In this chapter, we’re going to discuss the ways you can apply automation to both personal and team productivity, how you can get started automating your own workflows and projects, and example automations you can set up today!
By this point, you should already have a good understanding of what automation is and how it can help you free up more of your day.
You should also be able to identify if your project management tool has any of these capabilities, or if you’ll need to bring in an extra tool to help you automate your workflows and projects.
Two Types of Productivity
No matter what kind of automation you want to leverage, there’s two ways to apply any of the automation types we’ve covered so far:
- Personal productivity — automation to help you work as fast as possible, spend less time on less important stuff and more time on more important stuff
- Team productivity — automation to help your team move as fast as possible, enabling everyone to spend less time on unimportant stuff and more time on what’s truly important for the team, projects, and overall business
But what does productivity have to do with automation? It all has to do with time.
Automation is always helping someone, somewhere save time.
And while we’ll let you do the work of determining what productivity truly means to you, we’re going to take a guess that you’re more productive when you’re able to do more of the most important work.
And therefore, less of the unimportant work. Minimizing the amount of time spent on irrelevant or low-value tasks is what automation is all about.
With project automation (aka workflow automation or task automation), you can directly impact the productivity of:
- Project stages in a workflow. Save time kicking off external processes based on the stage of a project by automating the steps in the workflow.
- Creating the same tasks over and over again. Re-creating specific tasks can also be a huge time-drain - both personally, and for teams. If you get the same type of repetitive and need to create the same tasks over and over again based on the type of project, you can use automation to handle this automatically for you based on specific conditions.
- Communication & notifications between teams. Save time checking in, getting updates, and manually notifying other members when something is ready for review, completed, or needs an urgent update.
- Task updates, creation & recurring tasks. Save time manually managing boards, tasks, and other project essentials based on any kind of trigger — like moving something to the “Done” stage or automatically creating sets of lists or spinning up an entire new board with specific tasks.
- Multi-team or cross-functional team projects. Save time notifying, assigning, managing, and syncing up with other teams in different departments or business units.
From the perspective of personal productivity, you can leverage automation to help you:
- Get notifications when projects or tasks are completed
- Automatically assign yourself to tasks or projects in your project management tool
- Complete several tasks at once (like scheduling a meeting on your calendar)
- Unblock other team members when specific tasks or projects become blocked
In some cases, we’ve seen automation save people dozens of hours over the course of a week. And depending on the type of business you run, that easily equates to dollars lost on rudimentary tasks or a drop in billable hours.
By leveraging the right tools, you’ll be able to combine several redundant tasks into one simple automation.
How to Leverage Project Automation for Your Team
When we take a look at how this can apply to a team, we’re looking at both personal and team productivity.
Time is lost once a task moves from team member to team member, and on a larger scale from team to team. We mentioned “drop-off” in earlier chapters, and it certainly applies here.
Drop-off is what happens when a task is delegated or handed to another team member, but the task ends up:
- Unseen — they don’t know it’s assigned to them and never see the task
- Forgotten — they receive the task, but forget to complete it or notify anyone that it is completed
- Blocked — they can’t complete the task because it’s waiting on a dependency or they need help with completing it
- Lost — they can’t find the task or remember what it’s called
Priorities shift all the time, and it’s reasonable to expect delays in task completions.
Automation can help remind us when something seems to be taking longer than usual, or if there hasn’t been any updates at all when the dreaded drop-off happens.
You can use automation to help your business:
- Get notifications when projects have reached a certain stage
- Notify other teams when a project hasn’t been updated or something is missing
- Automatically assign tasks and projects to specific teams or team members
- Insert task templates in a project when it has reached a specific stage
- Create recurring tasks based on specific conditions
- Generate incredibly accurate reports
- Minimize the amount of time spent managing a workflow or project
We’ve seen business saves hundreds of hours a week by leveraging both simple automations and automations across several projects, workflows, and teams.
How to Start Automating Your Projects
If you’re at this chapter and feeling like automation might be too hard, don’t panic. Automation is actually extremely easy to apply to your own projects — whether personal or in a team setting.
All it takes is a little bit of reverse-engineering and troubleshooting.
Identify your goals and challenges
First, let’s start with understanding exactly what we want to accomplish with automation. You definitely want to save time, but on what?
Taking a moment to really think about what you’re hoping to accomplish with automation will help you identify where to start. Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I want to improve my own personal productivity or my team’s productivity?
- What workflows and projects am I currently involved in?
- In those workflows and projects, what are the challenges? Are there goals we’re trying to accomplish?
For example, you might be responsible for managing an ongoing workflow for your team — let’s use the content management example we discussed in Chapter 3.
Managing how content moves through the workflow might have been taking up a ton of your own time (or perhaps you were forgetting to keep up with it, and therefore it took longer to publish an article).
Your team has a marketing goal of publishing at least 4 articles a month, but because the workflow hasn’t been optimized, you’re essentially rushing to make sure the articles are done on time, or you miss the goal entirely.
You might have many other priorities, but ensuring the content is done, scheduled, and published is still an important objective for the business.
Time is lost, however, while managing the workflow. In the next step, we’ll learn how to start “troubleshooting” the challenge and identify the opportunities to automate.
Identify the “drop off” that happens between steps
In the example mentioned above, it’s clear the workflow needs some help. But how do we know what to automate and what to keep manual?
We can’t expect to automate everything, but surely there’s some opportunities?
The answer is yes — and we start with identifying the drop-offs and other delays in the project.
Here’s a few more questions to ask yourself when analyzing your workflows and projects:
In the project or workflow I’ve chosen, what takes up the most time? Where do I lose time?
- For my team, where do we see the biggest delays?
- What inefficient or low-value tasks can I identify? What are the things I don’t want my team spending time on?
What would I rather accomplish instead? Is there a goal that is impacted by these inefficiencies or challenges?
- What could my team accomplish instead? What goals are impacted by these challenges?
If you can ask these questions and apply them to your workflows, then you’ll undoubtedly come across opportunities to automate the process and speed things up.
Let’s take the content management example again. In a typical content management workflow, you might have several copywriters, freelancers, graphic designers, editors, and people who approve, upload, configure, and publish the content.
This could be for any kind of content — blog posts, ebooks, guides, website pages, etc.
Several people could potentially be involved in producing content for a business, and every time the task needs someone else to add their magical touch to it, you might experience some delays.
This is to be expected, of course! We need people to help us produce great work!
But you might also notice that not everyone is notified immediately when the content is ready for their team to handle it, some people forget about it, and sometimes others are blocked because they’re waiting on it from another team.
It’s perfectly natural for this to happen, and thankfully, we can use automation to help everyone work more efficiently together.
Troubleshoot the process
When in doubt, troubleshoot the process. If you feel that a specific process is broken or it slows down in specific places, troubleshoot why this happens.
You’ll be able to identify the opportunities to automate in no time!
Use a trusted software to automate what you’ve identified
By now, you’ve probably identified a few key areas in your process to automate. You’ll need a few tools to test out the adjustments you want to make.
Remember: an automation is there to combine and simplify the steps in your process leveraging IF / THEN statements.
The tools that you can use to accomplish range from automatically booking and scheduling meetings to automating your workflow in the platform. No matter what you’re hoping to automate, here’s a few tools to start with:
- Zapier — send data to and from virtually any tool (including Rindle). Automatically collect information, send information, and trigger any kind of complex workflow from there. Create simple automations and trigger incredibly complex automations.
- Rindle — project management software with automation capabilities. Automate your workflows, assignments, tasks, and projects using Rindle’s Automations features
- Acuity Scheduling — this scheduling and calendar tool puts all the other ones to rest. Send automatic calendar reminders, customize your available times and calendars, and schedule meetings instantly with anyone you send the link to. Finally, integrate with tools like Zoom and Stripe to auto-generate a conference URL or even collect payments.
- IFTTT — Like Zapier for beginners. IFTTT is a workflow and automation tool that can help you setup simple automations between you favorite apps and tools.
All of these applications can connect to hundreds (if not thousands) of different platforms — especially through Zapier and IFTTT. If you need to automate processes outside of your actual workflow (for example, automate tasks like automatically booking meetings or automatically sending someone a report), you can leverage tools like Zapier and Rindle together to accomplish that.
Test and monitor your new system
Once you design and build your first few automations, always give it a test to make sure it works the way you expected it to. Seeing an automation in the wild is always exciting, but only if it accomplishes the desired goal. Before you unleash your automation to your team or to your own processes, always test it first.
If it works exactly how you planned, great! You’re officially on your way to creating any number of automations, saving massive amounts of time, and getting back to what you’d rather be spending your time on.
Not all automations are perfect the first time we set them up, however. If you’re that boat, go back to the drawing board on the triggers and conditions. There’s a good chance you might have missed a data point or trigger.
After making a few adjustments, you should be able to troubleshoot and tweak it to do exactly what you need it to do.
Automation (especially project automation) doesn’t have to be incredibly complex in order to be effective and efficient. Plus, automations compound over time. Every new automation you add to your workflow also adds to the total amount of time saved from doing that task — even if it only saves 5 - 10 minutes here and there.