If we are keeping track of all the things we need to do, have organized the materials we need, and manage our flows of information so systematically that we feel on top of things, rather than way behind, and we prioritize consciously according to what is important rather than urgent — then the next natural step is to get as many tasks as we can done automatically.
The more things we get done without exerting effort and spending time, the more energy and space we will have left for what we actually and truly wish to dedicate ourselves to. Bare in mind, I am not referring to a future feared by some in which our work has been completely taken over by robots, I am talking about simple automations we can do right now, today.
The tyranny of the little things
You should still do those central, advanced tasks that require your expertise and which put your core competence and skills to good use, but most of us do a whole lot of tiny tasks and operations daily which are neither very inspiring, nor particularly dependent on our expertise to be completed. We save something, move something to another folder, print something, rearrange a few cells, organize something a little differently, write the same things down in several places, log in somewhere and post something.
These tedious, never-ending tasks might be small, but they take time as well — especially when something goes wrong right when we were ”just going to do this one little thing”. We cannot find the folder where it is supposed to be, we cannot remember where we were supposed to log in, we let go to early in a drag-and-drop-move and have to start all over again. It is when the little things do not flow smoothly that frustration arises, the minutes go by and we get increasingly stressed by all these little things getting in the way of the important thing we had to do.
Help that’s already available
There are usually several automation-functions and features that help us eliminate some of these small, distracting tasks in our emailing programs, ”office programs” and operating systems which are fairly easy to learn, but I rarely see people using them. So, let us acknowledge their usability right now.
These functions can for instance be called ”macros”, ”rules”, ”quick steps”, ”quick parts”, ”scripts”, ”VBA”, ”Automator” or the likes. With reasonably simple means we can allow these to do the small tasks and operations for us, without having to acquire any new programs or having to ask someone’s permission to do so.
It is easy to teach yourself how to use them since the internet is teeming with tutorials and instructions — both ”official” guides as well as videos and instructional blogposts created by enthusiasts. Here is for example the education center for the Office series, and your can do searches to find instructions to other programs. You do not have to learn everything at once. I recommend you start with one way of automating and you will at least make your work a tad easier.
- Decide to learn something new about the integrated automating features and functions in the programs you already use this week. You do not have to know exactly what you want to automate beforehand, you will figure that out as you learn more about the opportunities that are available to you.
- Now search for a relevant combination of ”tutorial”, ”guide”, ”overview”, ”macro”, ”rules”, “script”, “automator”, “vba”, “office”, “lotus notes”, “outlook”, “os x”, ”windows” or something else.
- Choose a video or blogpost that seems interesting and watch or read it right away, or write a to-do-task that entails you doing so.
- If this inspired you, then do another search for a combination of words describing the task you first though of as a potential automating-candidate you would want to take off your own to-do-list.
A little nudge at the right moment
If you learn more about the integrated automating functions that are already available to you on your computer or in the programs you use, and apply any of them (even if it is just one), you will rid yourself of a few small tasks that previously required some of your time and focus. Instead you will now get to enjoy seeing it done automatically. Getting tasks done automatically always gives me the feeling of getting unexpected help from someone that really wants to help me.
Even if we still have the more extensive, advanced tasks left to complete, it will still be worth having made the effort to learn something new in order to get these little nudges forward by being helped with the little things.
How have you automated smaller tasks?
What have you done to automate smaller operations and tasks recently that you are particularly happy about? Share in a comment below.