When you use the best tools to automate those everyday tasks which are essential to functioning, but low value and time-consuming, automation can be your best friend. It’s an affordable and accessible way to work smarter by reducing time spent and eliminating human error (which is also costly on time, not to mention frustrating!). Automation is particularly successful when you use it to execute a boring task to a much higher standard, delivering better outcomes for you … and your business.
Automating Your Email
On average, a typical worker can receive around 200 emails per day. This can translate to hours spent in your inbox rather than focusing on productive work.
But your inbox is one of the easiest places to automate.
You can set up smart labels in Gmail and rules in Outlook to automatically sort your emails into set folders based on keywords and senders. It’s also helpful to create email templates or canned responses to expedite the time it takes to respond to emails that don’t require much thought. This also improves consistency and means those that receive your template response get your best work.
There are many available plugins and AI tools you can use, like SaneBox, Plicca or Boomerang. They can learn your email habits and make smart suggestions for efficiency, and you can set them to schedule emails with ease.
Automating Your Proofreading
There’s nothing like a typo that can have such a subtle but critical impact on the level of professionalism you present. Browser extensions like Grammarly are helpful in automatically fixing basic mistakes like spelling errors, improper grammar, or poor vocabulary choices. Another option is the Hemingway Editor, which offers more complex corrections like identifying overly long sentences, weak phrases and the use of passive voice. This can be a small but mighty change that makes all the difference with some quick automation.
Your documents and email all have built in proofreading tools, just be sure they don’t overwrite your particular nuances. You want your typos to disappear, not your personality!
Automating Scheduling Meetings
How many emails does it take to schedule a meeting!
It gets so frustrating when you’re trying to organise a meeting, and you just continue to go back and forth with the other parties unable to settle on a time and date. And it’s unnecessary. Automating this process can be a very easy solution to this never-ending problem.
You could use something as simple as Calendly to share your calendar and let others choose a time to suit them. With more people to schedule try Doodle, where you can set available dates and share it with the other parties. Then it’s a simple matter of confirming the most popular time, day. The result is more will attend and you’ve saved a multitude of emails or messages.
For the really committed, AI assistants like x.ai work by being connected to your calendar. It provides you with a personalised link to share with other parties so they can select a time according to your preferences, or you can copy and paste time options directly into the email. You could even CC ‘email@example.com’ to the email, and the AI will coordinate with everyone else to find time for the meeting. Memory.ai’s Dewo assistant is another available tool to help you schedule meetings, that has other functions to help your workflow (e.g. notification blocking and time tracking).
It’s also worth noting that you can automate meeting transcriptions through services like Otter.ai. This makes it so no one has to take minutes, and everyone can focus on the meeting itself.
Automating Scheduling Social Media Posts
Scheduling your social media posts is a huge time-saver. Once you’ve finished drafting and checking over a post, it can be a pain to have to wait for the right time to manually publish it to different accounts, but with a tool like Hootsuite, Buffer, Later, or CoSchedule, you can simply schedule it for a time when your ideal audience is likely to engage. Canva Premium also has a scheduling tool meaning you can create your image or video and schedule from within the app.
Automating Scheduling Blog Posts
Like social media, sometimes once you’ve finished writing a blog post (or even better, batching your posts for the month) you may not want to publish right away. Scheduling them as you finish each one means you don’t have to go back and publish later. Here’s two articles showing you how to automate posting on WordPress and Squarespace.
Automating Your Passwords
Having to type in your login information is another task you shouldn’t be doing. It’s not safe and it’s a bad use of your time. Worse it can lead to falling into a one password for all trap. We also advice against using your browser or operating system to automate logins (for security reasons). There are ways to automate logging in while keeping yourself safe online using a password manager like LastPass, Roboform or Dashlane. It will remember your passwords and forms for different sites so you don’t have to, all you need to do is remember the one password for the manager itself.
Read our blog post here for more info on keeping yourself secure online by using these tools (and more).
Automating Accounts & Payments
Automating those routine bookkeeping tasks you need to perform regularly is a massive time-saver. Everything from sending estimates to payroll and invoicing requires a high level of precision, which can be very boring and draining. You can use tools like QuickBooks or Xero to manage everything in one place where you can keep track of all your finances so nothing slips through the cracks. Another good thing to automate is your employee or contractor’s time tracking so that your employees don’t have to interrupt their workflow to manage timers. Some platforms will even notify you to fill in timesheet gaps. Check out this list from SpendJournal for more info on different accounting automation tools and what to look out for when researching them.
We use rules in Xero to automatically reconcile regular transactions, batches and repeating invoices and payments to cut down on time and human error. Marg (who does the accounts for Your VA) then has time to spend looking for improvements rather than spending hours each month on tasks that don’t require ‘human intervention’.
Automating Project Management
While project work itself is something you and your team want to perform yourselves, you can still integrate automation in some areas to help these processes run more efficiently. Tools like ClickUp, Trello, Asana and Wrike improve your workflows and efficiencies around:
- task/file sharing,
- organising schedules/deadlines,
- allowing managers to run multiple projects and teams simultaneously,
- as well as calculating analytics/reports.
For example, ClickUp automatically recurs each of our package client’s projects at the beginning of each month, moving any tasks with an incomplete status to the new project. This is just one example of how we use automation to reduce time spent on routine housekeeping.
For more info on tools that help monitor your operations, check out this blog post here on the best ways to track your business.
You can customise and integrate tools to create a workflow system perfectly suited to your needs. It’s rare to find one tool that will meet all your needs!
One such tool is Zapier, where you can select from an app list to create integrations (zaps) to send data to and from the other tools you use, creating your own personalised workflow. IFTTT also allows you to connect your various apps to one another very easily, as you can search through pre-built integrations.
It’s definitely worth taking some time to play around with your tools to customise them to be precisely tailored to you so that you can make the most out of using these apps.
The Automation Process
Let’s now look at how to get from where you are now, to automated operations throughout your business.
List specific areas you would like to gain back time. Think of where you have the most issues (efficiency, accuracy, output).
Make a comprehensive spreadsheet of all the tasks you do on a regular basis. Sort them into categories and note:
- the average time spent on each task,
- the frequency it needs to be completed (e.g. once a day/week/month),
- the tools you use for them.
If a task is in need of a solution to work better, think about what would ideally resolve those issues and note that down as well.
Ask your team to complete this exercise for their specific department or role to ensure all your operational processes are covered.
Once you’ve done this planning, explore the different tools you use and research possible automations, looking for integrations to reduce manual steps and improve output.
Map out your new workflow with each tool and where the automation fits in. The most crucial step is to test and monitor this new system once you’ve implemented it. You want to continue to test the tools and adjust the custom automations and settings where necessary to optimise these processes.