer a Snooze feature - the ability to move an email from your inbox to a different folder and have it re-notify you at a specified time (ie. move that email you received at 11:34 pm so it re-enters your inbox at 8:30 am when you're ready to start your day).
The Snooze feature is great for long emails that demand your limited attention at a time when you don't have the capacity to address it.
Spark is a great email client that offers this feature, among many others.
Scheduling emails is also useful in instances where follow up is needed. If you're a busy salesperson or sometimes you think of something but it's not ready to be emailed out yet, you can pre-set emails to go out at specific dates/times.
I use this feature when following up with vendors and coworkers on a project before I get busy again and forget about what I asked for.
There are several apps (Airmail & Spark are my favourites) that do this and Outlook for Windows 10 offers this feature, as long as the client is running.
The downside to Airmail is that it only works with Gmail and Exchange accounts, whereas Spark works with any email account. Just set it and forget it.
2) Scheduling Text Messages with Scheduled
Have you ever said "I'll give you a shout tomorrow morning" but got wrapped up in something else and forgot about it?
In instances where text messages and IMs are commonplace throughout the workforce, scheduling messages is a great way to avoid forgetting to text someone the next day.
Scheduled lets you pre-compose a message, pick a date and time to send it, and select multiple recipients to send it to.
The free version will notify you that a message is scheduled and will allow you to manually send it to a variety of platforms (iMessage/SMS, Whatsapp, Email, Facebook Messenger etc.) at the scheduled time.
The paid version ($2.49/month) will allow you to enable auto-send so you can truly "set and forget".
I use Scheduled when I need to text a coworker an address when I know they're on their way to a meeting or to text a client to find out what time of day works for a meeting.
3) The Autoresponder
The infamous "Out of Office" email that you get when you're nearing a deadline and the only contact you have with your main supplier responds to your request with an out of office message.
The main use for an autoresponder email has typically been to notify contacts that the person is away from their office, on vacation, traveling, etc. so you're not left wondering why they are ignoring you.
Another use for the autoresponder is to provide a series of resources to the people who email you in order to hopefully address their request in a more timely fashion.
In small to medium businesses, employees who have been there a long time typically become the main point of contact for the outside world. This doesn't change even when the employee moves to a different position or department, and they are often inundated with emails making requests for things that are no longer their responsibility.
When I worked for a simulation company, I was the most knowledgeable person when it came to how the systems worked and how to troubleshoot issues. Having a customer service background, I was frequently given the support cases to handle as I could typically deal with them much more efficiently.
When I moved into management, I was still being contacted by customers asking for me to provide support. As my time was now spent handling other tasks, I wanted to avoid leaving my clients waiting for long periods without a response.
I set up an autoresponder that pointed them in the direction of the person who was now handling the support cases. I also included other resources like where sales inquiries could get more information, who to contact for accounting etc.
This freed up my time exponentially as I was no longer having to respond and/or forward emails around the organization manually.
You can also set filter rules (depending on the email client) in order to prevent auto responses from being sent to specific contacts (ie. coworkers).
4) Let Other People Schedule Time with You with Calendly
Another resource you can add in the autoresponder is Calendly.
Calendly connects to your Google Calendar and allows people to book time with you based on the availability you set.
No more "does this time work for you?" or "can we set up a meeting this week?" emails. Let your contacts pick the time that works for them.
You'll get a notification when the meeting is set. It also gives you the opportunity to cancel or reschedule if something comes up.
As a freelancer, this is particularly useful when setting meetings with clients. If they want to see you, they can email you and book a time directly through your autoresponder and you don't have to do anything.
5) Automatic Proofreading
I'm using the tool right now to write the first draft of this post. Grammarly is a free online tool that proofreads your text as you write and suggests corrections for both spelling and grammatical errors. There is a paid version, but if you're a confident writer to begin with, the free version is more than enough.
Grammarly also integrates into Windows, MacOS, most web browsers and even email clients like Outlook so you can spellcheck on the fly. There is even an iOS keyboard that offers spelling and grammatical fixes on your smartphone.
When I'm composing blog posts, long email pitches, or writing copy for marketing materials, it's so important to have a second set of "eyes" look over your work and make sure everything is professional and error-free. It cuts your editing time in half and lets you get content out more quickly.
Those are some free and easily accessible suggestions to automate your workday. They are tools that I use every day and have completely changed my habits to make me more productive and free up my brain resources for higher level tasks.
In future, I will be exploring scripting automation and provide some tutorials/resources to set up things like automatic email attach-and-send folders, automatically generated memos and newsletters using Google Forms, and even explore virtual assistants like Fancyhands and Amy Ingram.
Productivity is important. As a business owner, I understand the challenges around resource and time management. My goal is to experiment with all the tools available so I can help my clients get more out of their day.
How do you automate your workday to make your life a little bit easier? Leave us a comment below!