Automate everything (updated)

This is an updated version of something I posted a few months ago, but as some of my automation methods have changed I thought it was worth a rewrite.

I’m a big fan of automating anything that can be automated, and I don’t like having to think about or do the same thing multiple times if there is a way round it. There are two main ways I achieve this:

Firstly – Using forward planning and/or recorded muscle memory to ensure that I don’t have to think too much about things I do every day (my morning routine, walking to work, typing my PIN number, choosing what to wear or what to cook for dinner).

Secondly – Using technology to automate commonly encountered tasks (adding my signature to an email, typing my phone number, taking notes at a meeting etc.)

The first one is fairly straightforward, and involves what I generally refer to as autopilot. After doing something for a certain number of times I find I can do it without thinking too much about it, and that takes all the mental processing out of the equation. Similarly, if I plan things like clothes and food once a week, I don’t have to spend any time worrying about what to eat or what to wear. I also tend to buy clothes in bulk, so that there is very little decision fatigue involved. Once I’ve found something that I like I’ll buy duplicates so that I can (appear to) wear the same things each day, which removes the need to make decisions. I also tend to do like-for-like replacements as much as possible, for things like clothes, headphones, laptops etc.

A lot of my technology automation involves If This Then That, Buffer and Evernote, and I thought it was worth detailing how a few of these work.

If I add a photograph to Instagram, then it is also posted to Twitter and Flickr. This came about because I didn’t like the way Twitter makes you click on a link to see an Instagram picture – this process makes it look like a native Twitter picture instead. Every photo I take on my phone or iPad is automatically synched with Dropbox, and every photo I take with my camera copies to my laptop, and eventually to the USB drive I carry on my keyring. All of this is automated using Carbon Copy Cloner (which is what I use to back up my machines as well).

I have a Google calendar that details all of my work appointments. 15 minutes before each appointment starts a note is created in Evernote with a template suitable for note taking, and also any agenda items or pre-meeting reading. This relies on keeping my calendar up to date and as detailed as possible, but I do that anyway. It’s very reassuring to know that I can open my iPad and find everything I need for a meeting right there on my screen.

I use Buffer to schedule social media posts to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Generally I’ve got Twitter open anyway, but the other two I largely maintain a presence on by copying content from Twitter and/or my blog. I am hopeful Buffer will work with WordPress and G+ soon (it posts to G+ pages, but not to personal streams), at which point it will handle everything I want to publish to the world.

If I write a blog post, then IFTTT adds a tweet with a link to the blog post to my Buffer queue. I want people to read what I write, so it makes sense to let people know that there is new content on my blog.

I have my computer and iPad set up with keyboard shortcuts that will insert my name, email signature, phone number etc. into what I’m writing. Similarly I have dozens of templates set up in the ITSM software we use at work to insert all sorts of text that I have to send out regularly.

Any email attachment I receive is automatically added to a folder in Dropbox, arranged by who sent the email. Most of these emails are only interesting because of what is in the attachment, and I’d rather have that information stored outside the context of the email thread. I occasionally go through these and delete things that are no longer relevant, but they still exist in my backups anyway.

Any document added to a certain folder in Dropbox is converted into an ebook and emailed to the Kindle app on my iPad. I prefer to read longer documents and papers on my iPad, and it means I can use the offline part of my commute to catch up with reading. I can also email any PDF or free ebook directly to my Kindle and/or any instance of the Kindle app I’m running.

At a certain time each evening the whole contents of my computer’s hard drive is copied to an external drive that I keep plugged in to it (using Carbon Copy Cloner). I also use Time Machine, but I find that having a secondary backup source that isn’t reliant on a network connection is very useful. Also, CCC makes bootable backups, which can be invaluable in time-sensitive situations. I also back up my whole music collection to my NAS, as well as having off-site backups using a combination of Crashplan, Dropbox and iCloud/iTunes match. all of these involve persistent syncing of data, or run automatically once a day.

Every time I get a new follower on Twitter, details about that person are added to an Evernote document. I often used to miss new followers just using the Twitter app, and I find this way of doing it puts it a lot more in my face.

Every time I favourite a tweet, the full text of that tweet is copied to an Evernote document. I use this to make a note of interesting things people have said, but also links to articles or music that I want to check out.

Those are just a few examples of automation that I use quite often. I dread to think how much time I used to spend achieving the same results manually, and I would like to think I’ve freed up more time for pursuits that require me to be fully checked in to what I’m doing.