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The Benefits of Automation

The Benefits of Automation

Photo by RalphBijker

    Automation is the use of control systems to control processes, reducing the need for human intervention. Putting this into context, automation is having technology do things for you so that you don’t have to.

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    Automation is all around us. When you’re at a set of traffic lights, there isn’t a traffic light operator that decides when to change the light from red to green. It is done automatically. The street lights come on at night automatically. There are no lamplighters running around turning each light on anymore. We can apply this same idea to our own life. Granted, most of us can’t create complex control systems, so we will have to do our best with what is available, but having the most mundane tasks automated will help free up some time.

    The advantages are clear. If every time you checked your e-mails, all the messages had been sorted into folders before you logged on, you save time that you would have previously spent. If your Twitter account posts a message every time you update your website, you save time because you don’t need to do it yourself.

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    If you spend an hour a day doing small tasks like these, you’re wasting a considerable amount of time. Automating these tasks will allow you to be able to work on what you consider is important. All you have to worry about is the technology working…

    A good starting point is to automate the things that we don’t want to spend time doing. Sorting e-mails into folders, de-cluttering your hard drive, updating all of your social media profiles. These little monotonous tasks can begin to take up a significant part of our day.

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    Automating your e-mail sorting is a good first step for many. It is easy to do and there are tutorials for all the e-mail applications that you can think of. Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo Mail, Mail. Find a tutorial on Google and apply it to your computer.

    There are many, many tutorials on automating tasks. From having Gmail automatically sort your emails with labels, or having a program record what you do in Microsoft Office and then repeat that when necessary. Any task that you can think of that is repetitive can be done with a computer. That is one of the purposes of a computer. Carrying out repetitive monotonous tasks so that we don’t have to.

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    A web application that I find very handy is Twitterfeed. Everytime I post an update to my site, Twitterfeed automatically creates and publishes a message with a link to the post. All of my followers are given a link to my blog post without me having done more than publish it. This can be expanded further, as Facebook has an application that will update your Facebook account with your Twitter messages. So when Twitterfeed updates your Twitter account with the post, the Facebook application (named Twitter) will update your Facebook account. Again, all done without any input (apart from the initial setup).

    Ask yourself how you can apply the same idea to all aspects of your day. What do you spend your time doing that you could automate? Free up some time and you could be spending it doing something worthwhile. Let technology do things for you while you get on with the things that are important.

    After you get one task automated, you’ll find others that you can automate too. Having all those small tasks automated will really affect the amount of free time you have. That’s time you can spend doing something you want to.

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    Last Updated on June 18, 2019

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Making Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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