As useful as outsourcing and delegating can be, it is important to understand that if you are considering outsourcing or delegating anything, you should test to see if these tasks can be automated first.
Automation is generally a fixed, one-time cost (if that), so it can be a lot cheaper than outsourcing. In most, more simple cases, it can even be free!
If a task can be automated, you should then check to see if a task can be automated for a reasonable price and if automation does a reasonable job at performing the task.
Automation can take many forms. It can be something as simple as categorizing your emails to something more complex such as assembling cars. A lot of automation can be done for free, some can take some knowledge to implement, while some also may require you to hire someone else to create an application that can automate a task for you. Either way, automation can add a lot of productivity to your business and it is something you should look to embrace whenever reasonably possible.
Let’s look at some examples of automation that you can set up to make your workplace more efficient, ranging from simple to more complex.
Gmail offers an intuitive filtering and labeling system that makes it very simple to not only categorize your email, but also archive and search previous email conversations. Setting up Gmail filters to automatically categorize your email can make it easier for you to determine what messages you need to answer right away and which messages you can save for later, or even automatically archive and mark as read.
Plus, the archive and search feature automates the process of sifting through your emails for an older, yet important message. Many readers may already know how to do all this, but those that don’t should definitely look into it.
Mac users will recognize this program. Unfortunately, I do not know of any good Windows equivalent to this. Automator uses a graphical user interface to design a workflow for computer tasks to be automated. Files can be renamed en masse, moved automatically based on certain specified criteria, amongst many others. Mac users who don’t use this should definitely look into this application and see if they can incorporate this into their work.
This may be more complicated for some, but the slightly computer savvy can easily figure this out. These two applications are Unix command lines. Terminal being the Mac version, CYGWIN being the Windows/downloadable version. Unix command lines can perform many powerful tasks, but most importantly, these tasks can be saved and batched. These scripts can then be automated further by being scheduled to be performed at regular intervals.
There are very simple scripts that you can write (note: fear not, this ISN’T a programming language) that can automate simple tasks such as creating a text file with a listing of all of the files in a given directory, automate backups, along with much more complicated tasks. An entrepreneur’s time is limited, so learning anything too technical (unless you are interested in it) might be counter productive, however basic scripting for Terminal/CYGWIN is relatively simple for anyone with some computer savvy.
Those who are real automation fiends who either know how to program, or have a bit more of a budget to hire a freelancer to program for you may be interested in looking into automation programming languages such as AppleScript, Expect and many others that I don’t know about.
As stated before, doing some light research to determine if this level of automation is reasonable for your business is recommended. If there are some seriously redundant tasks that cannot be performed by any of the above methods except by customized applications either through an automation language or otherwise, it is something you should look into.
Automation is becoming more and more prevalent in our everyday lives and is by no means a new concept. This is why it is so important to pursue this as much as possible. Having a program handle important, yet redundant work can be priceless and will free up the time of you and your workforce.