Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man


Using Automation To Centralize Input

Recently, Zapier announced that they would be rolling out a new feature: multi-step automated internet functions they call "zaps." Now, I've written about IfTTT and Zapier before, and if you're plugged into the internet at all, it's possible they can help you automate things that take up your precious time. I'm currently using these programs to auto-generate task lists every morning, and send myself reminders to update the list during the day. I also have an ongoing" to-do list, for things that are long-term projects. If I add an item to my Google tasks, it's automatically added to my Evernote list. If someone follows me on Twitter, they're automatically added to my contact list in Evernote. The goal is to centralize my information input: to conglomerate everything to one portal, where I can look through all the information I need in one place. It could be Google Docs/Keep, or Evernote, or Office 360, or whatever information management program you like. But it should be something that's accessible anywhere, and is flexible enough to manage any kind of information.

But automation is a mixed blessing for me. It opens up a world of possibilities, and I usually spend more time playing with it than actually getting things done. This is especially true when playing with apps like Tasker, Evernote, and AutoKey.

To effectively reduce wasting time and increasing automation, it will require examining everything you do in your daily/weekly routine. For instance: In the morning, my routine changes depending on if I'm driving to work or riding my bike. And what's more, that can change depending on the weather, and if I drive one car or the other! But there are some things that stay the same regardless: I have to lay out my clothes the night before, and prepare anything to bring for lunch. So I can make reminders the night before, and have my phone pop up an alert telling me what the weather's going to be like tomorrow. I can even specify an action if the weather will be rainy, below freezing, or above 100°F.

You can do things like trigger events on your location, or a scheduled time, or if something else is going on. Using Tasker on your Android phone gives you an entire array of tools to use, including voice recognition.

However, one of the difficulties in automating your life is figuring out which tasks can be repetitive. Most people don't even think about it. Things become habit, and we don't even notice that we're doing them.

Think about it: when you get home from work, there's probably a routine you do almost every time. You probably don't even know you're doing it, but people you live with see it, and know your routine. I could simply ask my wife, "What do I usually do when I get home?" and she could tell me exactly what I do, and in which order. So, consider other people a good source of input as to how to figure out your routine.

I'll get more into the actual automation at a later time, but suffice it to say, I need to look into automation again to help organize my digital and physical life. The first step will be organizing my information input to channel it into a single point. How do I do that?

Let's say I want to know whenever somebody mentions me, messages me, or follows me on a social media platform. I also want to track my mileage while riding my bike, get alerts when the weather will be nasty, read current posts by my favorite blogs, listen to podcasts when they come out, and see emails when they come in. I also want to track my to-do lists, and have my reminders pop up when needed- all in the same place.

So I can use a combination of IfTTT, Zapier, and Tasker to conglomerate all of this info into something like Evernote or Google Docs. Then, when I want to see what's happening that day, everything I want to see is right there, and I can just go down the list and deal with it, piece by piece, until the "queue" is empty.

This will allow me to "close the door" on social media for the day, and my brain can then engage in other things, like writing, and spending time with family.

A word on "freemium" services like Evernote, Zapier, and such: so far, I've been able to get by with the free versions of these services for a few years, but I'm not sure how much farther I'll be able to go without subscribing. When I get to that point, I will have to do a cost/benefit analysis and see if it's something worth pursuing.

For now, use the tools you have and get organized!

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

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