5 Tasks You Need to Automate to Spend Time on What Matters

I truly cannot stress enough how important it is to use automation in your business. I’d rank it right up there with fear (as a motivator) in terms of how much it affects your output over time.

If you can think of a task which doesn’t require a human to make decisions (the result will always be the same), you can automate it and never have to worry about doing it again.

The only real problem is that until you’ve tried it yourself, business process automation can be both intimidating and seemingly not worth the effort. So, below are five core tasks that I automate which have saved me countless hours and an immeasurable amount of productivity. Take some inspiration and start experimenting!

Saving email attachments

Okay, so while this task isn’t glamorous, automatically saving email attachments to the correct location can be a godsend in terms of saving time.

Rather than having to open up the email, manually downloading whatever attachments are there, then sorting them into your computer or cloud storage, you could have a service like Zapier save the attachment to the relevant location for you.

For example, let’s say that you want to automatically save any family photos you receive by email to a specific folder in Dropbox. With Zapier, you can set it to detect when an email is received from a family member, then have the service automatically pull out any attachments you receive from those family members and save them directly into Dropbox.

This can be extended further to working with teammates, regular clients, and more – if you can think of a situation where you could predict where an attachment needs to be saved (eg, “if the email subject line contains “family photos”), you can automatically manage the entire thing with a minimal setup time.

Generating invoices

Everyone loves getting paid, so why make the process more complicated for yourself?

Invoices are standardized – in order to have an effective log of your income, you’ll want to send the same invoice layout every time you bill an employer or client. However, this also means that a machine (or service like Zapier) could generate the invoice for you.

So, rather than filling the same information in every time you want to get paid, Zapier could detect when you want the invoice (eg, after you complete an invoice generator checklist), create the invoice, and even populate it with the correct data for this particular payment.

After all, you’ve already done the work to get paid, so why waste time you could be spending searching for your next client or working on another task?

Documenting ideas

Our marketing team uses Trello to manage our projects. This means that we have kanban boards full of tasks which are shown as individual cards, making them easy to manage. Unfortunately, when it comes to recording ideas for content or otherwise, it can be a pain to access Trello and create new cards when you’re on the go (which is usually when inspiration strikes).

Instead, we now document our ideas by creating a note in Evernote and tagging it with either “idea” or “blog idea”. Once the note is saved, Zapier picks it up and (depending on the tag assigned) creates a card in the relevant board in Trello, then pastes the content of the note into it.

In other words, rather than having to boot up Trello and create a new card, we can use Evernote’s mobile app to create a new note or even share articles to Evernote and tag them to directly send them into Trello.

Creating new documents

While we’re talking about ideas, one of the biggest friction points we found in our writing process was creating a new document for each piece of content. It sounds trivial, but even something as simple as creating a document can interrupt your writing flow enough to slow you down.

Now when we want to create a new document, all we have to do is move the relevant Trello card into the “Work in progress” column of our blog board. Zapier picks up the move, detects the title and description of the card, then creates a document in Quip with the same title and pastes the card description into the body text.

Better still, Zapier automatically pastes a link to the new document back in the original Trello card, meaning you don’t have to spend time searching for it either. (We wrote on Zapier’s blog about how exactly to do this here.)

Running checklists

The single biggest factor to my team’s productivity is the processes we follow. Without an actionable, trackable, and scalable checklist template to follow and give consistency to our efforts, we’d be cutting corners and wasting time.

Unfortunately, just like with creating documents it can be a pain to have to run a new checklist every time we want to follow a process. This friction makes it all too tempting to avoid running the process until you’ve already started working on the project, which itself leads to all kinds of trouble and missed opportunities.

So instead we trigger our checklists to run automatically. Whether our editing checklist is triggered by moving a Trello card into our “Pre-publish” column or a meeting checklist (to record notes) is launched by us typing “run meeting” in Slack, the possibilities for automatically launching checklists are practically endless.

What tasks do you automate? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Benjamin Brandall is a content marketer at Process Street, where he writes on startups, SaaS, and workflows. In his spare time, he runs Secret Cave, a blog about obscure entertainment and internet culture.