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What Should You Automate?

How do we decide what to automate?
Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency - Bill Gates

I'm a big fan of automation. Lots of people worry that automation is going to do away with their job in the future. That's highly unlikely for most people.

Automation operates on tasks, not entire jobs. If your entire job is composed of a series of tasks that can be automated, then, yes, maybe it's time to retrain. But I've yet to find a job role that isn't improved by the addition of some automation.

When thinking about what to automate, it's helpful to observe what you do from a third-person perspective. Notice what you're doing while you're doing it. Keep an eye peeled for any occasions where you're doing the same thing more than once:

  • Copying data from one place to another
  • Updating the same bit of information in more than one place
  • Recording the results of activity in one system into another
  • Exporting information from one system in order to turn it into a report
  • Taking an action (like creating an invoice) once something happens in another system
  • Sending people the same information repeatedly

There are many more, of course.

The trick is to start noticing when it happens. That takes a bit of deliberate self-awareness but it becomes second nature over time. You'll start actively seeking out these occasions. Once you start, you'll spot more and more of them.

I recommend creating a file somewhere and collecting them over time. If you're working with a wider team, encourage them to do the same. Ask yourselves "what are the most boring, repetitive parts of my work". These are likely to be golden opportunities for automation. They're almost always some aspect of business admin.

However, as Bill Gates said: "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."



Here are some things you might find interesting…

Making introductions while being polite and professional can take some time. Checking that either side is ok about being introduced, and then making the introductions, it's quite a lot of admin. If you find yourself doing this a lot, have a look at Bridge. It makes the whole process a matter of clicks.

Segmentation Needs a Behaviourally-Informed Upgrade
I talk about this a lot with clients. Segmenting people by age or gender or interest is a bit old-fashioned and, let's face it, not effective. This is a great article calling for segmentation based on behaviour and need. I love the way it recognises that we're different people at different points in the day. This is why I built the N2D Method to focus on segmenting people by jobs-to-be-done.

Operating Well - What I Learned At Stripe
An insightful look at the challenges and solutions to running the operations of a large digital company. All totally valuable for much smaller companies.

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