Despite modern technology, much of our workday is still made up of humdrum, repetitive tasks that eat up time and, more importantly, our energy. In many cases, automation technology offers a way to speed up — if not eliminate — the most monotonous and boring aspects of these tasks. In this article, our project management experts will offer some workflow automation examples to get you started.
- Setting up simple automations takes almost no skill and you can learn how to do it in minutes.
- No matter if you’re trying to speed up traditional accounting processes or just remove the need for some boring manual work, there’s a pre-set automation out there.
- More complicated automations may require some knowledge of how computers work, but it’s still well within reach for the less tech-savvy.
Our aim isn’t so much to give you cut-and-dried solutions for all your workplace ills as it is to inspire you to think differently about how to handle the boring stuff. The result will hopefully be that you have more time for the things that are actually interesting about your job instead of getting increasingly frustrated with minor administrative tasks.
After all, being excited about what you’re doing will keep you awake a lot better than coffee will, and the smart use of workflow automation tools can save you hours of your day. With some savvy, you’ll end up with more time to do interesting things as well as the energy to work on them. That’s a win no matter how you cut it.
Updated the selection with more up-to-date tools.
Workflow automation refers to taking a process and automating it. A good example is getting raw data from a questionnaire and having a script tabulate it into a spreadsheet. This whole process would be a workflow.
To create an automated workflow, you either need to know how to create your own scripts using a programming language like Python or use no-code tools like Zapier or IFTTT; the barrier to entry on the latter option is a lot lower.
7 Workflow Automation Examples
Before we get to our examples, we’d like to stress that setting up any of them is pretty easy. To make it more digestible we’ll start with some very easy ones and gradually ramp up the complexity. At worst, you’ll need to figure out some network locations, but the heavy lifting will all be done by specialized workflow automation software.
Zapier and IFTTT are the most well-known examples of this software, which usually relies on graphical user interfaces rather than code, so you won’t need to be some kind of tech whiz to figure it out. In each case we’ll also point out if there are any pre-built templates for the automation in question to further lower the barrier to entry.
However, if you’re the kind who likes to get under the hood and get your hands dirty, we recommend you check out Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart. It’s truly an excellent book that will not only help you…well, automate the boring stuff, but also get you started coding with the Python language.
1. Integrate Questionnaires With Spreadsheets
We’ll kick our list off with probably the simplest, yet useful integration we know, namely having all information entered into a form show up in a spreadsheet. Google does this automatically already — when you create a Google Form, you need to link a Google Sheet to the form.
If you’re not fond of Google, there are plenty of other options available. Most form software will have options available to export entered information to a sheet, and even if they don’t, you can set one up. For example, Zapier lets you set up an integration that populates an Excel sheet with any information entered into Zoho Forms, and similar options exist for WPForms and Microsoft Forms.
On top of that, we also encourage you to think beyond the typical ways of using form software. Their most recognized use is by third parties — like application forms or marketing questionnaires — but there’s no reason you can’t use forms for your own data entry. You can use them to create a simple expense report while on the go, or to enter ideas for new projects.
2. Integrate Slack With Other Software
Another very basic example of an automation that is easy to set up but will save you a lot of time is to integrate your project management software with Slack — or any other messaging system; we just really like Slack. For example, you could set up a workflow to send a message anytime a task is moved in a kanban board, or when a task is assigned.
We have some in-depth guides on how to set up these automations, like a Slack-Asana integration or one between Slack and Trello. In each case, the integration can be set up directly from the project management tool in question and you’ll get a host of suggestions when the workflow can fire.
If you want to further automate messaging, Zapier has some interesting options. For example, you can send a Slack message when you create a new document in Google Docs, or set up a notification to the finance department when an automatic invoice is sent. These two examples just scratch the surface.
3. Automate File Management and Backup
Besides filling communication gaps, you can use automated processes to prevent any files from falling through the cracks. For a full system backup we recommend that you use one of our best online backup picks, but if you just need to make sure specific files are copied or cloned, automation software is a great pick.
All you really need to set up a workflow like this is some free online storage and an account with an automation tool. IFTTT has some great templates that will let you move files from your hard drive to Dropbox or Google Drive.
Most automation software also has the option to let you move files between different storage services, perfect for anybody looking to build some redundancy into their file management. As an added bonus, you can also set things up in such a way that you get a Slack message when a file is altered. Some simple workflows are all that stand between you and full control over your files.
4. Backup Social Media Images Automatically
In the same vein, you can also use IFTTT to back up any of your social media images automatically — Zapier and Make have some options too, but IFTTT is a little better here. Though it’s not technically work-related, this little extra backup function is just too useful not to mention.
You have a lot of options to tweak your backups. You can just have images you upload yourself moved to cloud storage, or also include any pics you’ve been tagged in. It’s a really great way to not only save time, but also to make sure you never miss the perfect image of you.
Most of the templates we’ve found focus on Facebook and Instagram, but some simple tinkering should allow you to back up images and messages from Twitter or other social media networks. If you like knowing your images are safe, check out these automations.
5. Integrate Your CRM System With Other Apps
With the fun stuff out of the way, let’s get back to business. CRM systems are a fairly ubiquitous fixture for most companies these days, and integrating them is relatively easy. The simplest thing we can think of is having your CRM play nice with existing contact lists, which just saves a lot of hassle with copy-pasting. As manual tasks go, this is one of the most mind-numbing.
Of course, this is very basic and there’s a lot more that you can do. A much more powerful combination is to integrate CRM software with whatever you’re using for task management. Though some project managers already have some CRM functionality built in — read our Podio review for one example — you can also set up your own integration quite easily.
For example, monday.com and Asana have ready-to-go integration with Salesforce, meaning you can get contacts and tasks set out in Salesforce to show up directly in your task list. Alternatively, you can use a stripped-down CRM like Contalist and integrate it with Trello; read all the details in our article on the best Trello power-ups.
6. Use Project Management Software for Free
Project management software can in fact be integrated with a lot more than just CRMs — you can even create workflows with other project management software. This is great for several reasons; for example, if one team uses Trello while the other uses Jira, it gets even better if you use it to combine several of the best free project management software.
If used smartly, you could conceivably daisy-chain the functionality of several programs into one. It won’t always be simple, but we figure that’s the price of free. One idea is to use Trello’s power-ups to import lists from Asana while also using the Gantt chart from another provider (TeamGantt comes to mind).
Almost all project management software will offer some kind of automation. Some are better at it than others — check out our best workflow management software roundup — so the only limit here is your imagination. Want Jira to work with Asana? Want monday.com to import Trello cards? There’s a way to make it work.
7. Combine Project Management, Messaging and File Management
Our final entry is an extension of the last one — namely, ways in which you can combine project management, messaging, file storage and pretty much anything else you can think of. Though setting all this up won’t be easy — the rule seems to be that any integration with more than three programs will start throwing up conflicts — the end result will be workflow that runs like greased lightning.
For example, you can attach something like Google Drive to your kanban board so every time you create a task, you also create a document to go with it. At the same time, whomever is tagged for that task will get a Slack notification and a backup of the file is created in another file storage service.
If you throw in a CRM, you can also make it so the client gets an email when a task is moved to a specific stage, or ping social media with the finished product. There’s a lot to tinker with here, so we recommend that you experiment and see what works best for you.
These are just a few simple (well, sorta simple) ideas to automate your daily tasks and remove some redundancy from your daily processes. Though some of the above processes may seem tricky, the secret to successful workflow management is to start slow. Make a few simple things and slowly ramp up to more complicated ones.
What do you think of our suggestions? Did we hit the nail on the head, or are we only striking our own thumb? Do you have suggestions of your own you’d like to add? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thank you for reading.