The value of automation to a large company is clear – there are many tasks that robots and computers can do cheaper, faster, and more precisely than their human counterparts. But what about you, me, and our day-to-day lives? Can automation genuinely have a positive impact, and is it even feasible?
Most of us can’t afford a dedicated team of engineers building complex robotic solutions to our everyday obstacles, but fortunately, we don’t need that. Instead, 21st-century technology gives ordinary people abundant opportunities to streamline or eliminate some of the most boring, arduous, and draining parts of life. Then we can free ourselves up to get back to the things that bring us joy, lift us up, and take us to new and exciting places.
Introducing Automation Into Day-to-Day Life
This talk of robots and computers is fun and all, but what does it look like in practice? Let’s start with a simple definition of exactly what I mean when I talk about automation:
Automation – The use of a system that replaces predominantly manual, routine actions with primarily automatic ones
Take the routine things you have to do, and insert a system that can take care of it with little (or ideally zero) input from you.
I can say with moderate certainty that many automated processes are already helping you daily. For example:
- Smoke detectors automate the task of checking if your house is on fire
- Digital calendars automate reminding yourself to do or go to things
- Appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, etc. which do cleaning tasks for you
Protip – Most things you own that end in “-er” automate the thing that comes before the “-er”: washer and dryer, toaster, walk-the-dog-er (patent pending).
All these scenarios are things that any of us can do ourselves but work much better when we automate them. For example, checking to see if your house is on fire at a given moment is pretty easy, but constantly checking if your home is on fire and never missing something? That’s a full-time job. Automation gives you confidence that things are under control while freeing you up for other important jobs.
Benefits of Automation
At its heart, automation is a productivity tool, plain and simple. It frees up your time and paves the way to get more done. But it’s not just that. Here are a few more practical reasons we should be doing our best to automate everything we can.
Using the Right “Person” for the Job
It’s pretty well understood by now that there are some jobs that machines can do WAY better than people. And vice versa. Automation is a means of tapping into the best of both these worlds.
Monitoring every room of your house for smoke 24/7 and remembering the birthday of everyone you know are two exhausting jobs for humans and unspeakably easy jobs for machines. Likewise, solving a complex problem at work, spending quality time with your family, or painting a beautiful jacaranda tree make much better use of human strengths than robot strengths. Automation is about choosing the right person (or robot) for the job.
Perfecting the Output
We’re not just talking about ease and time management here – we’re also talking about the output quality. Generally, automated processes work faster, more consistently, and with fewer errors than their manual equivalents. This is input-output asymmetry at work.
Humans excel at adapting and interpreting new situations. Perfecting repetitive tasks isn’t our strong suit. We’re bound to make mistakes here and there. Machines, on the other hand, LOVE routine. They can repeat the same task till the cows come home with a stunningly low error rate.
Reducing Decision-Making and Mental Strain
Without using automation to your advantage, you run the risk of wasting your time and energy on manual tasks and ending up with a lower-quality output than if you had systemized it.
There is only one time in my life I ever have to think about whether my house is on fire – when I microwave a bag of popcorn for .0027 seconds too long, and my smoke detector tells me. Not only do I never have to check for smoke manually, but I also don’t have to think about when to do it, where to do it, and what to put on hold for it. I don’t have to deal with context switching back and forth to that task. Thanks to automation, it is entirely off my plate.
How Can I Get Started with Automation?
So we’ve covered what automation looks like and what we all have to gain by introducing more automated systems into our lives. Now all that’s left is to start identifying what we can automate and how to do it.
The “what to automate” part is pretty straightforward. Start by just being an observer of your day. Look for the recurring tasks that you often do. Bonus points for anything particularly difficult or time-consuming for you or that is very human-error-prone. When you identify one of these, look for an answer to the question, “how could I make it so that I don’t have to do this?” or “how could I cut down the time that I spend doing this?” Automation, after all, is basically productive laziness.
Here are some ready-to-go automation ideas for everyday life that you can use to free up your time and energy to get back to the stuff you love most.
8 Easy Ways to Simplify and Automate Your Life
1. Smart Home Automation
The 21st-century tech revolution has brought countless ways to improve and streamline day-to-day life. One of the most exciting is the wide array of available smart home devices. Most will recognize the big brand name smart home products like the Nest smart thermostat, Phillips Hue lighting, Ring doorbell, and Amazon Echo smart devices.
However, a modern connected home can go far beyond smart thermostats, bulbs, and virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa.
There are now gadgets available to automate every aspect of home control, from watering your lawn to managing home security. Even simple, familiar appliances like a coffee maker may have the option to run on a timer, partially automating your morning routine.
Dabbling with these products can feel intimidating at first. However, most modern connected devices are easy to set up, and can free up your time and energy knowing your house can run itself.
2. Calendars and Reminders
Remembering things can be challenging, especially when “things” is a euphemism for the thousands of meetings, appointments, due dates, social plans, and family obligations you have each week. Simple digital tools like calendars and notepad apps can do a flawless job of remembering these things for you and reminding you of them right on time.
Even those with great memory will let something slip their notice from time to time. For technology, on the other hand, this is one of the easiest jobs there is.
Automating your schedule by letting these tools keep track of everything for you can free up a bounty of time and mental energy, plus it ensures that you’ll never forget an important appointment again!
3. Online Communication
I could spit out some stat about how many emails, texts, and notifications we each get in a single day, but you get it. You also get that 95% of it is useless noise. Set up email filters and phone/app notification settings to tune out most of this clutter before you even need to think about it.
As it is with email, so it is with the physical mail and paperwork around your home and office. Create “soft automation” by setting up rules for yourself that take active thinking out of the process. For instance, nothing important or valuable has ever been mailed to “current resident,” so I don’t even open it. Straight to the bin.
5. Bill Pay
One great thing about the 21st century is that “paying the bills” is quickly becoming a thing of the past. You can automate practically any payment online, even sending physical checks through your bank. So take a look at your bills once a month to ensure everything’s moving and be aware of the amounts. From there, you can leave the rest to the robots.
6. Auto-Save and Invest
The biggest obstacle to saving money is always the person doing it. However, there is a clear consensus that those who have their savings on autopilot consistently save far more than those who don’t. You can set up auto-transfers with your bank or try one of the many nifty modern apps like Acorns that help people build for the future without thinking about it.
7. Habits and Routines
As another use of so-called “soft automation,” you can put your beneficial behaviors on autopilot by learning to build strong habits. Habits are essentially a system of human automation. They keep processes consistent, with relatively few errors, while reducing the mental energy needed.
For a slightly techier option than some of the others on this list, IFTTT is an app for anyone who wants to tinker with automating, well, just about anything.
The app, whose name stands for “if this, then that,” offers a simple interface where users can automate everything from sending emails to turning on the lights. It can connect to a huge number of other apps and devices, and is a central hub for many automation enthusiasts.
Whether you want to listen to your favorite playlist every morning, turn on your phone’s Wi-fi when you enter the house, or activate your front door’s smart lock when you leave, IFTTT can do it all automatically and right on time.
Automation and Living a Life of the Future
Automating routine tasks and behaviors may sound like an option only available to massive manufacturing operations or kooky inventors. But with the tools and technology widely available today, there are ways anyone can start streamlining their life without any need for specialized skills or knowledge.
The rapid march of robotics and AI into the mainstream world raise many questions and concerns, but they also bring overflowing opportunity. Technologies like these give us the chance to outsource the parts of our l