If you are lucky enough to have the kind of job (and life) where every day is a new beginning, full of new adventures and new mountains to conquer, never repeating the same thing twice -- well, um...I would like be you. Although, I think you might be a hippie.
For the rest of us, though, there’s a lot of unbelievably repetitive and time-consuming stuff we do in our work and everyday lives...completing routine tasks and writing the same emails or reports over and over ad infinitum. And then we get up the next day and do it again.
When I really paid attention to it, I realized I was fed up with being a slave to my repetitive tasks and bad habits--and in this day and age, there is simply no excuse for this. There had to be a better way. Haven’t a million Silicon Valley startups been launched for just this purpose?
Accordingly, I vowed to eliminate time-wasting tasks and pointless repetition in 2019 through the power of automation and computation.
So, every time I find myself doing something long and laborious -- or just plain inconvenient, I’ve been asking myself “Isn’t there a better way?” and then Googling the hell out of it. It’s working out pretty well for me so far. Here are some of the big changes I’ve made in my life in the past month.
1. Clearing my inbox at 3 AM -- without shame.
Yeah, so I like a clean inbox. Also: sometimes I can’t sleep. I used to not be able to clean my inbox at 3 AM, though, because ya know, I don’t want everyone to know what a freak I am. That problem is gone now with Boomerang, a handy little Gmail integration. With boomerang, I can write up my response in the middle of the night and have it sent at a more civilized hour. I look practically normal to the unsuspecting recipients! It’s great. If only I could give the Boomerang treatment to all my other weird habits that I don’t want anyone to know about.
Boomerang Cost: Freeeeeeee
2. Scheduling appointments by magic: Calendly
Emailing back and forth to set up meeting times is so 2000-late. In UX research, where scheduling research sessions with participants is a big part of the job (if you don’t outsource it), it’s a soul-sucking exercise in futility akin to that of Sisyphus. Also, if you don’t do it right, you can lose participants and that’s the last thing anyone needs.
Calendly (calendly.com) is the solution (actually this one is a bit of a cheat for the theme of this article; I’ve been using it for at least a year). It integrates with my Google calendar, so that by clicking a simple link, research participants can quickly and easily see my free spots, figure out what syncs best with their schedule and grab a time to participate in usability research or interviews. The appointments magically go into my calendar. No back and forth. And if someone needs to reschedule, it’s not a huge drag, or a feeling of having to re-do work that was already done -- there’s a link for that, too.
Calendly will also send my research participants a standard reminder 24 hours before their session.
Cost of Calendly for a year: $96. Never forgetting to prepare my participants again: Priceless
3. Typing less...way less
Have I mentioned that I spend a lot of time doing the same thing over and over? I type certain phrases, cut and paste certain links, visit certain locations on the web (or even in my own Google Drive) or share certain information on a daily or multiple times a day basis. Like my calendly link, for example (see above).
Typing all those words was getting to be a bit of a drag, but now I avoid all that through a handy little application called TextExpander (textexpander.com) that allows me to assign shortcut text for the things I type most often.
Rather than typing or cutting and pasting my personal Zoom meeting link with all its annoying slashes and numbers, now I just have to type “zoomlink” and it magically appears. This is especially handy for avoiding those last minute panics when you realize you forgot to send someone the meeting link. Presto! I’ve even used it to create shortcuts for entire phrases that I type most often, for example in emails. TextExpander even alerts me when it notices I’m typing the same stuff over and over...just in case I want to create a snippet.
Cost of TextExpander: Um...free, I think. I guess I’m on a freemium plan for now.
4. Talking more...way more
As voice has taken over my interactions with my iPhone, I’ve realized how much faster it is to just SAY what you want in an email. The Email Dictation plug-in for Chrome is supposed to let you do just this, from the comfort of your desktop. Kind of. In practice, I’ve found it’s a little buggy and not quite ready for primetime. I’m still waiting for the perfect solution to this. Anybody? Bueller?
What is truly LIFECHANGING, however, is Voice Typing in Google Docs. I mean seriously. I can now dictate documents in a fraction of the time and carpal tunnel syndrome that it would take me to type them out. To use this tool, just pay a little visit to the Tools menu and select Voice Typing while editing a Google Doc in Chrome. You’ll never go back.
Email Dictation plug-in: Free (you get what you pay for, I guess)
Voice Typing in Google Docs: FREE BUT WORTH SO MUCH MORE (Google, I love you.)
5. Harnessing the robocalypse for good
The robots are coming, the robots are coming! Okay, so the app Zapier (zapier.com) isn’t exactly the singularity or anything, but what it does do is put the power of automation into your hands for some very practical matters. Zapier allows users to build automated workflows connecting applications like your calendar to Slack or email -- and much more.
So far, I’m mostly using this for reminders to trigger other workflows, such as preparing for an event, or mailing a weekly report. It’s handy -- a few less things to remember manually.
I know I’m just at the tip of the iceberg with this one, but I have a good feeling about the potential here. I’m keeping my eyes open for other opportunities to automate. So far, sending myself Slack reminders to reset my sprinklers in the event of a power outage is the most creative I’ve gotten. Stay tuned.
Cost of Zapier: $25 per month. (Guess I better come up with some pretty convincing applications, and soon).