I‘ve promised to try to provide one advanced automation tip each month, and it’s that time again. Fortunately, this month’s automation tip is practical, and requires no programming whatsoever.
What problem I am trying to solve
Although I’m pretty good at capturing a lot of information, the one area that I have been particularly poor in is in tracking mileage driven for business purposes. Usually, I just plain forget to do it. As my freelance and speaking work increases, however, I need to be capturing this more for tax purposes. But I also hate doing anything manually that can otherwise be automated. So, how to solve this problem?
Back in December, I bought an Automatic Link from Automatic. The Automatic Link is like FitBit for your car. You plug it into your car’s data port (the same port that a mechanic uses to figure out what’s wrong with your car) and it sync’s to your mobile device and gives you all kinds of information about your driving. If you like data, it’s a pretty cool little device. It can also tell you what’s wrong with your car when the Check Engine light comes on. And it remembers where you parked, so you don’t have to.
Recently, Automatic integrated with IFTTT to provide a bunch triggers upon which automation workflow could be captured. Initially, I created an IFTTT recipe that automatically captures information about each trip in a Google Spreadsheet. It then occurred to me that I could do something similar, automatically capturing trip information in Evernote, which in turn would allow me to automatically track my business trips, tag them, and have them readily accessible for my accountant come tax time.
Ingredients for this automation
My IFTTT recipes to automate collection of driving data
I have created two IFTTT recipes for my Automatic Link. The first recipe just grabs the data after each trips and sends it to a Google Spreadsheet so that I have all of the raw data in one place. Here is that recipe:
For the purposes of collecting mileage for business related trips, I created an IFTTT recipe that sends trip information to a new note in Evernote. The note is created within 15 minutes of the completion of a trip, and it contains a ton of information including the mileage, maps of the start and end points, start time, end time, fuel consumed, and much more. These notes go into my Inbox notebook so I can review them each day. They are tagged “mileage” so that there are easy to find and collect together. Here is the shared recipe in IFTTT:
Integrating this into my daily review
Each evening, usually after I finish my writing for the day, I pull up a saved search for my “daily review” which allows me to look at all of my Evernote activity for the day. It gives me an opportunity to review my day and also tag or file any notes that have not yet been categorized.
One step I’ve added to this review is to look for trip notes created from my Automatic Link and IFTTT. It is easy to spot these with my daily review by searching for the tag “mileage” but usually I don’t even have to do that. I rarely have more than a dozen new notes on any given day. In my daily review, I am looking for those trips that are business trips. When I find them, I add a “taxes” tag to the note so that they will be part of my tax search come tax time. I can also add more information to the note, like the purpose of the trip, just by appending to what is already there.
Finding business trips for tax time
The Automatic Link + IFTTT ensures that Evernote gets all of my trips without me having to do anything at all. My daily review ensures that my business trips are called out separately from any other trip.
I have a saved search for tax time that looks for any notes tagged “taxes” with a create date in a given tax year. For finding my business mileage (as well as fuel costs, gas used, places visited, etc.), I can search for any notes tagged “mileage” and “taxes” during that time period and have the complete list available in an instant. This makes it very easy to find the information and provide it to my accountant. Here is what a snippet of the search looks like with a few of the trips captured in Evernote:
This saves me a lot of time. I don’t have to jot down mileage after each trip. It is captured automatically. Categorizing the mileage happens as part of my daily review. Collecting it all for tax purposes at the end of the year is automated through a saved search.
The Automatic Link costs $99. In theory, you can save that much in a year just by using the device to be a more fuel efficient driver–after all, that was the original purpose of the device. But I think I have recouped my costs even more quickly through time-saving automation. It’s not just the time I don’t have to spend collecting this information and compiling it at the end of the year. I gain back that time to do more productive work, like write stories, or blog posts, or spend time with the family.
For me, this is a classic example of what practical automation should be.
If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.
Last week’s post: Quick Tip: 5 Spring Cleaning Tips for Streamlining Evernote.