How to Outline Your First Automation

Something I often hear from other solopreneur creatives like yourself is the reason you aren’t able to automate your work is simply not having the time. It’s even more challenging if automation is new to you.

Most people end up pushing it off or ignoring it which typically leads to various negative issues, such as burnout.

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So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to share my thought process and walk you through exactly what I’d do if I were in your shoes.

I’ll help you plan, build and implement your first automation!

Michael Scott from the Office dancing, having a great time

We will use my friend, Christine, who’s facing similar issues, as a test “case study.”

In addition, I asked her to share some of her obstacles to automating her email marketing consulting business which you can read below (in her own words).

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Christine’s automation challenges:

  • I feel overwhelmed with the different skills to learn and what apps to use. Do I use Zapier? Make? Other apps? Which one should I focus on and buy first?
  • Since I've never used automations before or heard of them, I don't know what ROI I can expect.
  • Like above, I don't want to systematize too soon because I don't know what steps are required. I’m worried that if I automate too early without a proper system, I’ll have to continue to fix my automations, and then I’ll be wasting more time and money.
  • I'm unsure where to begin because I'm overwhelmed with all the information on automation.

I will address all her questions in next week's email. In this email, we will cover planning and identifying which workflow we will automate first.

🔑 Key Point: It’s crucial not to overcomplicate it. Start small and avoid trying to automate a complex process.

OK, let’s begin.

Step 1: List of 5-10 repetitive tasks (15 minutes)

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Write down 5 - 10 repetitive tasks. I’ve created a few resources to help walk you through this step.

Tip: Before attempting to automate something, ask yourself: “Do I really need to do this in the first place?”

If the answer is no, then eliminate it!

Step 2: Is your workflow ready for automation?

Copy this → spreadsheet and add the tasks from step 1 under the Workflow/Task Name column. Use the dropdown and answer the questions.

  1. Is it repetitive?
  2. Is it systematized?
  3. Is the task completed with software?

If you need some help or inspiration, check out Christine’s:

A table displaying four columns labeled "Workflow/Task Name," "Is it repetitive?," "Is it systematized?," and "Is task completed with software?," with the final column being "Ready to automate?

Step 3: Automation Recipe

If you followed the Notion checklist, then you learned the basics of how automation is structured, a “recipe” to build an automation looks something like this:

When X happens, then do Y.”

In theory, Christine could automate all the tasks she listed, but since she hasn't systematized them yet, it’s not ideal.

What does it mean for a task or workflow to be systematized?

First, let's define a system as it relates to business.

A system is a well-structured set of guidelines, processes, and techniques to accomplish specific tasks.

A business system is similar to your daily routine. Just as you brush your teeth, take a shower, and get dressed in a specific order every day, a business system outlines the steps taken in a specific order to complete a task or reach a goal.

This is why automating before you have a system in place isn’t recommended since you’d have to make changes and fix the automation constantly.

OK - back to our workflow!

“Saving emails for swipe file Notion database” is the only workflow that meets the requirements and is ready to automate.

Step 4: Write down your “recipe” (10 minutes)

This is the step-by-step process Christine follows every time she adds a new item to her swipe file database in Notion.

  1. Whenever she receives a resource in Gmail that she wants to add to her swipe file, she’ll manually save it to a folder within Gmail labeled “Swipe File.
  2. Every Sunday, she manually takes the contents from what she’s saved in the folder and uploads it to a Notion database, tags, and organizes it.

Note: Christine's swipe file collection (Notion database), includes content from other sources but since we’re keeping it simple, we’re not going to worry about that just yet.