Not sure when to automate a task? Start here.

Hannah Herman
Hannah Herman / Published March 16, 2020

Chances are you've automated something without even realizing it.

Do you get an automatic email before calendar events start? That's automation. Do you get a text alert when it's almost time to renew a prescription or to remind you about an upcoming appointment? Automation again!

But if you aren't used to building automated workflows on your own, it can be daunting to think about how you might use automation to save time for yourself. How do you decide what to automate? What can you do better by not doing it yourself? Where do you even start?

We asked Zapier superusers and employees about how they know when to automate a task. Here's what they had to say:

It's a task you have to do frequently or on a schedule

When you're trying to decide which aspects of your work you should automate, a great first question to ask is: What tasks do you perform the most frequently?

Tasks that need to be done often or on a set schedule are perfect for automation because the benefits are immediate. You'll spend less time every day on repetitive work, which can quickly become burdensome or annoying.

"If it's something I have to do three times, the odds are that I'll have to do it a fourth and a fifth," says Kristie Wirth, who works at Zapier as a data scientist. "When I'm tempted to add something as a recurring task in my to-do app, I know it's probably a good fit for automation. Even if it's just an annual thing, I'll still take a stab at automating it."

Similarly, front-end engineer Caleb Peterson says that he tries to identify the parts of his daily work that are repetitive but also frustrating to do manually.

"I'll look at automating a task when it's a part of my daily workflow that's repetitive or obnoxious," he says. "A great example is digging the meeting link or location out of my Google Calendar. I've got a Zap that drops the location of Google Calendar events into Slack, so I can just grab it right there—instead of having to hunt for it for every meeting I have in a day."

These guided Zaps will help you get started.

It involves moving information between apps

Let's be honest: copy-and-pasting is time-consuming and dreadfully dull. So are other manual ways of moving data, like exporting CSV files from one app and then importing them into another. And if you have to repeat the process multiple times over the course of a day or week, it quickly becomes unmanageable.

"When I'm deciding whether a task is a good fit for automation, I ask: Does it use software/SaaS products from start to finish?" explains Bryan Golkhajeh, a Zapier expert with Workload.

Tasks that involve moving data between apps are perfect for automation. For example, you can create new leads in your CRM whenever someone fills out a form on your website or subscribes to an email marketing campaign.

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

Another key thing to consider is whether a task truly needs a distinctly human touch. Does it require creativity, problem-solving skills, or emotional intelligence? If so, you might not want to automate it. But if it's a boring, simple task that doesn't require complex thinking, it could be easily handled by an automation platform like Zapier.

Andrew Davison, a Zapier expert at Luhhu, suggests identifying the tasks that you wish you didn't have to do.

"Simply put, I ask:

  • Is this a task I do more than once per month?
  • Does it involve the same steps every time?
  • Do I wish I could be doing anything but this?"

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

And that, ultimately, is the answer for most people: They automate tasks that keep them away from what they wish they would be doing.

Sometimes, those tradeoffs are business-critical functions.

"I consider how much time a task is taking away from core business functions, such as sales or talking to customers," Golkhajeh says. "If the answer is more than 15 to 20 minutes a day, and it's a rules-based process that uses software from start to finish, I'm already thinking of automating the heck out of it."

He explains that, for him, automation isn't just about saving a few minutes here and there. It's about how that time adds up over the long term.

"All those little time blocks add up over the course of a year," he says. "Just do that math: 15 minutes saved per workday, over 252 average workdays in a year, equals about 3,000 minutes saved. That's more than 60 hours."

Start automating with Zapier today

Have an idea about what work you could delegate to Zapier? Here are some resources that can help you get started:

Ready to try something out for yourself? Search for the apps you use the most in our App Directory and find a Zap that will work for you.

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