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Automation is a habit—here's how to build it

By Justin Pot · November 17, 2022
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Two-thirds of people use some kind of automation software, according to a Zapier report. Of the remaining people who don't, 33 percent say they just can't imagine how it could be useful to them right now.

I used to be one of those people.

Before I worked at Zapier, I mostly wrote tech tutorials and reviews. Zapier, an automation tool, was pitched to me several times. But I never got around to actually using the product. The reason: I couldn't imagine what I'd use it for.

I'm back to being a journalist now, but after working at Zapier for several years, it became hard to imagine life without automation. I regularly spot recurring tasks, think of ways a computer could do them for me, and go about building automated workflows to do those tasks for me. This saves me a ton of time every week, but it didn't come naturally to me.

Automation is a habit you have to build.

Automation is a habit you have to build. It means regularly stepping back from your day-to-day workflow, noticing things that could be automated, then automating them. I've built this habit up, and I'm still surprised by how often I notice new optimizations I can make. But that only happened after I developed the habit.

Step 1: Notice when a task is repetitive

This might be the hardest part: noticing when a task should be automated. It's so easy to get caught up in your daily work and never question if things could be different. It's easy to complain about broken systems—it's harder to actually do something about it.

The trick is to back up, look at the things you do every day, and ask yourself whether they're something a computer could do without your help. You should automate a task if:

  • It's something you have to do frequently, or on a schedule

  • It involves moving information between apps

  • It's boring and doesn't require higher-order thinking

  • It takes you away from what you really want to be doing

If you work at a computer all day, odds are you do at least some tasks that line up with a couple—or even all—of these points.

What these tasks look like is going to vary depending on your role:

  • Many Zapier customers are on Marketing or Sales teams, and they use automation for managing leads: for example, collecting customer information from various online forms and adding them to CRM software and email marketing tools. It's perfectly possible to manually copy contact information from form responses and paste them into other apps, but it's not scalable.

  • Others automate their IT management workflows, like employee onboarding and internal alerts. IT managers are responsible for streamlining work across departments, and automation helps them do that.

Here are other things you should automate right now, if you need more inspiration.

Automation isn't just for work. Try automating your news consumption or your parenting duties.

Step 2: Invest time in solving the problem

You've noticed a task could be automated. Now comes the fun part: actually setting up the automation.

It can be easy to put this off—to get so bogged down by your current workload that you never stop to set up automations that will help you scale your systems. To avoid this, block off time on your calendar for creating new automated workflows.

If you're learning to automate for the first time, it might seem daunting. But it doesn't have to be. My advice: just click all the buttons until you figure it out. There are other schools of thought, of course—some would suggest that you read the darn guide. That's a solid strategy, so check out Zapier Learn to get started.

Step 3: Iterate on your workflows (and delete things that aren't working)

You might think you're done after step two, but you're not. Automations rarely work perfectly right after you set them up—they require some fine-tuning. Again, this means backing up and examining your workflow. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the automation making your team's life easier? How could it do a better job?

  • Where is your team still putting in manual effort in the process. Are there optimizations, like formatting data, that you could make?

  • Did this workflow reveal any other gaps in your system that might be filled with automation?

An automation habit will help you eliminate siloed data, grow organizational efficiency, and be sure your business-critical systems are running smoothly—but only if you invest time upfront. You need to notice when a task could be automated, spend time actually automating it, and iterate on those systems once they're set up.

Related reading:

Zapier is the leader in workflow automation—integrating with 6,000+ apps from partners like Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Use interfaces, data tables, and logic to build secure, automated systems for your business-critical workflows across your organization's technology stack. Learn more.

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A Zap with the trigger 'When I get a new lead from Facebook,' and the action 'Notify my team in Slack'