How To Automate Everything
Look at this Inbox:
Can you imagine if that was your desk and those emails were physically there as paper? It’d be a HUGE mess!
Now let’s have a look at my Inbox…
Calm. Relaxing. Clean.
Now the initial knee-jerk reaction to this is to believe I’m “different” to the other person (or you) and that I rarely receive emails, or haven’t had my address for very long, or just did a massive clean-up five minutes ago. But all that’s bullshit.
I’ve had that Gmail address since the beta days of Gmail when you had to score a special invite in order to gain access to it (yeah, if you youngens don’t know what I’m talking about I’ll just show myself to the old-persons home already…). That was 11 years ago, that email address is my main private email account and I even have all MTM and other work emails come into it. But it still looks like that about 99% of the time.
I don’t like wasting my time doing irrelevant things, it’s why our house has never had a functioning TV* in it. So over the years I’ve built up system after system of efficient ways of handling all sorts of everyday tasks and problems that commonly crop up. Problems like email.
These systems are critical in pushing aside all the day to day crap that comes in so that I have the time to focus on the various projects I work on whether that be writing to you now or plotting to mutilate our mortgage all those years ago. It’s also what allows me to constantly keep an eye on our expenses and make sure none of them sky rocket out of control.
So here are some of the top ways I deal efficiently and automatically with everyday tasks. Apply some, free up some time and then use that time to focus on learning how to push more of your precious income towards your mortgage!
You may or may not know about Google Inbox but it’s a fantastic product by Google. If you have a Gmail account, you have access to it, just go to http://inbox.google.com. Inbox is email reinvented for the new web. Its main focus is on getting your Inbox to the empty status upon which you see that bright yellow Sun and sky image above. It does this in a number of ways but one of my favourites is the “Snooze” button.
Snooze allows you to get emails out of your Inbox and not worry about them until a time (or place) that you want it to come back. I mostly use this to do follow ups where I send an email to someone and Snooze it for 2 days. If they haven’t replied by then my email will reappear alerting me that they still haven’t responded and that I need to send a follow up.
Inbox also has a lot of AI smarts to make everyday tasks quicker and easier like grouping similar emails, auto-pulling out specific tracking links or calendar events and even grouping all your travel emails together and auto suggesting quick replies.
It all adds up to an experience that is vastly quicker and easier than Gmail and Gmail isn’t exactly a slow email client!
Most know about Drive or it’s equivalents like iCloud or Dropbox but the benefits are the same. One place, one single source of truth for all your documents. I moved everything to Drive a few years ago and I cringe anytime I see others with files and folders sprawled across five devices and with duplicates and folders everywhere.
I have one service that syncs with all my computers and backs up to the cloud all for free without lifting a finger. It’s always organised, always up to date and I never have to spend any time or effort managing it. It just works. This is a HUGE time saver and even allows me to access all files from all of our history from anywhere while on my phone too which can often provide critical info for numerous things.
Long ago I realised that there are far too many things to do and that humans work far more efficiently when we focus on one thing at a time. If you don’t believe this simply try to do any two tasks at the same time and time yourself. Now do the same two tasks separately and time yourself again. The vast, vast majority of the time doing the tasks separately will be far quicker and more accurate, especially for medium to high level complex things. Ever tried reading and writing at the same time? What about talking on the phone while you do a simple math calculation? It usually doesn’t end well and this observation scales right up to bigger goals in your life as if you have too many ongoing projects it just ends up being counter productive.
This has resulted in me only ever focussing on a maximum of 3 simultaneous goals in my life at one time. These are new, big things that I’ve come up with for whatever reason. Older tasks or skills that I’ve long mastered aren’t included (such as eating healthily) as they’re already now easy for me to do but those 3 new goals/tasks get put at the top of the list in my Google Keep app. This helps constantly remind me what my top three priorities should be any time I look at my phone. Keep is also a fantastic note keeper with a bunch of very good features like being available on desktop and mobile, modern and easy to use, being able to attached links or images and more. One fantastic new feature they added a while back is that you can share notes with other people.
So now we keep our Shopping List on there and can easily add/remove items without pestering the other. It also means it’s accessible from anywhere at anytime so if DW is at home and adds milk to the list and at the same time I spontaneously decide to pop into the supermarket I can easily see that we need it and pick it up. No more bits of paper or lists stuck on the fridge or forgetting the list at home or even having to have paper full stop.
There’s two types of people in the world. Those who know what RSS is and those that don’t.
If you do, chances are you either know about or use Feedly so you can skip this part. If you don’t, Feedly is a news aggregation site. It combines various news “feeds” (or RSS feeds (Rich Site Summary)) into one location. So rather than checking out The Verge… then browsing over to your local newspaper site… then browsing to your favourite blog (it’s MTM right??)… then…
Instead of spending hours individually going to 20 different websites everyday or however often you read news and events, you enter in all those RSS feeds into Feedly once and it aggregates them ALL in the one place and in a super efficient way of processing them.
As you can see above, there’s 20 articles from four different sites just in this one small screenshot. You can scan through all 20 pieces in a few seconds reading their heading and a small snippet of what they are without even opening them. You can bookmark any that seem interesting or just mark them all as read and move on. Even quicker, if there’s 10 sites that haven’t posted anything new since the last time you checked, nothing will appear so you’ve just saved all that time from going to all 10 sites and going “ah… there’s nothing new here” and leaving again.
I’m quite the fan of reading new and exciting bits of information and read from over 25 different websites on a wide range of topics. One of those sources alone (a publisher of new scientific papers) usually generates around 60+ posts per day and yet Feedly allows me to review all of it and pick out the meaningful parts in about 2-3 minutes each day.
There are similar experiences you can get with Facebook or Google+ that allow you to “follow” sites or people you like and aggregate their posts, but RSS has been baked into everything since the beginning and while that cool website might not post on Facebook… there will always be an RSS link built in automatically. Other huge benefits over Facebook or Google+ is that there are no ads getting in the way, the posts are ordered by time not some unknown and likely biased algorithm and as shown above, it’s MUCH more efficient than a giant picture that takes up half your screen for each post. It’s also a lot easier when you’re on your phone and uses loads less data too.
IFTTT / Tasker
IFTTT (If This Then That) is a fantastic, free online service that easily links together a whole bunch of “smart” devices. One of the main things people use it for is for Smart Home type scenarios but it goes even further than that. We use it for a bunch of daily, normal tasks such as:
- Turning lights on/off in the morning automatically
- Turning lights on automatically just before sunset (also helps pretend we’re home if we’re not)
- Turning all the lights off when I plug my phone in at night
- Helps out with automating some blog related tasks
It gets even more powerful if you combine it with Tasker on your phone. There’s definitely a small learning curve to begin with but it’s well worth it. Even super simple tasks like automatically silencing (and then turning the volume back up again) when I am at work is fantastic. It also automatically starts playing music whenever I plug my headphones. These aren’t ground breaking or anything but as they all build on top of each other it just makes life quicker, easier and allows you to focus on more important things.
Obviously the more “smart” devices you have the more things you can link into and connect. Automatically locking/unlocking your doors when you leave/come home, automatically heating or cooling the house, automatically watering plants, logging temperatures, brewing coffee etc etc. Humans are very predictable creatures and although it may seem a bit “lazy” to automate turning a light on and off it’s something we actually spend a LOT of time doing throughout our lives and there’s no reason to do it manually anymore!
You can go quite far if you have a Fitbit that detects when you’re in bed allowing such automation like logging you sleeping hours, turning things on/off when you get into/out of bed. You can also automate social media tasks where it will automatically post your message to Twitter and Instagram (or whatever) at the same time. It will even alert you when you need an umbrella or can start flashing your home lights red everywhere if smoke is detected in the house. There are hundreds of connected sites and devices and it’s an indispensable service once you start using it.
Automatic Payments / Investments / Direct Debit
Finance should be simple. It should also be automatic as that way you can just focus on having a fun, exciting life and always know in the back of your mind that you’re doing THE best thing for your financial future. The first step to this is taking stock of your recurring bills (there’s hopefully not too many!), make a quick list of them and then go through each of them and make sure they’re all delivered to you online not through the mail. This will often save you money (as many now charge for paper bills) but it also makes your life quicker (as no getting letters, opening them up, filing them away etc) and safer as it prevents people being able to steal them from your letter box and then use them to steal your identity. Other benefit are that digital copies can be easily saved and stored forever and ever in case you need to know how much electricity or phone calls you make in the future.
Once you have them all coming in via email most of them should really not change that much. Your monthly Internet bill, your monthly phone bill, your yearly rates bill etc should all be pretty much the same each time and can be automatically directly debited. Some other less often and possibly variable ones like car insurance you might want to intentionally NOT automate so that you can review then each time. The bulk however should go like this: Email received with bill, you look at it, it looks normal, archive and forget and it automatically gets paid.
Simple, secure and very quick.
Similarly your savings, investments or mortgage payments should all be fully automatic each pay cycle as I’ve discussed many times before. All up it can take a few weeks to sort out and organise but generally it’s WELL worth it. Eventually you’ll essentially just never have to deal with “bills” anymore nor with having to worry about savings for the future etc, it will all just be done automatically for you and at the most optimal settings you’ve chosen.
The End Result
It takes time to set each of these things up but the time they eventually save is a huge win. They effectively allow you to do all your everyday tasks in either no time at all or a mere fraction of their original time. Whilst the time saved is fantastic the brain drain you avoid is even better, allowing you to focus more on those main big goals each and every day. Plus like many other things in life the benefit you get helps you build up even more of the same benefits leading to you being able to make huge strides while many others are still stuck in the mud. For example not wasting an hour every day manually browsing to 25 individual sites for my “news” I can use that time to build up my skills and achieve even greater things.
The flip side to this is that I’m always looking for other fantastic automation tips so if you’ve got any good ones that you use daily shout them out in the comments below, I’d love to hear!
*We do have a giant screen in our living room… but it has no aerial or digital receiver box so it’s incapable of receiving any broadcast TV station. We also don’t have cable or Netflix or any other online TV service. We also don’t download TV shows either. There might be the odd movie watched once every month or two but that’s about as much as our “screen” gets used.