It’s time for another Cool Tools post, where I talk about systems and tools that make my life more productive!
Last time, I talked about my favorite task management solution, Todoist. This time, I’m going to dive into a couple of tools that can help automate parts of your life, on and off the web. These tools even hook into Todoist to supercharge your productivity, so it’s the perfect follow-up.
If you’re not familiar with online automation, your not alone. When I first found these tools, I figured I was last to the party. They are so powerful and so easy, I was certain everyone must have already known about them. But, as I started talking to friends–even my more tech-minded buddies–I realized that no: I wasn’t the last the party. A surprising number of people didn’t know the first thing about online automation, which means a fair few of you probably don’t know much about it either. So, here you go:
“Automation services do one simple thing: they create cause and effect links between the various web services you use. Want to save every photo you’re tagged in on Facebook to your Dropbox account for safe keeping? Automation makes that happen behind the scenes, without you lifting a finger. If This Then That (IFTTT) has long been one of our favorites for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only game in town. Zapier is a similar service that’s been around for a while and largely aimed at business users and enterprise services.”
–Lifehacker.com | Automation Showdown: IFTTT vs. Zapier. vs. Microsoft Flow
The ways to use these services are virtually endless–definitely too many to go into in any depth here, so I’ll talk about how I use IFTTT and Zapier to make my life easier. Hopefully, that will inspire you to poke around and see how one or both of these might be able to help you too!
I first started using If This Then That (IFTTT) and later added Zapier to the mix. If you’re just starting out, IFTTT is the right place to start: it’s easy to use and simple to understand–it’s also free. Zapier is very similar, but the free version limits how many “zaps” (automations) you can have running. You have to pay for it to unlock its snazzier features (like multi-stage zaps).
So why do I use both if they’re so similar to one another? Simply put: overlapping actions. That will make more sense in a second.
Here is a quick list of automations I have running on IFTTT at all times:
Pinterest –> Tumblr: If a new Pin on Bookish Delights board, then queue as a photo post on my Tumblr
Twitter –> Tumblr: If a new tweet by me with hashtag #writing, then create a text post on my Tumblr with tweet text as body.
Google Calendar –> Twitter*: If event from search ‘Twitter Post’ starts on my Google Calendar, then create a post on Twitter using description text from calendar event.
(*I have the same automation for Facebook and Tumblr using different search terms from my Google Calendar.)
WordPress –> Google Calendar: If any new post on my WordPress, then quick add an event to my Google Calendar for the following Tuesday with the term “Twitter post” in the title.
Wait–did you catch that?
I use cascading automation to self-schedule a mid-week refresher tweet about my recent blog post–all from posting my blog on Fridays. Pretty slick, right?
So, where does Zapier come into all of this? Well, in IFTTT, I can have only one Google Calendar (for example) connected at a time. This means that if I want to automate to another Google Calendar (or another Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc. Account) I need another IFTTT account—or, in my case, I decided to give Zapier a try. On Zapier, I run only one automation.
Google Calendar –> Todoist: Create a Todoist task in “Content” project with a due date of seven-days prior to the event whenever I enter a new event on my calendar.
I had to create a separate calendar to run this automation because I wanted to be able to enter many things on my calendar, but I didn’t want them all to show up on Todoist. So, on this separate calendar, I enter only my blog content schedule.
This automation is purely intended to allow me to keep my task manager and my content schedule aligned. Does it do a perfect job? No. I still have to manually remove tasks from Todoist if I later decide to cancel a post or change the schedule. But, it does all the heavy lifting of the initial scheduling, and that’s a huge help. Setting the deadline seven days prior to the blog posting date ensures I begin working on the post with plenty of time to get it finished before it is scheduled to go live. Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean I’m always successful at getting it finished on time—but it gives me the best chance of hitting my own deadlines, and I have a pretty good track record so far.
Now, a whole additional set of automations these tools are capable of, but that I have not even dabbled in yet, are in your home. These services connect with the Nest thermostat, wifi-enabled lighting systems, and a lot of those other nifty, programable in-home technologies. Cool, right?
So, do you use either of these tools? Or maybe a different automation service? If so, tell me about it! And if not, give one of these a try and tell me what you think!