To Automate Or Not To Automate Your Life
Last month, I manually cleared an invoice sent by my web hosting provider, only to have the same amount deducted again from my Paypal account later that month. I had completely forgotten that in the previous month I had set up recurring payment for web hosting.
This is just a sample of the kind of things that happen when you leave your affairs at the mercy of automation. You become careless about keeping an eye on what’s going on in your life, and end up having to fix messes that could have been avoided easily.
When you’re a busy person reeling under the pressure of daily life, it is tempting to automate everything possible. If you choose to do so, you gradually end up losing track of important things and even giving away much of the satisfaction that comes from taking care of things yourself.
On the other hand, when you’re trying to slow down and become more aware of every aspect of your life, the temptation to unautomate everything is strong. In this case, you begin to spend valuable time on repetitive tasks that are ultimately insignificant.
But, if you choose the middle path and try selective automation, it can work wonders for your day. You can get the inconsequential tasks out of the way, out of your mind really, and focus on those that mean something to you at a personal level. Here are some areas where you can begin:
Automate online updates
When you add fresh content to your blog or find something worth sharing, you usually post an update on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, App.net, etc. You’re just putting out information into the cloud for anyone who might find it interesting. Since these updates are one-sided, they’re perfect for automation. IFTTT is a good starting point to achieve that. It’s a service that lets you set connect various web applications and automate tasks conditionally.
I have set up an IFTTT recipe (trigger) that keeps tabs on my blog’s feed and every time there’s a change in it, the recipe automatically posts the title and link of my latest essay to App.net. If I find something that I want to share online, I simply create a shortened url using Bit.ly and this updates my App.net stream with that link.
When you get the task of updating your social media accounts out of the way, you can devote your attention to people instead of applications.
I had this habit of bookmarking every interesting piece of writing that I came across on the Web. Since the Web has always had a never-ending supply of great content, my Bookmarks folder was overflowing with unconsumed food for thought.
I never got around to reading most of those bookmarked articles, but I did keep obsessing about how much reading I had to catch up on.
The worst part was that I spent an unhealthy amount of time cleaning up the bookmarks, renaming them, arranging them into folders this way and that. I also got a Pocket (then Read It Later) account to save pages that I wanted to read.
Then one fine day, I decided that none of that content was something that couldn’t be found with a simple web search, so I ruthlessly deleted every single bookmark and closed the Pocket account.
Surfing the Web gives you the impression that all its brilliance will be lost if you don’t find a way to preserve the same. The truth is that there will always be something wonderful online that you will miss out on, but in its place you will come across some other thing that is equally wonderful. Why waste your time trying to hoard all of it out of a misplaced fear of loss?
These days I use an email draft titled Bookmarks to save the links to those few articles that I want to read over and over again. I use RSS, and sometimes email, to subscribe to the blogs that I like to read on a regular basis. But even these subscriptions are limited to approximately 15 in number.
I do have a separate folder, Chicken Soup For My Soul, for saving some articles that have a positive effect on my mind.
Now whenever I save any online content, I know for sure that I will read it. Also, whenever I read a saved article, it is because I really want to know what it says, not because I want to simply catch up on all that I have left unread.
Sometimes, you can become so focused on day-to-day tasks that you have trouble remembering things that require your attention less frequently, say weekly, monthly, or even yearly. Bill payments, birthdays, membership renewals, etc. fall under this category.
Trying to keep all these items in your head or making multiple lists to keep track of them takes up a lot of time and mental energy that can be better used elsewhere. Thankfully, you can free your mind of these to-do shackles by setting up reminders for them.
I have set up email reminders (using IFTTT) for all monthly payments, domain renewals, and sending out newsletter updates. I have a great memory for birthdays, so those are not on the list.
It’s natural to think that if you automate your finances, you won’t have to worry about missing payment deadlines or forgetting to keep aside money for tomorrow.
While this does seem to work, over a period of time, you become increasingly ignorant about where your money is traveling. You begin to focus only on the major transactions and become dismissive of the minor ones.
As a result, without your knowledge, your money drains away in tiny crumbs—crumbs that when added up form a significant amount of your earnings.
One way to get past this money drain is to keep regular tabs on your finances without the help of automation. I do this by tracking income and expenses using a simple spreadsheet and making payments manually.
The only automated bit in all this is the set of reminders I have created to get emails on specific days of each month to remind me that it’s time for a payment or that I have to update the tracker spreadsheet.
Dig deeper into your life to automate certain portions of it and unautomate certain others. Selective automation is a great way to eliminate those unnecessary interactions with devices and applications, so that you can devote the recovered time to yourself and to those around you.
- December 11th, 2013