Personal Automation: A Primer

dev Jul 12, 2021

When do you automate?

If you've done the same task twice, ask yourself, "Is this something I can automate?"

Why do you automate?

Automating means:

  • It's done the same way you programmed it every time
  • You don't have to remember to do the thing
  • You can put your energy toward something that requires your brain power and isn't automatable (yet)

What do you automate?

Reminders

Reminders are always a good place to start with automation. Reminders can be set up in a todo app like iOS Reminders, Todoist, Google Keep, on a calendar, in a chat channel like Slack or Teams, or using a tool like IFTTT to send you a text or email.

One of my first IFTTT automations was a recipe that sent me an email twice a week reminding me to check my bank account. It's been running since at least 2017. For work, I set up reminders for us to check our retro action items. It was set up with Slackbot with the command:

I use Todoist to automate reminders about everything from taking my medication to reading articles I want to read later. I'm not getting any compensation for talking about using Todoist by the way, I just like the product.

Habits & Routines

One of my iOS shortcuts is called "Good Night". It runs another shortcut that records which shortcuts I use, sets the scene to turn off the lights in my room, and opens the Sleep Cycle app.

What is your go to bed or getting up routine?

I created one for going to the gym. It started playing a playlist, started an open-ended Fitbod workout, and put my phone into do not disturb until I left the area.

Another one called "Multical" (multiple calendars but with homage to multipass) would ask me the title of an event for my calendar, ask when the event was going to occur and how long it would be. Finally, it would have me choose which calendar to put it on our of the 4 calendars I was managing. For the calendar I wanted full details on, it would add the full details, for the other 3 calendars it would just show as busy with the code I assigned to the calendar where the full details were scheduled. So if I have an appointment on the Green Calendar, on all the other calendars it would schedule something in the same time and duration but it would just show "[GRN] Busy".

Choices

Another shortcut I use often is called "Leisure" and it's just a menu of choices. When I want to read or listen to something - a podcast, music, a book, etc - I tap this shortcut.

I'm then presented with two choices - Read or Listen.

If I choose Read, I can pick from Kindle, Libby, or Books.

If I choose Listen, I can pick from music, podcast, or Audible.

The benefit here is I expend less brain power (aka Cognitive Load and decision power) trying to decide and searching for the app. Even If my podcast player of choice (which is currently Overcast and it's fantastic. Not being paid to say that I just like it.) changes, I can still just change the shortcut once instead of trying to remember the name of the app every, single time.

I have another shortcut called "That One Tweet" where I keep a catalog of tweets I share frequently. I can then choose the tweet I want and select who I want to send it to.

The biggest automation I have combines both routine and choice and was adapted from an automation I found from listening to the automators podcast. It's called Packing List Extravaganza. I've saved a variety of different lists for different kinds of trips. The shortcut asks me to choose which lists I'd like to pack and then will cycle through and add those items to a Todoist project called Travel. This way I can go through and check off all the things I need to pack but I don't have to go through the trouble of manually writing or remembering all the things I need to include. Also, if my needs change from trip to trip, I have my lists segmented so I can include just what I need each time instead of adding or removing from one main list every single time. If you'd like your own copy of that automation (it does require Todoist), get it here.

Check out the libraries of apps like Shortcuts or IFTTT and see what other people have built. Some of them might be really complex, yours don't have to be. As you build out automations it'll be clearer how you can improve it just a little bit each time.

If you want to know more about automating at work, I have a talk coming up on July 14 at 12pm ET or you can catch the replay on the Women Who Code YouTube channel.

Have fun automating!

Webs

Teacher | Software Developer | Intelligent Hoodlum

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