When you think of automation, you may think of think of car manufacturing where robots are putting pieces of a car together. This is very accurate, but is only part of the picture.
Automation is anything where you can make something happen without your intervention. If you actively go check the weather on your phone every morning a simple form of automation to improve this process might be to setup a notification at the time you would like to receive it (like if you are going to work and would like to know if it will rain on the way there or on the way back). This fixes two issues. #1 you now don't need to remember to go find the information by opening an app or Googling it and #2 it reduces the overall effort you have to make to get simple maintenance tasks completed so you can concentrate on more in-depth problems.
This blog is mostly concerned with how it relates to small business, but More Done's goal is to make people happier overall as well. So I will give a few non-work related candidates that, if implemented, would help you at work as well.
PERSONAL AUTOMATION IDEAS
We'll take a look at a few areas where I think most people could stand for a bit of improvement and then go into a few niche and personal examples to try and help you generate a few ideas of your own.
To begin, most people probably don't have a personal todo list with a list of recurring tasks to prompt you to do things like sweep the floor weekly, a monthly tasks to do a check-in with your personal finances or check if the roof needs repair every 5 years.
The more tasks like this that build up, the more difficult it will be to start the task and get it done. So a solution to this could be to find a todo list system that works for you. There are plenty of physical planners and digital system out there for you to choose from. I might suggest Passion Planner to be a good physical system and Todoist or Asana to be excellent digital todo list systems.
Assuming you are using a digital system, most systems including a recurring function where every X amount of time, the task will pop up in your system and remind you to get it done.
Notice in your regular financial review that someone seems to be committing fraud under your name or that your roof was damaged from a recent storm and you can now submit a claim with your insurance. The faster you can head issues like this off, the easier it will be to maintain your overall system. With this simple process, you will begin to prevent issues from popping up.
BUSINESS AUTOMATION IDEAS
I'll start with some health related automatons. Using Rescuetime, get an alert when you have worked for 8 hours and have Fitbit open up in your browser automatically, prompting you to review if you have exercised enough for the day or not. Rescuetime's blog has some excellent posts about how exercise can affect your mood and willpower.
I will be going more in depth about Rescuetime soon, but it is a tool for tracking your time. With this tracking data you can make more informed decisions based on how you spend your time when making improvements to your workflows.
Rescuetime has a nice feature where you can set it up to remind you after a certain number of hours of to finish up your work and then set a webpage to open with something like your todo list. This simple step of displaying what you need to try to finish for the day could be an invaluable reminder to get back on track so you don't need to stay late at work. Or can help plan your next work day a bit more intentionally, knowing what did and did not get done today.
Macros may feel a bit more advanced, but they can be huge time savers for just about anyone. If you have ever found yourself doing a repetitive task where you are copying/pasting, rather than having to switch hand positions to reach the C and the then V on the keyboard, you could just map those keys to a separate macro keypad. Then you are hitting 2 keys rather than 4 to do an operation. This reduces the amount of work by half, allowing you to concentrate just a little bit deeper on the actual content you are manipulating. There are several excellent macro keypads and keyboards out there, and you can even find laptops feature a dedicated row mac macros, such as the Alienware 15 R3.
+ Track web page changes
If you need to monitor a website for changes so you can make a purchase as soon as it goes on sale, or you are waiting for a 'we're hiring' button to appear, rather than going to the website and manually checking yourself, you can set something up like Distill Web Monitor to send you a notification when a change occurs.
+ Auto transcribe your audio notes
I personally take a lot of audio notes on my phone. It's easier and faster many times to record a quick note and listen to it later when I am logging things into my todo list.
My setup is like this: first I record a note. Once I reach a wifi network it will upload that note to my Google Drive. From there it is downloaded via Google's G Suite File Stream software (the business equivalent to Google Drive) to a PC that is always on. On that PC I have Dragon voice dictation installed, which is always watching the folder that the audio notes get uploaded to. It then automatically attempts to transcribe the notes and moves the transcription and audio file to a completed folder.
This reduces the number of steps I would have to take by X with less effort overall while adding genuinely useful utility to my life.
+ Automatic leads
We offer web design services. Occasionally we will look for businesses with no website and let them know about our services.
In my CRM, Agile, when I add the tag #nowebsite a deal is created with the potential value of that website, a follow up task to call and email is created and then I follow up with them based on the dates of the tasks that is automatically generated. It's a simple workflow, but if I am contacting 5 leads in a day and it takes me 5 minutes in accurately input the info for each person but it takes just 1 second for the computer to do, I have saved 25 minutes. I could use this time to contact more leads, or just concentrate on other tasks.
+ Base CRM, Highrise etc
A bit of a more advanced workflow I have used for a client to better keep track of their leads, is this:
First they let us know, using a form, that they are interested in the service the client is offering. Then an email is sent out with the pricing of the service and scheduling information. They are logged on the client's CRM, assigned a task to follow up with the potential customer personally, assigned a tag for the service they are interested in, putting all of the information you need in one place, without having had to input the initial information and then move it over from one place to several other places.
With this same workflow, their contact info is also automatically ported over to Google Contacts, and more in order to make their information readily accessible.
+ Website updates
When you are running a small business it can be tough to keep track of all of the different aspects of what you are doing. If you are writing, like I am now, I am probably not keeping tabs on my website analytics. So the fewer things you have to manually go and check, the better. So maybe each week I receive an email with my website's performance in Slack, or it is logged in an excel spreadsheet. Or maybe if the performance number meets a certain threshold, a reward of some sort is triggered.
+ Social media
Sharing everything you are creating and working on might be tough on social media, but we're told we should do it. So you can help augment your posts by posting your RSS feed into Buffer, which can then share everything out. You can still create your micro content, like quotes from the post, etc and any behind the scenes, but sharing the actual post can reduce the amount of work you have to do quite a bit.
+ When you mark a deal as 'won' in your CRM, create a contact on your invoicing solution
If you use a CRM, and you probably should be, when you mark a deal as won, you can then create a folder in Google Drive to storage files related to the client, input their information into Quickbooks or Xero and assign yourself a task in your project manager to complete whatever the next step that you normally would take.