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Tech Corner: Automate Repetitive Tasks In Business And Life With Task Automation Apps

Task automation apps like IFTTT (if-that-then-this), Zapier, Flow and Workflow are a category of apps that allow you to create automated sequences.

Jared Finkelson

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

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Advances in technology have saved us all a lot of time in our day to day lives—and promptly replaced previously time-consuming activities with even more to keep up with. In addition to all the usual things, we must stay on top of a changing news media landscape, social media, multiple calendars, etc. If you are a business owner, you are expected to be available on multiple platforms such as Facebook Messenger and others. You are also expected to respond to customer feedback on multiple fronts and present a polished social media marketing campaign.

This month, I am going to suggest some ways that you can automate some of the more repetitive aspects of the modern technological burden and hopefully net a little extra free time. Or just use the time you save to take on even more and get ahead of your competitors!

Task automation apps like IFTTT (if-that-then-this), Zapier, Flow and Workflow are a category of apps that allow you to create automated sequences that not only perform actions for you, they can integrate apps and other services that would not normally play along—or would require coding a completely new app. Hopefully you will find inspiration in one of the following examples.

Example #1: Craigslist

My introduction to task automation apps was IFTTT and Craigslist. Whenever I want to buy something off Craigslist or find a place to rent, I use IFTTT to send me an email or text message whenever a new listing is added that matches my search.

To set up this ‘Applet,’ search for what you are looking for on Craigslist and copy the URL of the search results. Then go to IFTTT.com and find the applet that best meets your needs (text message, email or push notification) and paste the URL from Craigslist in the text box and hit save.

Example #2: Is it going to rain and/or snow today?

The weather and speculation about the forecast are arguably the most important topics of conversation in the Midwest, so if you miss the morning weather report you may be in real trouble. Wouldn’t it be helpful if you received an alert in the morning letting you know it is going to rain or snow? There are also similar applets for pollen and UV index.

And you don’t care about the weather and you just want to save time, the beauty of these alerts is that you no longer need to check your weather app or watch the forecast because you will be alerted if you need to take an action like throwing an umbrella in your bag, or putting on sunscreen!

To set up this applet simply go to IFTTT.com and search for “rain today?,” select the applet that works best for you (text message, email, etc.) and you are good to go!

Example #3: Add iOS Reminder from Alexa

Besides automating repetitive tasks, automation apps can integrate platforms that would normally not play well together (Amazon and iPhone, for example.) With IFTTT you can set up an applet that adds any Alexa To Do List items that you create to your iOS Reminders list.

You will need to give IFTTT permissions to access your Alexa account to make this applet.

Honorable mentions

  • Tell Alexa to call your phone (IFTTT), receive a notification when the U.S. President signs a new bill into law (IFTTT), notify me when traffic clears up for my daily commute (Flow).

Example #4: Track work hours and location

If your business involves visiting multiple client locations and tracking associated times, you know how much of a pain that can be. With Flow, you can set up a button that records the time and location when you hit it, then saves that information to a spreadsheet.

To use this ‘flow,’ you will need the Microsoft Flow mobile app and an Excel Online table with date, timestamp and location columns. Within the app, search “track your work hours and location” and select the appropriate template. Click “use this template” and then select the Excel Online table you would like to record to.

Once everything is set up, there will be a large button on the buttons tab of the Flow mobile app that triggers the flow.

Example #5: Send a follow up email to Facebook Ads leads and record them in a spreadsheet

Facebook can be a full-time job. If that is not your principal occupation, you will want to automate some of the repetitive aspects. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice if you could send a reply automatically to each of your leads and record that lead in a spreadsheet for later follow ups?

This is actually a combination of two Zapier ‘Zaps’ but a magazine is not the best medium for instructions. Thankfully, Zapier will walk you through the process step by step. Simply go to Zapier and search, “add new Facebook Lead Ads leads to Excel.”

Example #6: Add customers to MailChimp automatically

MailChimp is a popular way to stay in touch with your customers and with task automation apps, you can automatically add new customer from Stripe, QuickBooks and several popular CRM platforms to your list MailChimp subscribers automatically.

Zapier and Flow both provide connectors between popular payment and CRM platforms and popular email marketing platforms.

Honorable mentions

  • Post a message on Slack when X happens (Flow, Zapier), add new Microsoft Dynamics contacts to MailChimp as subscribers (Zapier), create invoices for QuickBooks Online customers from new Shopify orders (Zapier). And many more!
  • ifttt.com
  • zapier.com
  • us.flow.microsoft.com

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