Category Archives: personal automation

The Daily Almanac Has Been Added to My Google Writing Tracker

One of the most frequent requests I get regarding my Google Writing Tracker is to make my Daily Almanac available as part of those scripts. The wait is over. Today, I pushed out the Daily Almanac the Google Writing Tracker project on GitHub.

For those who don’t know, my Google Writing Tracker is a set of script that automate the process of tracking what I write every day. Since I do all of my writing in Google Docs, these scripts run automatically each night, look at what I wrote, tally up the stats and record them in a spreadsheet. They also email me a copy of all of my writing for that day, including differences from the previous day.

Along with those scripts, I built another script that I call my Daily Almanac. This script culls that spreadsheet that is populated by my Writing Tracker scripts and gives me a summary report each night. The report tells me how much I wrote that day, and breaks it down for me. It also identifies any streaks I may have set (369 consecutive days of writing as of today) and any records I may have set. (The most words I’ve written in a day, etc.) I set up my Daily Almanac to send the nightly email to Evernote so that I have a nice record there of my day-to-day writing activity. Here is what a typical Daily Almanac entry looks like:

Daily Almanac July 23

The Daily Almanac is now available for anyone who wants to use it with the Google Writing Tracker. I have checked it in to the project on GitHub, and I’ve updated the README file with detailed steps for setting it up.

As always, this is a use-at-your-own-risk thing. I just don’t have the time to support these scripts. The best I can do is make them available for others who want to give them a try, and encourage folks to add to improve upon them. Be sure to read the instructions carefully, and if you do find any bugs, feel free to open up an issue in the GitHub project. I may not fix it any time soon, but at least it will get tracked.

Alpha Testing an Update to My Google Writing Tracker

Beginning today, I am doing some alpha testing of the first significant update to my Google Writing Tracker scripts in more than a year. I will be testing these out myself over a period of a week or two before pushing the changes to GitHub.

The newest feature is that the writing scripts now track both fiction and nonfiction writing. This may not seem like much, but it is a big deal for me, as I have been writing a lot more of the latter lately and want to be able to look at the data to see how much of what I write each day is fiction, and now much is nonfiction. Fiction and nonfiction columns are captured separately in the Writing spreadsheet, and a third column keeps track of the total writing, fiction and nonfiction.

My Daily Almanac has been modified to report on this. Here is what a new version of my Daily Almanac email looks like when it is sent to my Evernote account:

DailyAlmanacNew

The script distinguishes between fiction and nonfiction by looking for a tag I include at the end of my template document:

  • {{Fiction}} = Fiction
  • {{Nonfiction} = Nonfiction

I am also working on a few other changes:

  • I’ve added the ability to run the script in a test mode, that sends the email containing what you wrote that day, but does not actually update any values.
  • I’ve added a check to make sure that the script only looks for Google Doc files in the sandbox.
  • I’m working on simplifying the setup process.

It will probably be 2 weeks before I push these changes to GitHub. However…

I have added my Daily Almanac script to the GitHub project today because I know a lot of people were asking for that. Stay-tuned for the next post for more details.

Reminder: My Google Writing Scripts are Available on GitHub

After my inaugural post for The Daily Beast appeared, I’ve been asked almost daily if the scripts I mentioned in the post are available. They are available on GitHub. I put them there last July. I hesitated to mention them in the post on TDB because I didn’t want to come across as promoting my own stuff. But since I’ve been asked almost daily since the post appeared, I’m thinking that maybe I should have. Ah, well. If folks are interested in trying out the scripts, or improving upon them, you can access the code on GitHub. Be sure to read all of the instructions there to get them working correctly.

All About My To-Do List System

I get asked from time-to-time about what system I use for my to-do list. I use a plain-text, command-line system developed by Gina Trapani called todo.txt. In concept the system is very simple. There is a text file containing all of my todo items, one item per line. There is another text file containing all of the things I’ve done, one item per line. There are commands that I can run to add, complete, and otherwise manipulate my to-do list. Over the years I’ve tried most of the apps and services out there, but I like todo.txt for 4 reasons:

  1. It is surprisingly simple. It’s just text files.
  2. You can do complex things with text files.
  3. Text files are compatible with just about everything.
  4. I can integrate the system with just about anything.

I thought I’d give a walk through of how I use todo.txt to manage my to-do list in order to illustrate some of these points. I’m not going to go into the details on installing the system, as there are already clear instructions for doing this.

What goes on my to-do list

I put 2 kinds of things on my to-do list:

  1. Anything that I need to do that I don’t want to have to remember.
  2. Anything I’ve completed and want to track after the fact.

The second thing may not be obvious, but often times I’ll add something to my to-do list right after I’ve done it, and then immediately mark it as done, so that I have a record of it that I can look up later.

Todo.txt allows you to mark up your list in certain useful ways. A + sign in front of a term represents a project. We are remodeling our kitchen so things related to that on my to-do list have a +KitchenRemodel as part of the to-do item. For example:

Todo Project

You can also include a “context” for the to-do item. This concept is derived (I believe) from Dave Allen’s GTD methodology where to-do lists are broken down into their proper contexts (@home, @work, @phone, etc.). In the example above, you can see I use contexts like @home and @errands. In fact, I only have a handful of contexts that I use with my to-do items: @home, @work, @errands, @freelance, @blog, and @mit. I’ll explain @mit shortly.

Finally, Todo.txt lets you set a priority for a to-do item. These are completely arbitrary, but are lettered, like (A), (B), (C), etc. I only use A, B, and C, and I use them as follows:

A = Today. This is something that I want to get done today.

B = This week. Something that I want to get done this week.

C = Someday. Something that I want to get done eventually. Mostly it’s on the list so that I don’t forget about it.

When using Todo.txt on the command line, it will sort and color-code your list by priority. So if I look at all of the items I want to get done this week, this is what I see:

Todo this week

Notice that they are sorted and color-coded by priority. The number at the very beginning of each line is the “task number” and the date is the date on which the item was added to my list. Todo.txt adds both of those automatically.

Adding items to my to-do list

I always have a console window open on the computer that I’m working on, so adding an item to my to-do list is very easy. Suppose I wanted to add an item to write a post on todo.txt. This is what I’d type at my command prompt:

t add "Write post on using Todo.txt @blog"

That item would be given a task number and date and added to my to-do list:

Todo Add

That’s all there is to it. I could have given it a priority or project as well simply by typing something like this instead:

t add "(A) Write post on using Todo.txt for +GP @blog"

If I decided I wanted to add or change the priority later, I could do that easily as well with something like:

t pri 60 B

which tells Todo.txt to change the priority of task #60 to B.

Todo.txt has iPhone and Android apps as well. I prefer the command line but sometimes the iPhone app can be handy if I am away from the computer. Here’s what my to-do list looks like on the iPhone app:

Todo iPhone
Todo iPhone

I store my todo.txt files in Dropbox and so they are accessible from any device to which I sync Dropbox, including my iPhone. That means I’m always working from a current version of my list, no matter where I am.

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How I Automatically Capture Driving Data From my @automatic Link in a Google Spreadsheet

I have been using the Automatic Link in my Kia Sorento since December. It is a good little device that plugs into your car’s data port and pulls out all kinds of interesting information about your driving habits. For a while, you needed the iPhone app to browse the data, and the data itself was not extractable in any easy way, but no longer.

A while back, the Automatic tracker became available on IFTTT, with a bunch of triggers that can be used in automation workflow. One of those triggers is when a new trip is completed. So I created a recipe in IFTTT that logs the data of each completed trip to a Google Spreadsheet. For now, it logs all of the data, even though I might not use all of it. The data is logged within 15 minutes of completing a “trip” (going from point a to point b and shutting of the engine). Here is a list of the data that gets collected in the spreadsheet:

  • Car
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Duration
  • Distance (miles)
  • Average MPG
  • Fuel volume consumed (gal)
  • Fuel cost (dollars)
  • Hard brake count1
  • Hard accel count2
  • Duration over 70 MPH (minutes)
  • Duration over 75 MPH (minutes)
  • Duration over 80 MPH (minutes)
  • Trip Map URL
  • Start Location Longitude
  • Start Location Latitude
  • Start Location Map URL
  • End Location Longitude
  • End Location Latitude
  • End Location Map URL

The spreadsheet looks something like this:

Automatic Link

The great thing about this is that, like the FitBit Flex or my Google Writing Tracker scripts, the data is collected automatically. This is, in my opinion, of critical importance for personal analytics, because any time you have to take for manual actions lessens the likelihood you’ll continue to collect the data. For this data, all I have to do is drive.

I only have a week of the data so far, but it has already confirmed what we already knew: we have an incredibly good commute to and from work. I live about 5 miles from the office (5.18 miles on the roads according to the Automatic Link). When we leave the house at 7:16 am (as we did yesterday), we arrive at my office at 7:28 for a total trip time of 13 minutes. (Kelly has to then catch the Yellow Line from my office to her office in the District.) Coming home. Our reverse commute in the evening takes 12 minutes, despite being right in the middle of rush hour.

There are a few things I am trying to tweak with the spreadsheet. One downside is that the data/time is entered as a text field instead of an actual date/time and that makes some charting difficult, but I’m working on some code that will convert this automatically. Then, once I have more data, producing some charts and plots similar to what I’ve done for writing and walking should be easy.

One thing I’ve learned from this that I’d never thought much about before is the cost of our commuting into the office. Looking at the fuel consumption of our commute and Automatic’s estimated fuel costs, our commute costs us $1.85/day. That amounts to $9.25/week, or assuming we work 48 weeks out of the year, $444 in fuel costs commuting to-and-from work each year.

That number is actually high because there are days when we both work from home, but I suppose the number wouldn’t be less than $400/year.

I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this data once I have more of it to make it more meaningful.

ETA: I’ve embedded my IFTTT recipe for this automation below, for easier access.

IFTTT Recipe: Export Automatic Trip Data to aGoogle Spreadsheet connects automatic to google-drive

Notes

  1. The tracker detects when you brake too hard as part of its system for analyzing fuel consumption performance.
  2. The tracker detects when you accelerate at a rate that burns fuel in a less-than-optimal way.

My Technology Ecosystem, April 2014 Edition

I get questions, every now and then, about the technology ecosystem I use. I figure it’s pretty obvious from my posts, but in order to be perfectly clear, and in order to have a post I can point people to, I’m documenting my technology stack as of today, April 1, 2014. I’ll do this in layers from hardware, up through software ecosystems.

The Hardware Layer

Desktop Computer: Commodore 64

I recently upgraded from the VIC 20 to the Commodore 64, and I must say that it is a huge improvement. Having the additional memory is great, because I can now type in longer programs from the pages of BYTE Magazine. And, it’s got a 320×200 display, which is almost double what my old VIC had.

But an even better advantage of the upgrade has been…

Laptop Computer: Commodore 64

It is small enough to carry with me when I go places. I don’t even need batteries because this thing has a plug that I can snap right into a wall outlet. I mean, it’s cutting-edge.

Tablet: Etch-a-Sketch

The Etch-a-Sketch has been a life-changer for me and the family. It’s portable, requires no battery, and can do just about anything. I’d post a picture of our family Etch-a-Sketch, but it turns out we left it in the car (which my wife has driven to work). We use it a lot in the car to keep the kids entertained. They can watch their favorite movies on the Etch-a-Sketch, which I painfully draw for them, scene-by-scene, and which they then criticize. It’s a wonderful family-bonding experience.

Printer: My Royal QuietComfort DeLuxe Portable Typewriter

Granted, it is a little difficult to find toner ribbon for this device today, but when you do, it produces copy that harks back to the golden age of journalism, when newspapers were king, and on April Fool’s Day, columnists would wryly opine on how television was the wave of the future–nod, nod, wink, wink.

Truth is, finding decent typing paper is almost as difficult as finding ribbon, but I make due. Turns out it’s even easy to print multiple copies with this printer…

Copier: Carbon Paper

…because, carbon paper!!. This stuff is pure genius. Slip a sheet of it between two pages of typing paper, and type away. You come away with two copies of your document, each copying duplicating with precision every typo you make along the way.

Now let me discuss the software layer of my technology ecosystem.

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How Many Steps Does It Take to Wear Out a Pair of Sneakers?

Yesterday, I noticed that my sneakers looked particularly worn out. Moreover, I noticed a significant hole in the left one. I discovered this hole while passing through a puddle. The insides are fairly worn as well, as are the bottoms. I took note of this mostly because it felt like I’d just purchased these shoes.

I don’t buy new shoes often, and I usually allow them to wear down. But this seemed unusually fast. It turns out that, time-wise, it was pretty fast, but wear-wise, these shoes have been through a lot, thanks to my daily walking.

I checked my Evernote timeline and found the receipt for my shoes, purchased on September 24, 2013, just under 6 months ago. I then checked my FitBit data and discovered that, in that six month period, I have walked nearly 1.84 million steps into these shoes. That’s about 900 miles worth of walking, day in and day out. If you consider that, on days where I can’t get my usually walking in, I only manage about 4,000 steps in regular activity, then you can see that these shoes would normally last me well over a year. But I tend to put between 15,000 – 20,000 steps a day in and so the wear and tear happens much faster.

My receipt from September indicates that I paid $64 for this pair of shoes. From that number, and the number of steps I’ve taken since, you can calculate some interesting rates. For instance, on a per-step basis, I paid 1/3000th of a cent per step. Looking at it another way, you can say that it costs me 7-cents to walk one mile in these shoes.

I am, of course, on the market for new shows. I’m looking for sneakers that are great for walking and are very comfortable as well. And if I can make them last to 2 million steps, then all the better. Any suggestions? Drop them in the comments.

2 Useful Insights I’ve Gained from Personal Analytics Data: Sleep and Productivity

In writing about personal analytics and data collection, one question I get more frequently than most is: what do you get out of it? Today I thought I’d share 4 insights I’ve gained into my own behavior from scrutinizing the data that I collect.

For those who haven’t been following along, I am fascinated by what data about our everyday lives can tell us about our behaviors. The data is often referred to as “personal analytics” and the movement behind this kind of data collection and analysis is called the “quantified self” movement. I collect data in four major areas:

Areas of Tracking

I collect data in other areas, too, but the key point about these four areas is that the process is entirely automated. I just go about my day, and this data is collected without any intervention or action on my part. I’ve already written extensively about my walking and writing insights so today I’ll focus on what I’ve learned about my behavior when it comes to sleeping and overall productivity.

1. Restless nights and sleep efficiency

You know those nights where you feel like you are tossing and turning all night long, getting very little sleep? Turns out, I do sleep on those nights, at least according to my FitBit, but my “sleep efficiency” is down below 90%. Here is a one recent example:

Sleep Efficiency

I’ve been capturing this type of data for almost two years now and I’ve learned a few useful things about my sleep habits by looking closely at the data.

  1. When my sleep efficiency is >= 95%, it feels like a restful night’s sleep. This is true for me almost independent of the number of hours I actually sleep. If I only get 5 hours of sleep, but my sleep efficiency is, say, 97%, I still wake up feeling like I had a good night’s sleep.
  2. When my sleep efficiency is between 90-95%, it’s a pretty good night, but the number of hours is more of a factor. If I get, say 7 hours of sleep with a sleep efficiency of 92%, I feel pretty good in the morning. On the other hand, if I get 5-1/2 hours of sleep with a 92% efficiency, then I don’t feel nearly as well-rested. According to the data, the time threshold is around 6 hours.
  3. When my sleep efficiency is less than 90%, I feel like I had a restless night’s sleep, regardless of hours actually slept.

I’ve been able to take this data and put together a chart of my sleep quality, based on two variables, sleep efficiency, and hours of actual sleep (vs. hours in bed).

Sleep Quality

I should not that I do not track how I feel each morning when I wake up. But on mornings when I felt particularly good or poor, I’ve checked it against the data from my FitBit and it is fairly consistent. For me, therefore, the above chart is a good representation of the quality of my sleep based on the two inputs.

How does this help?

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My Reading List Short Code for WordPress is Available on GitHub

A while back, I posted about how I use a simple text file to track my reading list, and then use that as my authoritative source for tracking my reading. I showed, for instance, how I use a short code in WordPress to neatly format that text file so that I never have to update WordPress  when I add a new book to my list. It updates automatically.

A few people asked if I would share my code, and now that I’ve had a chance to write up some simple instructions, I’ve made the code available on GitHub.

As always, this code is use-at-your-own-risk. It has worked without a problem since I started using it last month. While you can use this code right in your main theme, I recommend using it as part of a child-theme, as it is much easier to maintain.

Feel free to use it, and modify it as you like!

My New “Analytics” Desktop

Every now and then, I need a change of scenery, and that includes what I see on my computer desktop. I spent this afternoon giving my desktop a long-overdue makeover. And thanks to the fact that my to-do list is based on text files, and that I use text files for many other things, it was fairly easy to include some real-time analytics embedded into my desktop via GeekTool. Here is what my new desktop looks like. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Analytics Desktop
Click to enlarge

I have a 27″ iMac so my screen is pretty big. I use multiple “desktops” but all of them have the same basic look as above. I found a cool typing paper background and an old typewriter font to give it some flavor. You’ll note I’ve made 3 annotations on the image. I’ll discuss each of these below.

1. My to-do list rundown

I use todo.txt to manage my to-do list, and there is a little add on that takes your to-do list and produces a rundown. basically, it shows you what you completed yesterday (or the last day on which you completed a task) and what is still on your list. I embedded this into my desktop using GeekTool, and it updates automatically as my to-do list changes. This means that I never have to look further than my desktop to see what is on my to-do list.

2. Date/time/weather

GeekTool allows you to run shell commands and render the results as widgets that are embedded into your desktop. I used three different simple shell scripts to produce the date/time/weather section of my desktop:

For the date:

date +"%A, %b. %d"

For the time:

date +"%l:%M"

and for the weather:

curl --silent "http://weather.yahooapis.com/forecastrss?p=yourzipcode&u=f" | grep -E '(Current Conditions:|F<BR)' | sed -e 's/Current Conditions://' -e 's/<br \/>//' -e 's/<b>//' -e 's/<\/b>//' -e 's/<BR \/>//' -e 's/<description>//' -e 's/\(.*\) F/\1° F/' -e 's/<\/>//'

I got the latter from a repository of GeekTool scripts. It basically parses Yahoo’s weather for your zip code and produces a simple result.

Reading/writing metrics

Books read this year

I’ve explained how my main reading list is a plain text file that I keep in Dropbox. Because it is plain text, it can be easily manipulated. I can parse it to produce my formatted reading list page. And I can also use simple UNIX commands to extract additional information. To produce the number of books that I’ve read so far in the current year is as simple as running the following command:

grep `date '+%Y'` ~/Dropbox/Public/reading.txt | wc -l

For those who don’t speak UNIX, all this command does is searches for anything in my reading.txt file that contains the current year. It then filters the results through the “wc” command, which is the word count command. The -l says to count the number of lines int he results. Since I have one book per line, whatever that number of resulting lines is represents the number of books I’ve read so far this year.

What I’m currently reading

I wrote yesterday of how I keep a now.txt file that contains the title, author and Amazon product code of the book I’m currently reading. To produce this information on my desktop, I run a command that parses the contents of that file:

cat /Users/jamietr/Dropbox/Public/now.txt | sed 's/(.*)\(.*\)/\1/'

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How Text Files Help Me Automate Common Text Expansions

I‘ve discussed how I use TextExpander to speed up commonly typed things (like my email address). Or things that I can’t always remember (like my home phone number). Recently, I’ve been taking a closer look at what I type over and over again, and have done some automation that allows me to automatically expand another common thing I type: what book I am currently reading.

A while back, I explained why I love plain text files, and gave an example of how I use them to maintain my reading list. One of the text files I have in my public dropbox folder is what I call now.txt. The contents of now.txt is nothing more than what I am currently reading, in a simple format. Today, the entire file looks like this:

John Adams by David McCullough (B000FC0QHA)

where the code in parentheses is the Amazon product code.

Whenever I start a new book, I update my now.txt file with what I am currently reading, and include the Amazon product code. I type it into this file once, and never have to type again.

That is because I have taught TextExpander to read the file and parse it into one of four different snippets. Reading and parsing the file is simple. Since the now.txt resides in my public Dropbox folder, and since that folder is synchronized with my Mac, the file is always accessible from my Mac. So I wrote some simple UNIX bash scripts to parse the file.

TextExpander allows you to create expansions out of shell scripts, and so I can easily call my UNIX bash script as an expansion in TextExpander. The four expansions I have created are:

1. ;;book: Whenever I type this shortcut, it expands into a line of text containing the title and author of the book that I am currently reading (the one that is in my now.txt file.) It expands wherever TextExpander works, which on my Mac is everywhere. So I never have to retype the book I am currently reading. If someone asks in email what I am currently reading, I can reply and use my shortcut, which will expand to whatever my shell script parses out of my text file. Right now, when I type the shortcut, it expands to this:

John Adams by David McCullough

Of course, if I change the contents of the file, the results of the shortcut expansion changes as well. Here is the shell script I run for the text expansion:

#!/bin/bash
cat /Users/<login>/Dropbox/Public/now.txt | sed 's/(.*)\(.*\)/\1/' %<

I won’t bore you with what it all means. Just understand that if the text is in the format I listed way up above, this will parse it correctly. Also, substitute your login name where it says <login> in the path. In TextExpander, it looks like this:

TextExpander Current Book snippet

2. ;;title: This expands to just the title of the current book I’m reading, as opposed to title and author. So right now, it expands to:

John Adams

The code for this snippet is:

#!/bin/bash
cat /Users/<login>/Dropbox/Public/now.txt | sed 's/\(.*\).*by.*/\1/' %<

3. ;;author: This expands to just the author of the book I’m currently reading. Right now it expands to:

David McCullough

The code for this snippet is:

#!/bin/bash
cat /Users/<login>/Dropbox/Public/now.txt | sed 's/.*.*by.\(.*\).(.*/\1/' %<

4. ;;amazonlink: Sometimes people ask for more information, or I decide to embed a link to the book in Amazon. This usually requires me looking up the book in Amazon, and copying the link. I sometimes do this a dozen times. Rather than do that, I include the product code in my now.txt file. Typing this shortcut then expands to the full URL to the book in Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FC0QHA

The code for this snippet is:

#!/bin/bash
cat /Users/<login>/Dropbox/Public/now.txt | sed 's/.*.*by.*(\(.*\))/http:\/\/www\.amazon\.com\/gp\/product\/\1/' %<

This means that I only need type the information about what I am currently reading once, in my now.txt file. After that, so long as I keep that file up-to-date, my text expansions will always expand using the values in that file. You can imagine plenty of other examples of this for common information you type regularly, but that also changes fairly regularly.

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FAQ: How Do You Do It All?

One of the more frequently asked questions I get, and one that inevitably surprises me, is the question, “How do you do all that you do?” It surprises me because I am always feeling like I could have packed a little more into my day if I really tried. I suppose it also surprises me because I am used to working how I work, and what I do is just what I do.

But, since some of my Arlington Writers Group comrades have asked the question, and since I didn’t have a recent post giving an answer, it seemed best to answer it here so that I could point others to this post when the inevitably question comes in. Here, then, are my 5 secrets to how I think I do it all. I could be wrong.

1. First big secret: I work incrementally

This “secret” is not going to please people who are looking for a quick way of increasing their productivity, but I include it because it really does make huge difference. I work incrementally. What that means is that, over time–and often over long spans of time–I steadily increase the amount of work I do. These steady increases go almost unnoticed, but they are also fairly regular, and that means that over periods of years, I find that I am doing a lot more than I used to do.

When I discuss this, I often refer to Milo of Croton1, the ancient Greek body-builder. The story is probably apocryphal, but it gives the flavor of what I mean. Milo was a body builder who had a unique method of training. He would supposedly lift a newborn calf everyday, until, eventually, he was lifting a full-grown cow.

The small, day-to-day variances aren’t noticeable by themselves, but when compared over longer spans of time, the differences emerge.

I do a fair amount of blogging, and it is just built into my day, without much thought. I know how to write post. Much of it is formed in my head before I type out the first words, and when I begin typing, it is more dictation than anything else. That said, I’ve now been blogging for nearly ten years on a fairly regular basis I’ve written close to 6,000 posts. It is muscle memory at this point, and takes little mental effort, only the time to squeeze it in here or there.

The same is true with lots of other things that I take on.

2. Second big secret: automate what is repeatable

I’ve been doing this more and more, and I’ve written about it on a number of occasions, but I get the sense that it doesn’t always register. Let me be blunt: if I have to do something more than once, I try hard to find a way to automate it. This is easy for me for 2 reasons:

  1. Much of what I do is on computer and that lends itself naturally to automation.
  2. I’ve spend the last 20 years as an application developer/IT guy, and have the knowledge it takes to automate without having to spend time learning new technology.

Of course, the automation happens incrementally. I’ve added all kinds of TextExpander snippets over the years so that I don’t have to keep typing the same things over and over again. But seriously automate where I can. For instance:

  • I use services like IFTTT to automate routine integrations between different online apps.
  • Going paperless has helped tremendously in my ability to automate things.
  • I never spend time formatting manuscripts. I write, and then when I’m ready to submit, I run a script that formats the manuscript for the intended market and generates a cover letter.
  • I have saved searches that collect all of my tax-related documents so that I need to spend only about 5 minutes of my time gathering documents to send to my accountant.
  • I have process that scan my meeting notes for action items and automatically add them to my to-do list.
  • I’ve automated all bill payments.
  • I have tons of canned email responses I sent out.

These are just a few examples of the way that I’ve automated things. And they add up. The time that I am not spending on all of these things frees up time for me to spend with the family, or to write, or read, or whatever it is I’d rather be doing. This goes for my day job as well as the rest of my life.

It helps to keep things simple, which is why I prefer to use things like text files for lists, or Google Docs for writing. The result is that I can seem like I do a lot more than I really do myself, simply because there are a lot of automated processes out there doing the work for me.

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Notes

  1. I first learned of Milo in an Isaac Asimov book, although which one slips my mind at the moment.