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Automate me happy

Lawrence Andrews
Operations technology

We explore why personal automation should be on the radar of SME business leaders if they want to get more efficiency from the working day and create a happier workforce.

What do we mean by automation?

There’s a lot of talk of the application of automation in business. Sometimes termed business automation, sometimes just automation. There are a few others which we’ll get to!

Whatever you choose to call it there appears to be some consensus on definition. That is, it is the application of technology to perform repetitive or time-consuming tasks, freeing up people to spend time doing more valuable things.

It's quite often talked about in the context of business workflow automation. How technology can be used to enable, to simplify, to speed up, to reduce cost of common business processes. However, there is also personal automation.

This is the long tail. It is harder to define, but is an often untapped source of potential operational efficiency improvements!

Personal automation is what individuals can do to automate aspects of their specific job. By automating or speeding up the time consuming, boring bits, individuals can dramatically increase their productivity.

It is often seen as entirely the responsibility of the employee themselves. After all they are ultimately responsible for the work that they do. A business can’t concern itself with everyone’s working styles or approaches. This would create huge overhead and is the antithesis of operational efficiency.

I challenge this.

Why personal automation matters?

Once personal automation was giving people email addresses, later access to Microsoft Teams or Slack and online meeting software. The idea of these things was to give the individuals the tools needed to be more efficient in their communication and more productive in their work.

Today no one would question these as critical tools and unavoidable operational costs.

But with the advent of low cost cloud software, the tools given to employees to support their personal efficiency and productivity doesn’t have to and perhaps shouldn’t end here. In addition there are plenty of valuable tools that don’t even cost anything.

Fundamentally, by improving personal efficiency and productivity people have more time. This additional time could be spent doing more valuable work, it could help someone reclaim a work-life balance, or it could just help reduce their stress levels.

The benefit felt will ultimately depend on the individual. What is common is that it has the potential to improve their quality of life, bring them more meaning and make them happier.

Happier people equal more content employees. More content employees are more productive employees, more loyal employees.

5 examples of personal automation

So as ever, let’s get practical. What more things can SMEs do to provide individuals with the tools to reach higher levels of personal automation and happiness!

You may already know about some of these but that’s not necessarily the point though. The question is whether you are actively empowering employees to benefit from personal automation tools?

This could mean access to paid subscriptions. Equally, it's about making sure everyone is aware of the tools available to them. It’s making sure they know how they can help in the context of your business and their role. It’s giving them the resources and training to help them use them.

Meeting Scheduling

How many emails or instant messages can go back and forth to organise a 30 minute meeting. For those people arranging and hosting a lot of meetings get them a Calendly account or similar alternative. They can setup a link and send it to people to let them book in meetings around their availability. It also offers a polling option when you need to agree a meeting slot with multiple people.

You can create a free account and try it out.

Google Alerts

My job requires me to keep track of the latest happenings in my industry. However, I don’t have time to be spending 3 hours a day researching and reading articles on Google. The solution? Google Alerts. You can set up google alerts to notify you of relevant articles daily, weekly, or even as they are published.

And it couldn’t be simpler to set up. Go give it a try here.

Canned responses

You are likely to be using a CRM once you’ve hit a certain scale, or you are already well digitalised (high five!). However almost no one uses all the features they pay for.

Encourage people to start sending emails from the CRM to track interactions but also build up their own library of canned responses.

A canned response is just a template to speed up the creation of a response to a common question. It makes sense to create a library of these at an overall business level to help create efficiencies but it also makes sense for individual employees to have their own that are more specific to their roles.

We use Freshworks’ Freshsales Suite but most good CRM tools should offer this functionality.

Lists and Reminders

In the modern working environment we are still very time poor. Writing lists and setting reminders is still a really powerful way to prompt us to do things on time and stop us forgetting.

Now I know people have been writing lists and creating reminders in outlook for years. I still find myself doing it. There really are much better ways and tools to do this in this day and age!

Here are a few good articles that provide an overview of good apps:

A note of warning though. Don’t forget to think about how these might interact or overlap with any project management and team management tooling you use.

Personal time tracking

Everyone thinks time tracking is about timesheets and monitoring. It’s because when it’s being administered by operations teams it is!

However time tracking is a really useful way for individuals to learn more about their work and working style. It’s definitely not for everyone but some people will benefit from being able to keep track of what time they are spending on what tasks in a given day, week or month.

The added bonus. You get data to see where you are spending maybe too much time and where you can perhaps introduce some more personal automation to help.

Here’s a good app I like: Toggl Track. Good for those that spend most of their day on a computer. Atracker is another that is easy to use and nice if you are on the move a lot.

For reference I don’t earn any commission on these product recommendations. Although I should!

Moving forward with automation

These five simple examples don’t even scratch the surface of what’s available and what’s possible.  Personal automation tools that could have a huge impact on your business are out there. They are low cost, sometimes even free, and very easy to set-up.

I recommend starting with a simple automation strategy and plan. Whilst this article concerns itself with personal automation, this should look at the application of business workflow and personal automation collectively.

The aim of the strategy is to define the goals of automation, the business process foundation needed, and the right tools for your business. The plan provides a practical roadmap for getting these tools setup, embedded and earning real gains that you can measure.

Get in touch with me to have a chat. Or take a look at some of the further reading below.