Apps for productivity – how to automate tasks

We’re living in a world with self-driving cars and 3D-printed houses. Are you still manually creating invoices and copy-pasting items to create logs?

Writing scripts to automate tasks requires programming knowledge, but thankfully, there are three super easy to use automation tools that will save you a lot of time and coordination and from human errors. This blog post provides an overview of each tool, while the video above provides a screencast of myself creating a small automation task through each of the tool.

IFTTT – Make your apps and devices talk to each other by creating applets

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a free app that connects your apps and devices, and is especially useful for connecting your smartphone apps and smart home devices.

You choose a trigger (If what?) and the outcome (then what?)

If it’s going to rain today, tell me to pack my umbrella -> If Weather Underground forecasts that it will rain today, the IFTTT app on my smartphone will send me a push notification to pack my umbrella. [step by step screencast included in YouTube video above]

If I call someone, log it to Google Spreadsheet (Android only for now, I believe)

Upload all new iPhone screenshots to Dropbox.

Whenever there’s a meeting on my Google Calendar, silence my phone. When it’s over, turn it back to loud. Do the same for whenever I enter a certain location.

Every weekday, set my ringtone to silent at 11 PM and to loud at 6 AM.

If the price of a certain stock I’m following decreases by X%, send me a notification.

There are so many possibilities. To get inspiration, search for an app or device, and browse through applets that people have already created.

Automator – Make your Mac automatically carry out tasks by creating workflows

(If you’re not a Mac user, skip to the next section. FYI – PCs have a similar app called “Actions”)

Using simple drag-and-drop, you can quickly run automations on your Macbook for free. I find it useful for file management. A few examples:

Convert all images in a folder from JPEG to PNG or from JPEG to PDF.

Change all image file names to “nycworkshop-[serialnumber].”

Routinely check for files in the downloads folder that haven’t been modified within the past 200 days, and move those files to the trash folder.

Extract text from a group of PDF files.

Encrypt a bunch of PDF documents all at once.

Convert text to audio so that I can listen to the articles in your “to read” list on the go. (The speech will sound very unnatural FYI)

Crop images in batches (useful for creating thumbnail images). [step by step screencast included in YouTube video above]

To get ideas of what workflows you can create, browse through actions and variables within the tool.

Zapier – Make your apps talk to each other by creating Zaps

Zapier is great for connecting apps and software used for business, marketing, and project management. It’s a freemium product; it’s free for 5 zaps and 2-step zaps and most app integrations. Zaps are basically what applets are to IFTTT and workflows are to Automator. Some things I could do with Zapier:

Share WordPress posts with a Facebook Group and personal Twitter account.

When I get a new email in Gmail, copy its attachment to Dropbox.

Add new Aweber subscribers as Teachable users.

When there’s a new Amazon Seller Central sale, create a new Freshbooks invoice, and receive a text message.

When customer service receives an email, log it to Google Spreadsheets, create an Asana task, and then create a Google Calendar event.

Send new SurveyMonkey respondents thank you emails from Gmail.

Get a text message notification each time a YouTube channel you particularly enjoy posts a new video. [step by step screencast included in YouTube video above]

If you’re not sure what kind of zaps you want to create just yet, type in the app that you’d like to connect to a different app in the search bar at the top of the screen.

That’ll give you some ideas. You can also type in the app you’d like to connect the first app (FreshBooks, in the above example) to such as Stripe, in the search bar in the top right.

You can automate so many tasks using drag-and-drop and selections using the IFTTT, Automator, and Zapier. They’re so easy to set up, and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t set up automated tasks before.