Productivity Challenge Chapter Two – Automation

Hell Yeah , we are moving forward with this second post on the Productivity Challenge!

So far, after 1 challenge, you have saved 45 minutes. What do you think of that? Read it again by clicking here if you want.

You are probably very eager to start and wonder what’s next. Or, if you are a regular human being, your eyes have already been drawn to the giant graphic below and you know what’s coming.

So I won’t delay any more, let’s get on to Challenge No.2!

Save 1 hour per day by adding a small dose of automation to your life

We are in 2014. This means that we have computer servants and robots that can do things for us now.

My goal for today is to introduce you to them. So, Robots, meet . meet Robots!


Step 1 – Install Automatic Filters On Your Email

First thing we are going to do is supercharge your email. We’ll let the robot manage those less than important message your receive.

With every email tool, such as Gmail or Outlook, you can create filters (Microsoft calls them rules). These filters are the robots that will be organizing your mail. To create the filters here are links to the instructions for the most popular email clients:

Now, you know how, but what do you create? Here are the first 4 that you should set up:

  1. All general messages get transferred to a folder named “General Messages” (You can get more creative if you want). General messages are those that are sent to everyone in your organization that might be useful in the future but aren’t needed immediately. They don’t require any reply. An example of this would be the alert that you receive when your company CEO posts on his blog or a message from IT that says that the email system will be undergoing maintenance in a month.
  2. All messages sent directly to you should have a different color (in Outlook) or tag (in Gmail). You could also set it up so that message not addressed directly to you go to a folder named “CC:” That way, you can respond to the emails that are sent specifically to you first. Both 1 and 2 help you categorize your emails according to what we talked about yesterday.
  3. All messages that contain the word “urgent” go to a folder named “urgent” (Again, very creative). You can also send the messages rated as “important” in outlook to that folder. During your email time slots, these are the first messages that you should check.
  4. If you receive regular reports (ie. production schedule, KPIs, etc.) they should go into an appropriate folder so you can check them when you need to. Usually those documents are useful quite a while after they’ve been sent so it’s good to keep them all in the same place.

These filtered emails won’t end up in your inbox. In fact, apart from the “urgent” emails, you probably won’t even need to look at the other folders unless you need some specific information.

Now, go WILD! Set up as many rules as you want, automate your email handling as much as possible, sky’s the limit!

Two last thing about this step. Gmail has a wonderful tool called Priority Inbox. It’s pretty smart at filtering emails for you (without having to set up any rules). Use it if you can. You can find out more about it by clicking here. For those who have been invited, Google Inbox is phenomenal. It can probably replace Unroll. Shoot me an e-mail if you want an invite (depending on when you read this, I might have one).


Step 2 – Automatic Rules For Anything Other Than Email

Now, if you’re like me, you’re feeling like it’s awesome to live in the future and you are wondering how you can use your robot armies to further your conquest of the world. Well, let’s first use them outside of emails.

How do you manage the 20,000 different accounts, programs, webapps that you use every day? Use rules! Specifically, use these two tools:IFTTT and Zapier.

Both of these companies let you set up rules based on this principle: If you take an action on platform A then the program takes some action on platform B. BTW, this is what IFTTT stands for (If This then That).

IFTTT is super simple to use (and free) while Zapier is more well rounded and has a paid version.

Now that you have tools, what should you do? Again, sky’s the limit (check out this list of 101 zaps!) but here are two sets of rules you should set:

  1. Sync your contacts to EVERYWHERE. You shouldn’t have to copy a contact information from your phone, to your email to your customer management system (CMS). Let Zapier do that for you. You can also sync outgoing AND incoming emails to your CMS this way.
  2. Automatically download all attachments to Dropbox (or other similar services. That way you won’t have to search for files when you need them, they’ll already be local on your computer.

Android Bonus: Sorry for those of you who use iPhones but this tool is only available on Android. It’s called Tasker, and it will make you feel like a technological god! It is a bit more complicated to use than Zapier or IFTTT but it’s very powerful. It basically let you add scripts to your Android Phone. Hopefully something similar will be released for the iPhone soon. So, what can you do with it? Well here is a short list (click on them to get the instructions):

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. If you have an android phone, I really encourage you to check it out.


Step 3 – Use Templates

Alright, this step is less high tech than the two previous ones but, it’s also great once you get good at it.

You’ve probably heard and used templates before. Most Microsoft Office products come with some templates and they have more to download on their website.

The real power however comes from making your own. If you look at your clerical actions during the day, you’ll find out that a lot of them are a variation on the same theme. For example, every Monday you send a KPI report to your boss, or a customer asks you what the main features of your product is. These emails or documents can be pre-written and saved as templates. Here are a few instructions for popular programs:

I also want to share another tool related to templates which I find is a huge time saver. It’s a marvelous online software called ToutApp. Like Outlook, you can create templates but this program makes it super easy to apply it to a contact. You can also use it to schedule when the email is going to be sent for maximum impact. Basically, you can use it to prepare your templates beforehand (save time) then write your email in your peak creative time (better writing) and send it when you know your reader is going to open it (more effective).


Further Resources – Want to learn more about the topic?

Here are a few articles that discuss the same subject.

Here is a link to the previous challenge.


Challenge No.2 – COMPLETE! Now we are moving! between the two challenges, you have now saved an hour and 45 minutes. Feeling it yet? And we are only on challenge 2 of 7. What do you think challenge 3 will bring? Here’s a hint: It is one part of the 4th dimension!

As always, if you want to receive my blog posts directly in your email, sign up for the Newsletter here. If you want to join the 7 day challenge email course and get all 7 chapters within a week, you can sign up here.