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When journalist Clive Thompson wrote a book on the art of coding, he felt he had no choice but to learn the craft himself. The first thing that struck him was the tech industry’s obsession with efficiency. When in doubt, he learned, automate it. And soon he began seeing ways he could streamline everyday tasks.  

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“Computers are really good at these automated tasks that humans are terrible at. So when you learn how to code, you immediately start seeing the world as structured into two buckets—the things that people do and things that could be done by machines,” he says.

Not everyone has the time or desire to learn to code, but most of us want to free ourselves from the boring tasks we have to do over and over again. With a bit of planning, you can automate a good chunk of your routine by stepping back and examining the ways you and your teams truly work. 

Think of it as an exercise in mindfulness: yes, you’ll set yourself up to improve your productivity and efficiency. But you’ll get there by taking stock of all your work habits and methods. In the process, you’ll likely uncover routines that don’t work as well as they should but have become so unconscious you don’t even notice.

Here are a few key moments to evaluate for automation opportunities:

Automate your morning–Your first hour on the clock should be on autopilot. It fuels your mind and positions you for maximum efficiency for the rest of the day. Block interruptions by using timers and notifications. Set up your email inbox to flag only messages that must be answered in the first hour. Knock them out.  Turn to the brain food, the fuel that makes you an ace leader. Read two key daily trade newsletters. Comb through your news feeds with RSS or a tool like Flipboard. And at the end of this power hour, trigger your calendar to pop up with the events of the day and a three-day preview. 

Worship workflow–So much of what we do doesn’t require much brain power. It feels repetitive because it is. Change it up by designing workflows for your team. Mapping out a set of steps in a sequence in which one action triggers the next is the definition of an algorithm. It’s coding. Then test your workflows to streamline them.

Strategize–It makes no sense to create a workflow without first nailing down the ultimate goal. Start by defining the problem and its cause. Now evaluate whether it’s a good candidate for automation. Ask yourself the following questions: 1) Does the task need your attention to get done? 2) Does it eat up unnecessary time? 3) Does it require minimal tailoring or personalization? If so, it’s probably a workflow you should find ways to automate.  

Pick the right solution–You may not code, but someone else does, and they’ve already come up with an app for that. With a solid strategy in hand, you can choose the ideal products to facilitate workflow and set up your automation. Be sure team members understand how to use it.

Prioritize–What are the most important task to complete right now? They’re not necessarily the most pressing deadlines. Devise a system to help you rate urgency of tasks and objectives. Additionaly, seek out apps that will help you prioritize your project according to your organization’s KPIs.

Neutralize Distractions–It’s helpful to reflect back at the end of the day or week on what hampered your ability to get work done. How can those impediments be routed around or eliminated? For instance, some communication tools that purport to increase efficiency can themselves become a time suck. Slack and Skype promise easy collaboration, but they offer many avenues to become sidetracked and divert your attention from what you should be focusing on. A more purposeful project management solution like Clarizen One can facilitate efficient communication without the potential distractions.

All it takes is a few steps and then boom. Done. Your life just became easier.

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