Automate Me

If 2012 was my year of the iPad, then 2013 is my year of automation. I credit ProfHacker for many things in my development as a technologist, and I am going to add automation to the list.

I started my automation journey slowly. Last year, I began using an online calendar tool called Lizibot to cut down on the number of emails I passed back and forth with students about arranging appointments. It changed my life in a small but measurable way. I wrote fewer emails, students knew right away when they could meet with me, and now – for the class I co-teach – I have a link right to my calendar, so there’s no more messing around with weekly, mercurial schedules for me. Following my foray into Lizibot, I began experimenting with text expansion tools, specifically by downloading TextExpander for iOS. Again, It’s a pleasure to be able to write drafts of emails without having to type my phone number, email address, or standard closing salutations for email.

The next automation wave crested after reading a Profhacker post about IFFT. IFFT is essentially “if this, then that” moderated by a third party. It’s dead easy. The Profhacker post breaks it down well. Since that’s been published, many more time-saving “recipes” have been added to the voluminous library. I especially like the “if I change my profile photo on Facebook, then it changes on Twitter, too,” recipe. But the recipe with the most impact on my working life is the once which states: “if @en appears on my Google calendar appointment, then a meeting note template in Evernote is created.” Thanks to this blog post, I now have a powerful tool to take meeting minutes easily.

Automation might make me sound like a robot, but it allows me work smarter. The meeting notes template is a great example of that. I realized that having a template for taking meeting notes wouldn’t just make me more organized, it forced me to take more effective notes, making the task of acting as minute taker less tiresome. By having predetermined fields like ‘attendees’ to fill in immediately and ‘action items’ to fill in throughout the meeting, I could listen more actively and my notes ultimately would make more sense. And I added a section called ‘to do’ that allows me to remember complementary activities long after the meeting is done. Gone were the panic moments when I didn’t know what was talked about or remember action items I needed to add to a list. Awesome.

Here’s my take on Rubin’s original recipe that I referenced in the first paragraph.

Automation saves me time, but it also gives me something else: headspace. By automating parts of my working life, I have the headspace to think; I have a few extra minutes to daydream, an ability to carve out an outlet to think about my work in new ways. By having those few moments to take a step back and reflect, I can actually think about what’s next, what’s coming, where I want to go, where we need to go. Automation allows me to sit back like the West Wing‘s president Josiah Bartlett and ask: what’s next?