Repetitive tasks are so commonplace in our daily work that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them. However, they’re also taking up time and energy that could be better spent. For example, one study found that customer service reps lose up to 30 percent of their day to repeat tasks. Fortunately, there are several ways for you to automate repetitive tasks using software or apps.
Let’s discuss the advantages of automating tasks, and how you can get started with your own automated projects in no time. To start, we need to better understand how we define task automation:
What is task automation?
Task automation is the process of using a script or program that will perform a task for you. Users employ task automation to save time on repetitive or multi-step tasks, and to increase productivity.
What tasks can be automated? We’re glad you asked! We’re going to show you how to automate single-step tasks, as well as more complex, multi-step processes. We’ll cover standalone automation apps, as well as some more robust options that interface with other applications.
Here’s a look at what we’re going to cover:
- Best Software to Automate Recurring Tasks
- How to Automate Tasks in Chrome and Other Web Browsers
- How to Automate Tasks in Microsoft Windows and Excel
Best software to automate recurring tasks
Now that we understand the purpose, we can hone our focus onto applications that make it easy to automate repetitive tasks. It’s important to note the varying use cases for each tool. An app that helps you send emails, for example, may not save you time in other areas.
We’ve heard Zapier called “the duct tape of the Internet.” It is a highly robust option for automating recurring tasks. It lets you connect various cloud services like Google Drive, Slack, Mailchimp, and more so that when an event happens in one service (such as when someone sends you an email), it can trigger actions within other apps (like automatically creating an entry into a spreadsheet).
One way that we’ve seen people use Zapier is to help them manage their calendar more efficiently. For example, when someone schedules a meeting with them, they forward the dates to a specific email address. Zapier sees the email, then creates a new calendar event based on the data that they include in the email subject or body.
You can start using Zapier for free. In fact, for many users, the free plan is enough (you can have up to five connections—called Zaps— and up to 100 tasks per month). If you find you need to upgrade, the entry level pricing is a mere $20 per month for up to 20 Zaps. Even better? TextExpander includes Zapier integration with Enterprise and Growth plans.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include our own knowledge activation tool in this roundup. TextExpander is a keystroke-saving app which allows you to create abbreviations and expand them into full words or phrases (referred to as Snippets) with a few keystrokes.
At its most basic, TexExpander helps you save time by using abbreviations rather than having to type out entire words, phrases, or paragraphs that you repeat frequently. That said, we have a plethora of suggested uses for TextExpander across our blog, and we’re constantly surprised by how our community puts it to work. There are loads of Public Snippet groups and templates readily available, and the library is growing every day.
Try it for yourself:
See how TextExpander works
Q: What do you call a bear who types efficiently?
A: A TextExPANDA
Q: How do you make the number one disappear?
A: Add “g” and it’s GONE.
Q: Was shopping the other day and some bloke threw a block of cheese at me.
A: I thought “How dairy?!”
TextExpander is highly affordable, starting at just over $3 per month for a single user.
ClickUp lets you track projects from start to finish while also managing your team’s tasks across multiple projects at once. The platform integrates with many external apps, similar to Zapier. For example, the Gmail integration allows users to set up automated tasks whenever certain conditions are met. They could take invoices and create tasks from the information in the email body, such as payment methods or updating client names and addresses.
How you use ClickUp will depend heavily on what you want to do. Get paid from a client? You can tell ClickUp to post a Slack message to a specific channel or user. Scheduled a meeting? Block of time on the calendars for everyone who is included.
Like many tools, ClickUp offers a free plan. This is a great option for solo users. If you need to work with a team, pricing starts as low as $5 per user per month.
If you’re working with a team, Pipefy is one of the best tools that you’ll ever find. Its entire purpose is to help you automate workflows, saving time for everyone involved. There’s even a repository of templates that you can use as a jumping off point, or straight out of the box.
The beauty of Pipefy is how well it works with multiple stakeholders. Automation apps are often directed toward a single user, or require permissions from across the organization. By building with teams in mind, Pipefy has eliminated most every headache that you’ll find with other options.
Like many others, there is a free edition of Pipefy. But when you need more workflows or users, the Business edition starts at a mere $25 per user per month.
For Windows users, Wox is the answer. Wox has many of the same base functions of Alfred, but it does lack the Power Pack. Instead, there is a repository of Wox plugins that will introduce functions beyond the pre-installed basics.
An interesting advantage to Wox is that it readily accepts plugins built in C#, Python, NodeJS, Golang, and others. So if there’s a function that you wish Wox had, and you have the programming chops to code it yourself, Wox will readily accept it. We’ve seen people hire out folks on Fiverr and other platforms to code plugins, as well.
Wox is open source, and it’s free for life. There’s even a theme builder on the Wox site, so you can customize the look of your installation.
How to automate repetitive tasks in Chrome and other web browsers
These days, using a computer is frequently relegated to using a browser. Chrome is the behemoth of the browser world. Based on the open source Chromium Project, the Chrome browser really shines in its ability and willingness to expand its use via extensions. What’s even more impressive is that Chrome extensions will work in almost every flavor of Chrome browser. So whether you’re using Chrome, Chromium, Brave, or almost any other version, you can still use extensions from the Chrome Web Store.
An interesting point about Chrome’s functionality is that it has almost become an operating system of its own. There are many options for automating repetitive tasks in Chrome. All you have to do is find the right extension, and that is usually as simple as a Web search.
The Chromium Browser Automation extension lets you record automations, then play them back to complete work for you when you need it. You should also look into Wildfire AI if you’re interested in recorded automations. It has become a favorite over the past couple of years, and the developers continue to add more features regularly.
How to automate repetitive tasks in Microsoft Windows & Excel
We mentioned Wox previously, but there’s so much more that you can do inside of Windows. To find its capabilities, check out Power Automate, from Microsoft. Previously known as Flow, Power Automate lets you build out automations for digital processes, multi-system “robotic” processes, and even business processes. Best of all, it’s built into Windows, so you don’t even have to download another app.
If you’re looking for something a bit more lightweight, but still powerful, check out Windows Task Scheduler. Like Power Automate, it’s built into Windows and ready for you to use right now. Task scheduler is great for smaller tasks like sending a daily email, opening your browser at a specified time each morning, or forcing your computer to reboot at a certain interval.
Speaking of Microsoft, we should also mention Excel, its spreadsheet app. Excel has a built-in macros function that lets you automate many repetitive tasks inside of the app. For example, you can write a macro that creates a new spreadsheet and fills in the first few rows of data for you. You could also use macros to automate repetitive tasks like formatting cells, inserting values into cells based on other criteria, and much more.
What Sort of Tasks Can I Automate?
Deciding which tasks to automate can take some time. But as a general rule, if you complete an action three times then it’s worth setting up an automation. Some projects are less about repetition, and more about time savings. Consider things like calendar automation, updating contact information, or combining your travel information all into one place.
How Do I Automate Recurring Tasks?
The first step in automating any task is deciding what you need to accomplish. Once you have that information, then it’s time to establish the workflow that performs best for you. It’s important that your new automation not performs the task, but that it also dovetails well with your current processes.
How Do I Choose the Right Software?
What software you need often comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish. But as we’ve noted here, sometimes there is overlap between the different applications. Rather than going for something that has wide-reaching abilities from the get-go, first check out apps that do only what you need. While it may mean that you install more apps overall, there’s less of a chance of one app breaking and preventing you from accessing its other functions.
We hope that you now have a better understanding of task automation, and how it can make you more productive. If you have a favorite app that we haven’t mentioned, or a task that you wish you could automate, drop a note in the comments.