Episode 54 – Saving Time Through Automation

In this episode of The PE Geek Podcast, we explore the power of automation and how we can use it to leverage our time.Automation plays a big part in helping me manage over 200 emails per day, social media accounts and so much more without spending much time at all using devices.

Resources shared in this episode include

Press Play below to listen. Alternatively, download a full episode transcript here


00:29 Jarrod Robinson: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 54 of the PE Geek podcast, and as always, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to tune in. Now, this episode is gonna be focusing in on the different ways that you can save time through automation. Now it’s a concept that is absolutely not new, but it’s definitely something that people probably struggle with, they maybe don’t have systems and procedures fully automated to realize how powerful this can be. So we’re gonna be diving into lots of different things that I personally do to try and manage with the enormous amount of online content that comes through on a daily basis through digital platforms such as Twitter and social networks, how I deal with over 200 emails on a daily basis and a big part of that is all to do with this concept of automation. So you’ll be surprised to know just how well oiled you can make things happen for you on a daily basis so that you don’t have to spend the tedious time, and the tedious processes to try and do things that can be done for you, so there’s really leveraged opportunities here so you that can leverage your time and gain back this precious asset which is the by far and above the most important thing that we can give.

01:57 JR: So hopefully the episode will point you in the right track, to try and reclaim lost time for you on a daily basis in your teaching practice and I look forward to sharing it with you, and look forward to hearing the results and how you’ve been able to claim back some percentage of time, or effort, or how you’ve been able to automate a task which used to be really tedious and time consuming. If that does happen, feel free to let me know, I’d love to hear more. So lets dive into today’s episode and look at how we can automate and save time.

02:35 JR: So let’s face it, teaching is a really difficult job, really time intensive, there’s so many things that we have to do just because, and there’s probably no better explanation than just because you have to do it. And in many ways we’re doing all of these things on a daily basis that we get enjoyment from as well and things that we just simply have to do to tick a box, but many of these things could be automated, and many of these things could be done in a way that could bring back some sort of return for you. Now I’m of the absolute mindset that there is nothing more important than your time and I seriously mean that so that’s why I really appreciate that you would take 20 minutes out to listen to an episode.

03:20 JR: But, time is the ultimate asset. It’s not money, money isn’t the ultimate asset, time is. You’ve only got a fixed amount of time, fixed amount of time to impact a student, a fixed amount of time to be on the earth. This is the ultimate commodity, so I get really excited about technology when I can find a tool or a service or something which can bring some time back to me. Now even if that’s just a matter of five minutes, it really adds up, and over time this sort of idea of automation can have enormous stake and impact in our day to day practice. And for many reasons it’s actually the entire reason why I am able to deliver as many podcast episodes, and blog posts and so on as I do and juggle everything else. It’s because of the amount of time and effort that I’ve spent into getting these systems to go up and running in the first place. And because of that things happen in the background for me automatically and it’s a really powerful thing.

04:29 JR: So I’m gonna take you through some of the more basic automations that I, myself, use on a daily basis and scale them out to some of the more complex automations, and I hope that you can take one thing that you do, and automate it after listening to this post, and listening to this blogpost… Sorry podcast. And you can take it and gain back something. Because ultimately as I said, time’s the ultimate asset. Now my first ever experiment with automation was through RSS feeds. Now RSS feeds are not new, these are old and they were sort of invented in the early web 2.0 days and essentially they stand for… Well, the RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and it was developed as a technology which would be attached to pretty much every website that you visit now, and quite simply it basically is a broadcast mechanism so that whenever someone updates their website, or updates a podcast the RSS feed gets updated too, with the new content and that can be broadcast to any sort of service that’s listening. So essentially with an RSS feed and a subscribing tool such as Feedly, so F-E-E-D-L-Y, Feedly. Go there and create an account, you can subscribe to RSS feeds and sure it takes a little bit of time to go to each blog and subscribe and, do all that and set up the subscriptions that you want.

06:05 JR: But the net result is that you then don’t have to spend time going to each of the main sites that you tend to visit on a daily basis. The sites come to you. So, if you can think about, let’s say you’ve got 10 websites that you tend to visit on a regular opportunity, and you physically have to go and find and click on those websites and decide whether something new has actually turned up on that site. That’s time-intensive. That takes time, to go between all of the places that you would normally visit, compare it to whether there was something new that’s been added or not and then read it. So what I’m saying is, if you use a service such as Feedly, and subscribe to the RSS feed of the websites, you’ll get notified when new content has been created, and you’ll be looking at it from one spot.

06:54 JR: So, you’ve taken 10 websites, condensed them into one and all of the sudden, you can engage in that content much more easily. And that’s another example of automation sort of saving the time that it might take for you to engage in content that you read on the web. Now another tool which is of the similar idea to RSS feeds in that it’s all about consuming content is the app Flipboard, now if you just head to the iPhone store, Android Google Play store and search for Flipboard, you’ll find that it is a social news magazine. Now the cool part about it is that you can customise and create your own Flipboard, and that Flipboard is connected to the social content and the social channels that you’re part of. And the good thing is, that the actual content that ends up in your Flipboard can be made up of the content that’s being shared through social channels.

07:54 JR: So, the best part is, lets say, you use Twitter and there’s lots of content shared, rather than going to Twitter and trying to read through everything, ’cause it’s just ridiculous and overwhelming, you can connect a service like this and know that that it’s gonna source lots of the best content from your social network. So, you’ll get to see the best things, they’ll appear in your magazine, and you’ll miss some of the things that probably weren’t necessarily seen. Now, I’m not saying don’t go to twitter, but if times of the the minimum and you wanna get sort of, the best, then connect it to Flipboard and you can leverage some of the time that the algorithm gives back to you by going and piecing together a magazine which is gonna have things in it that you’re interested in. So I highly recommend those first two RSS feeds and Flipboard for automating the consumption of content that you’re doing, however, what about tackling emails? Obviously, we get these on a constant basis, and I mean, so many people struggle with the concept of email for many, many years I did too.

09:08 JR: However, in the last two years I have had a daily inbox zero. And what that means is that every day I finish the day with no emails in my inbox, and it’s a tremendously empowering sort of situation to be in. Takes a fair bit of discipline, initially to get to it and I can tell you what, it does really improve productivity and so on. So, what are some of the tools that I use to assist, or have used in the past to assist me with managing email? And to be honest, the very first tool that I ever sort of started to experiment with is the website Follow Up Then. Now, Follow Up Then is pretty incredible, because what it does is it enables you to very easily send reminder emails to yourself. So lets say you get an email from your principal, and in it they say “I need to know something tomorrow, please get in touch with me tomorrow at the end of business, and I’ll need to know the answer to this.” So sure, you could just keep that e-mail in your inbox and then mentally log and remember that you need to respond to a certain email at a certain time, or you could use Follow Up Then and then all you would do, is in the email that you received, you would simply forward it or reply to the email and in the CC or the BC columns, you would use the followupthen.com email address.

10:43 JR: Now, the email address is completely customisable, so if you wanna remember something tomorrow, then you forward the email that you just got to [email protected]. And what happens is, the Follow Up Then system gets the email, recognises where it came from obviously as you the sender, notifies that you need to be knowing and reminded of this tomorrow and then it’ll remind you exactly tomorrow that you need to do whatever it is that you forwarded to them. But that’s just an example, I mean you could say everythirdwednesday@followupthen, you could say everyday@followupthen, next Wednesday, you could say two hours, two weeks completely up to you, and the Follow Up Then website will remind you of those things at whatever the format you put before @ on the email is. So you can say all sorts of things and basically then you’re free to not have to think about those, you can archive the emails and it’s gonna send it back to you when the time is ready, so I highly recommend going and checking that out, it works for any email system, you just have to forward it with the appropriate e-mail address that you want to action it with.

12:03 JR: Now another email tool that I recommend you go and check out is Boomerang. Now, Boomerang is pretty cool but it only works if you’re using Gmail. So, if you’re not using Gmail, then and this is a good reason, why you could switch. But basically, Boomerang lets’ you automate the sending of emails and you can do that in advance. And let’s say you want to send an email to a colleague and it’s 11 o’clock at night and you don’t really want to send it then because it looks like you’re up at 11:00 PM working when you should be relaxing. And I know that this does happen and you’d like to send it to them at the start of business day the next day, then you can send the email and schedule it to go at a specific time. And rather than having to remember to come on to your computer and send that email, you can send it then and there and it will sit in your inbox, or wherever, in your drafts, and then it will send it at the appropriate time. And you can also use Boomerang to create reminders for you as well in the same way as the previous website that we’ve spoken about.

13:14 JR: But another feature that I like about Boomerang is this whole notion of sending up a follow-up email to someone if you haven’t heard back from them. So you can imagine, you’ve probably done this before, you’ve sent an email to a colleague or a teacher or someone and you need to know something by a certain time. Well, sure, you mentally remember that and then respond to them or you can use Boomerang and have it automatically send them an email reminder within a given timeframe. So this basically ensures that messages don’t slip through and you forget to follow up with people who you need to follow-up with. So really amazing stuff, highly recommended particularly for using Gmail or Google apps school, then you’re gonna find these little Boomerang extension quite powerful. Now on the same notion, I know that so many teachers get a lot of email, I mean it’s bombarding so many different newsletters and subscriptions and services and so on. So, if that’s the case, then you really should check out the website unroll.me. So, unroll.me, what it basically lets you do is connect your email inbox, you can then have a look at all of the different subscription services that you subscribe to.

14:39 JR: So, for example, if you get emails from me, that would count. That would come up in your email inbox and any other services so whether it’s Groupon, or companies that send you details and so on. And basically, what you then do is it will present the list to you, you just with one click, you can unsubscribe and of those things that you wanna stay subscribed to, you can choose to roll them together. And what that means is that all of the emails that come through that fit the description that are subscription-ed based or whatever, they can get combined into one email for you and present it to you at a given timeframe. So rather than being bombarded with emails on a regular basis, unroll.me will combine the emails that you want and send them at the appropriate time when you’d like it. So, if you want all of your emails for the week put into a weekly digest and they’re all coming from different people, then you can do that. And there would be a great example of automation working for you so that you can keep in touch but not have to be bombarded by all of the things that tend to happen. So that’s unroll.me.

15:53 JR: Now I save what I think is the best little email hack for last and that is Active Inbox. Active Inbox is the absolute reason why I personally are able to achieve inbox zero on a daily basis and what it basically does is it attaches to Gmail so that you install it and it gives you a few options, so every time you get an email address, you get a few options of how you respond to that email. So, it’ll say “action” or “waiting on.” And you mark the email as either an action item or a waiting on item and you say the date that you would require those things in. And then it basically removes it from your inbox and it’ll only bring back those specific things and say whether you need to act on them or whether you’re waiting on it on the days in which you require them. So, if I get an email from someone and I need an answer by a certain time, I can say “waiting on” and put a date for that particular email and it’ll disappear out of my inbox, and then on the date, it’ll pop-up into the Waiting On section and I can be reminded of, “Oh, that’s right. I needed that then.”

17:09 JR: It’s just all about removing this mental burden that we have of having to remember 6 million things and emails being the biggest culprit. And because of that, of being able to sort of really take it to the next level of having a free inbox and because of automation. All I have to do is one thing, say whether it’s an action item or a waiting on item and then the system will automate the process of reminding me to do that. Now, that we’ve tackled what I think is probably the biggest time wasting thing that we do email. It’s sort of time to look at some of the more advanced options you can have for automation. And I think the best way to introduce this is with the application workflows. Now workflows is available to download on the iPhone or the iPad and if you have a look in the episode show notes, the pegeek.com/54, you’ll be able to find the link to download this particular episode. Now, I think this is a tremendous idea and it does really sort of demonstrate how powerful automation is and it’s a pretty incredible app. I want to give you a couple of examples of what it does. So, basically when you open the app for the first time, it guides you though the creation of your first workflow. Now a workflow is a series of things or steps that you would normally do on your device, the iPhone, that enable you to make that thing “One Click,” you might say.

18:52 JR: So an example could be, let’s say you take a picture of, whatever it may be, and you always end up emailing that to the same specific person, or you take a picture and send it to your friend, or your mother, or spouse via a message. So, you can automate these particular actions, message one example, by creating workflows inside of the app. So very simply, you create a new workflow and you pick whether you wanted to take place based on an action or based on a specific time. So, that’s what triggers the automation of the workflow to start, but then, you can say, in a sort of like a recipe format, this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens. You can say what it would do.

19:51 JR: So, for example, you can make it so that if you tap the button it will let you take a picture and that picture will then end up in a pre-filled-out email, ready for you to hit send on, or it could just automatically send it for you. There’s a lots of options here for automating things that you might do on a regular basis that become cumbersome and have lots of steps in them. You can take those steps, piece them together into one thing and you’re done with it. So, another example of this is, let’s say you’re doing burst photography in Phys Ed, and you’re holding the picture down in iPhone, sorry the picture camera-taking option, and you’re taking a 100 pictures, then you can hit the burst-to-GIF workflow and it’ll take the images and turn them into an animated GIF and then share that with you wherever you’ve set up to do it. So, it’s pretty incredible and if you go into the gallery of the app, you’ll find a whole host of pre-filled automations and workflows that you can do automatically. For example, one of them is Speed Dial, so that you can type in a specific person’s name, and with one click, when you tap on that Speed Dial workflow, it’ll ring them.

21:11 JR: If you think about how many steps it normally takes for that to take place, you’ve just cut a few of them down. A couple of other ones. So, upload the last photo that you took to Dropbox or Google Drive. That’ll happen automatically for you, so that whenever you take a photo, it’s automatically being sent to your computer, auto-magically. You can log runs, so if you get that workflow after you’ve gone for a run, click the workflow button to start it and it’s gonna ask you a series of questions and over time you create a little bit of a log that shows you and goes to the health section of your iPhone. It’s really quite phenomenal, to be honest. You can create reminders for everything based on locations so that if you’re about to arrive home, then you can have the workflow setup so that it triggers and sends a specific person an email. So, what I recommend that you do, is you head along to the App Store and download the workflows app. Have a look at the different automations and workflows that you can create and you’ll be amazed because honestly, it takes lots of the little things that we do everyday and makes it a little bit quicker.

22:24 JR: So it becomes the one place that you go to just sort of achieve all sorts of different things from sharing files between people, from tracking calendar events. One of the other ones that I’ve experimented and played with is being able to take a picture of a receipt that you’ve just used or just paid for and having it automatically turned into a PDF and email the receipt with details to the person who might be reimbursing you for those expenses that you’ve made. So, highly recommend the workflows app and to be perfectly honest, you’re only really limited by your imagination with these, so chunk in together a few things, it’s gonna result in some pretty powerful stuff for you. So that’s workflows on the iPhone.

23:13 JR: Now, if you wanted to take this to the next level, then you should look no farther than the website ifttt.com. Now what that means is, if this, then that. So with that particular website, it makes it really easy to connect a whole host of services that you use together and automate them. So, in the same way that we use the workflow app on the iPhone and the iPad, and we just spoke about some things that you can automate, just on your phone, I-F-T-T-T makes it possible for you to do this on a whole new scale, and the way it does it is by these things called recipes. Now, recipes are the best analogy I think to explain how these things work because they’re procedural. But IFTTT is really easy to use. You simply head along to the website and it will guide you through the creation of your first recipe. And as a teacher, I found this to be tremendously useful for lots of different things that I’ve done.

24:22 JR: So, with IFTTT, you can connect time to an SMS message for example. So, you can create a recipe so that on a specific day and at a specific time, it can send you an SMS message or an email or whatever else you wanna add as the action that it needs to do. But for me, I used to use IFTTT on a daily basis and I still do to remind me of things that I just couldn’t forget. So, every single week, I would have to yard duty or walk around the school and during lunchtime break and assist in the school yard and so on. And that was at a specific time and you just can’t forget because otherwise, it’s obvious that you know they’re doing… Doing your duty. So, I would create an IFTTT automation so that every time at Wednesday at 1:00 o’clock, I’d get an SMS reminder and it said, “Off you go, time to do yard duty, and it would give me five minutes and off I would go. I would never forget because this IFTTT recipe reminded me.

25:28 JR: I used the exact same recipe for remembering to put out the bins once a week, for remembering other important anniversaries and things that I just cannot forget. For me, SMS is the most logical thing to do, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create… You could have it so that when a specific time arises, that it emails you or you could have it send a tweet. So, I mean, whatever you want it. You can connect it to make it happen. Now, this is all possible via ifttt.com. In the show notes, it will have a link to over a hundred different recipes that you can with one click install and start using for yourself. It’s pretty crazy in terms of what you can do. I mean, I know for sure that there are teachers using IFTTT to help them remember things that they come across on the Internet.

26:22 JR: So, I mentioned this earlier on the episode, but let’s say you’re scanning through a Twitter feed and you see something that’s really useful, you can favourite the tweet. You can do that with one click. But with IFTTT, you could set it up so that every time you favourite a tweet, it saves that tweet into a Google document for example or to a Google spreadsheet so that whenever you wanna remember specific things that you’d favourited, you can go to one of these platforms and very easily find them. So, it’s just a matter of helping you remember things, then IFTTTs really gonna crash it for you in terms of recipes that you can do. I personally have a recipe set up so that every time I take an Instagram photo, it saves that photo to Dropbox. I use that sort of my own backup of the different things that I do.

27:17 JR: You can have it set up so that if a file gets added to Google drive, then it automatically get sync and added to Dropbox. The limitations are really endless. And in terms of options for how you connect things that you do on a regular basis, just go and get a piece of paper out and start jotting down things that you do on a regular that revolve around the computer and see if you can think of a way in IFTTT to create a recipe to automate that. So, let’s say that every single week at a specific time, you have to email a specific person with some sort of variable information. Then let’s look at how IFTTT could automate that process for you and then basically become more efficient and effective in the process.

28:06 JR: And that brings us to the end of today’s episode exploring how you can save time through automation. And I really wanna re-emphasize the point I made at the start about time being the ultimate commodity that we have once we get rid of it. We cannot get it back. We are unable to get it back. So, have a serious think about things that you’re doing on a daily basis that have to be done, that maybe you just do because you… I don’t know, that you don’t enjoy, you just have to get it done, and see if you can use any of the things that we’d spoken about here today to give you back a little bit of time. These things do add up, they do scale. And if you can find a way to save a minute, then you should absolutely look at how you can do it. Because if it’s a minute spent in a different fashion which means that you have to, you know, you can spend a bit more time with those students or it means you can get home a little bit earlier to your family, then that’s should be the goal.

29:09 JR: It absolutely should be and technology should be our slave, we should be its master and this sort of stuff is exactly what technology is born to do. So, go and check it out whether it’s controlling your email or whether it’s setting up some automations. I challenge you to do it and get in contact with me if you’re able to automate something that you used to do on a daily basis that was mundane and just driving you insane. Now, that’s some all for today. If you would like the notes and resources and information from today’s episode, head along to the pegeek.com/54 and you’ll be able also download a full episode transcript. All right, we’ll see you next time.



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