by Ari Meisel
Optimizing, automating, and outsourcing everything in your life (and your business) can make you more effective, which is why I created my productivity system, Less Doing. But I’ve learned that the process itself is very important — you have to follow each step in the right order. After all, outsourcing something that is inefficient will not make it more efficient by any means.
In this article, I want to focus on the automation component of productivity. There are a number of ways to achieve automation – whether it’s through software, processes, or even people. You want to figure out how to run processes that require little maintenance so once you set them up and perfect them, you don’t have to think about them anymore. There are three web services that are very useful for this: FollowUp.cc, IFTTT, and Zapier. FollowUp.cc is an automated email reminder service, while IFTTT and Zapier both allow you to create automated relationships between a trigger service and an action service.
Here’s how I use each – and how you can apply them to your own business:
FollowUp.cc is my number one productivity tool. I use it over a dozen times each day. At its heart, it serves a very basic function: The service will remind you if someone doesn’t respond to an email you send. It really helps me clear my mind and tackle my to-do list.
You can use it from any platform or device – just put a preferred time period and before “@followup.cc” in the bcc field of your outgoing email. For example, use firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or even firstname.lastname@example.org for a recurring reminder. You will receive the reminder with the original email. If you put the follow-up in the cc field, both you and the recipients will receive the reminder, which is great for team updates or check-ins. If you simply send an email to a followup.cc account, you will get a reminder at that date and time.
Regardless of how you send the email, it will return with the original message as well as a snooze function that lets you defer the message to another time. Never again do you have to ask yourself if you got back to someone. This is a main source of email-related stress for me. Now, if I send an email and I add a followup.cc reminder, I couldn’t tell you what the email was about five seconds after hitting “send.” That’s a beautiful thing – I don’t have to worry, I can clear my mind, and I can rest assured that when the time is right the email will come back to me.
I am very much against to-do lists and do not believe in multitasking. They basically rob you of your ability to be productive by constantly reminding you of everything you aren’t getting done. With FollowUp.cc, you can deal with issues as they come up, allowing you to be more effective. If you get the timing wrong or something comes up, the snooze functionality can rescue you. Snoozing and deferring are very different things. If you snooze something, you are simply procrastinating. But if you defer it you are making a conscious decision to deal with it a time when you will be more suited to actually get it done.
IFTTT stands for “If this then that.” IFTTT is free and works with about 90 services like YouTube, Google Docs, the WEMO series of home automation devices, and a host of other web applications.
With IFTTT, you can do some very basic things. Tell it to “Send a text if it’s going to rain today,” or “Add every tweet I favorite to an Evernote notebook” or “Save every video I like on YouTube to my Dropbox,” but that is just the tip of the iceberg. You can use these services to replace very complex business functions and free up hours of time and money. Think of everything you do online that takes a couple of minutes each, and let sites like this take over.
Zapier is very similar to IFTTT in that it allows you automate interactions between web services. Unlike IFTTT, Zapier is a paid service, but it works with over 300 services and is much more detailed in terms of exclusions and outcomes. I used Zapier for my new book launch because I was offering all kinds of extras to people who purchased it. I asked that after their purchase, they fill out a form on Wufoo. Once they did, Zapier would add them to a MailChimp and share with them a specific Evernote that provided them with the information needed to pick up their added goodies. When they visited particular links in that Evernote notebook, it added them to a Google Docs spreadsheet so I could run some analytics and see how engaged people were.
For my podcasts, I have to record interviews and save the files to Dropbox. Zapier sees the new files and can upload them to SoundCloud so they show up on my podcast’s iTunes feed. There is a website marketing company called HitReach that combines the two sites to complete a 14-step chain of business functions that use to take someone 30 minutes each time they did them, multiple times per week. Now they don’t have to do it at all.
I even use IFTTT and Zapier for outsourcing. Certain triggers will send an email to my virtual assistant service, Fancy Hands, to have them complete the task. I can actually automate my automation and outsource my outsourcing.
Ari Meisel is an achievement architect, helping people optimize, automate, and outsource everything in their lives and be more effective.