Automation has become a bit of a boogeyman lately. The media says it’s coming after our jobs. That we’re going to be automated out of our livelihoods. But the reality is that humans have been automating tasks for centuries.
Every technological advancement has been made with the goal of trying to make things easier for us. And that means automating basic tasks to free up space for more deep thinking and focused work.
One of the easiest ways you can automate your day to be more productive is to use Zapier.
Zapier allows you to connect pretty much any app you could imagine, and have them trigger each other with simple automation flows called Zaps. (For example, if you want email attachments to automatically be sent to a specific Dropbox folder, there’s a Zap for that.)
So, if you want to harness the power of automation to be more productive, what can you do?
3 rules that will decide if you should automate a task
Before we dive in, let’s remember what our favorite superhero’s uncle said about the responsibility that comes with great power.
It’s easy to just jump in and think that any personal productivity automation will give you more free time.
But you really need to make sure that you’re being intentional about the task you’re automating. And that putting it into an automation doesn’t create more issues than it solves.
The best place to start is by taking out a pen and paper and asking a couple of simple questions:
- What is the problem I’m trying to solve?
- What am I current doing to get there?
This is your workflow. It’s what you ideally want to automate. But to see if it’s a good candidate for being automated, you need to see if your workflow meets all 3 of these criteria:
- The task doesn’t need your attention to get done (i.e. you could do it in your sleep)
- It is time consuming
- The process doesn’t require too much personalization or finesse
If it does, it’s probably a good candidate for being automated.
For example, let’s say you want to quickly set up phone calls with people you met at a conference. Your problem and current process might look something like this:
Problem: I have trouble remembering to reach out to new contacts and then setting up a time for a catch-up call that works for both of us.
Current process: Go through business cards (or contact list). Reach out to each contact with an email reminding them of who I am and asking them for a catch-up call. Waiting for response. Sending emails back and forth until we find a time that works for both of us. Setting reminder for call.
Now, let’s run this workflow through our criteria:
- Does it need our attention to get done? Nope. In fact, I’d rather this runs in the background.
- Is it time consuming? Sure is. There’s a lot of unnecessary back and forth just to do a simple follow up.
- Does it require much personalization? It could. But it doesn’t have to. Writing a generic email reminder for all these follow ups is probably just as good as writing each one individually.
In this case, it looks like we’ve got a workflow that’s a good candidate for automation.
In fact, if you want to see how RescueTime CEO Robby MacDonell set up this networking hack, he runs through how you can do it here.
7 ways to automate productivity to help you stay focused and hit your goals
There are so many ways you can automate parts of your day to be more productive. But it can be hard to always know where to start.
We reached out to a number of users to find out how they use RescueTime and Zapier together to automate getting more work done, staying focused, and blocking distractions when their willpower is low.
Automate productivity by blocking distracting websites during a Pomodoro session
The Pomodoro method is one of the most used productivity tools for effective time management. If you’re unfamiliar, the method is basically just two steps:
- You work for 25 minutes
- Take a five-minute break.
It seems simple, but knowing that you have a five-minute break coming helps you make the most of your 25 minutes of work. If you think that you need to stay focused for hours, you’re more likely to skip straight to goofing off instead of getting the work done.
Where it fails, however, is that we don’t always stay focused for the full 25 minutes. But by connecting PomoDone—a simple browser extension—with RescueTime, we can make sure we stay productive throughout the full session.
Use this Zap to automatically set a distracting website blocking FocusTime session when your pomodoro timer starts.
Block interruptions by automatically showing teammates when you’re doing focused work in Slack
To do meaningful work or get into flow, we need long periods of uninterrupted focus time. However, it’s often hard to communicate this to teammates.
Interruptions happen whether we want them to or not, and can quickly knock us out of our deep work session.
With this Zap, you can automatically update your status in Slack when a RescueTime FocusTime session kicks off. Meaning your teammates know that you’re heads down and won’t respond as quickly to their messages.
Stay committed to your goals by tracking the work you finish every day
What have you done this week? It’s such a common question, but the route to an answer is generally a tedious review of to-dos ticked off, emails sent, and projects completed.
And unfortunately, while most project management apps make it easy to see what’s up next, they are less clear about what’s already been accomplished.
But to stay motivated to hit our goals, we need to see progress. And tracking what you’ve done is a great place to start.
“Trello is my go-to tool for what I need to be doing in the future, but RescueTime is the place I like to store the definitive list of what I’ve done,” says RescueTime CEO Robby Macdonell.
With this Zap you can connect Trello with RescueTime so that every time you drag a card to your “Done” list, that event is recorded as a daily Highlight in RescueTime.
If you’re not a Trello user, you can also connect apps like Todoist, Harvest, and Asana to post completed to-do lists to your daily RescueTime highlights.
Use automated accountability to stick to your productivity goals
It’s so much easier to be productive when you know someone is checking in on you. Yet most accountability partners or apps rely on you to manually enter what you’re doing every single day. (and who’s going to do that, especially when they know they dropped the ball?)
With this Zap, you can have Zapier automatically text or email friends and people in your “accountability group” whenever you spend too much time on distracting sites and apps in a day. This way, you get the support you need, when you need it, without even asking.
See how much time you’re (actually) spending in meetings every week
Meetings are the bane of productivity. At their best, they’re a mild distraction. While at their worst, they take over your entire day.
Yet it’s often hard to really understand how much time they’re taking up in our schedules.
With this Zap, you can automatically log any Google Calendar event with the text ‘Meeting’ or ‘Call’ to your RescueTime Highlights. This way, you’ll have a clear view of how often these tasks are taking up time in your day and your week.
Automatically block distracting sites during scheduled focus sessions in Google Calendar
What gets scheduled, gets done. Yet while many of us are good at setting aside time for meaningful work in our daily schedule, we don’t always stick to our intentions.
With this Zap, you can automatically trigger a RescueTime FocusTime session and block distracting websites whenever you schedule ‘Writing’ or ‘Coding’ or even ‘Deep Work’ into Google Calendar.
Simply schedule the work you want to be doing, and we’ll make sure you do it.
Build better habits by automatically tracking your progress
Habits are the foundation of a productive life. But because 40% or more of our habits happen unconsciously, it can be hard to track whether or not we’re keeping up with the ones we want (or getting rid of the ones we don’t!)
While it’s not as easy as some of the other automations we’ve outlined, RescueTime user Ben Doherty wrote this great post on how to connect RescueTime with Habitica—an app that rewards you for working towards building better habits.
For example, if you’re trying to spend less time on social media, you can set a RescueTime goal for time spent on social media and then automatically score it on Habitica.
This automation takes a bit of work, but Ben has put together a guide here.
Set smarter schedules by automatically tracking how you spend your time
One of the hardest parts about time management is knowing how you actually spend your time. And while RescueTime gives you great insights into where your time is going each day, it’s sometimes useful to see that data against how you planned on spending your day.
With this Zap, you can automatically push your RescueTime daily summaries to Google Calendar. This way when you look back on how you spent your week, you get a full account of your daily productivity across devices on your calendar.
How do you automate your productivity?
Automation is a powerful tool in our quest to do more with less time and effort.
Have you found any ways to automate parts of your day to be more productive? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.