How I automated my job with Zapier.

Project Management productivity 101

On his first day at work, a developer (let’s call him Barry) learnt that his boss’ assistant spent every day tediously uploading records from emails to a database. As Barry was a generous and giving chap, during his lunch break he wrote a simple script that automated that task, so the assistant had time to do more meaningful work. Wow! Well done, Bazza!

Except for, well… as that job was now being done by a simple script, the assistant was soon made redundant. Thanks a lot, Barry. You really helped.

👋 I’m George, a Producer at This Here, a creative agency where data gets extra respect. Being a fan of automation myself, this got me thinking: could automation exceed the capabilities of a single employee? And if this was possible, could I just zap my project management tasks and live THE LIFE? 😎

I had to try.

My automation tool of choice: Zapier

For all of us who don’t have Barry’s programming skills, Zapier is a tool that allows you to automate repetitive tasks by connecting your favourite apps (think Gmail, MailChimp, Slack, etc.) and let them do their work, well… automatically.

My first test: freeing up 2 days a year

Every week I have to update my team on their progress and targets. I used to spend 20 minutes a week writing and sending this manually. Could I begin my challenge by automating this rather boring task?

The answer is YES. I made a simple Zap that created a weekly report from a spreadsheet and shared it on Slack with the members of my team.

Just something to get warmed up. Keep reading because I’m GOING IN DEEP.

I wouldn’t be true to my geeky side if I didn’t work out how much time my Zaps will save me over a year, so I did the maths.

(52 * Weekly Task Count * Task Duration) — ( Automation Creation Time) = Yearly Time Saved

For me:

(52 * 1 time I had to send this report weekly x 20 minutes) — (20 minutes) = 17 Hours

That is just over 2 working days a year that I could spend doing something way more fun. 🎉

How far can you go with Zaps?

At this point you’re probably thinking of all the possible Zap automations you could build to cut out those mundane daily tasks and focus on the things you love about your job (or just reading the news while Zapier does your job, no judging here.) Let’s take a look at the potential of this tool.

The explore tab: sparking possible workflows

Conjuring up possible Zaps can be an exciting prospect. Excitement that may first result from using the handy “Explore” tab on the Zapier homepage.

Using Zapier’s explore tab to find possible workflows

When selecting one or more apps, you’ll be faced with combinations of how they can work together to create magic. And, if you’re like me, you’ll be blown away by the amazing capabilities.

But, what if your workflow is not supported?

Sometimes, you’ll realise the one “Trigger”, “Action” or “Search” that you needed is not supported.

As a long time zapper, my advice is to never give up. You may find that by using an intermediary application or one of Zapier’s own service applications such as “Filter” you’ll find an incredible work around.

Not all process flows will always be possible, and when you’re faced with endless forums of people asking the same “Zapping ‘x’ to do ‘y’” question, it is easy to think that you’ve hit the end of the road.

My advice is to use this opportunity to come up with a different, better process flow.

Is it worth it? Let me work it.

The moment you find your process flow is possible, you’ll be relieved. But trust me, this is only the start. If you’re like me, at this point you may be completely sidetracked by the prospect of that application being compatible with others that you had no idea even existed!

After a busy hour looking up at Drip, Trello, Flock and hundreds of other apps, you’ll hopefully find yourself back to business. At this point you should be checking again whether this automation is in fact worth it. Let’s go back to our little trusty formula.

(52 x Weekly Task Count x Task Duration) — ( Automation Creation Time + TIME WASTED BEING AMAZED AT THE POSSIBILITIES) = Yearly Time Saved
(52 x 1 time I had to send this report weekly x 20 minutes) — (20 minutes + 60 minutes) = 16 Hours

Yes. Looks like it’s still worth it. Phew!

Creating a Zap

The first part of zapping begins away from your laptop. Grab a pen and paper and draw a Zap Map. That is: what exactly do you want this thing to do? I suggest starting by using 3 columns:

Input — Process — Output

For all intents and purposes let’s take the most unnecessary Zap I’ve ever created, a Slack alert that notifies me when my cycle commute home is going to be a wet one. (I say unnecessary as both you and I know that the output of this Zap will be changing nothing: 🚴)

Let’s look at the 3 columns:

Input

The event that will trigger your process flow.

Mine is a time trigger. I want to be updated an hour before heading home, so the clock ticking at 5pm will be the input.

Output

The final outcome of this automation. What needs to happen? Anything from a file being saved, to a Slack message being sent.

In my case, I wanted the local weather forecast to be sent as a Slack message.

Process

The juicy bit. What actions need to happen to go from input to output?

In my case, what needed to happen from 5 pm to that Slack alert. Here I went wild and added a filter so my Zap only ran if there was actual rain forecast. 🌧

I turned those written steps into this Zap:

Slack alert for a rainy commute.

There you have it, your completely useless Zap! 👏

Zap ❤️ Slack

These days, Zap bots and their integration with Slack bots are key to our team’s productivity. They are an amazing way to create automatic alerts at the end of a Zap. Like a way to say “hey, this has happened!”

At This Here, we use them to provide updates on our campaigns with influencers. We work with loads of individuals at the same time, and they constantly sign agreements, or choose garments to be sent to them, or just post an Instagram mentioning our clients.

With all this activity, I was struggling to keep every member of our team in the loop. And they were using their valuable time searching for the information elsewhere.

Using a combination of Zaps and bots, I created a system of Slack alerts so that now the team is updated in real time, the information is well kept and no one is ever flooded by emails.

These are some of the alerts that I created:

  • When an influencer is reaching a follower milestone. (We like to congratulate them!) 🎉
  • When a new invoice is submitted, when its criteria is met and when it has been paid. 💸
  • When an influencer is about to celebrate an anniversary. 🎂
  • When it’s time to create a new contract. 📝
  • When an influencer posts to social media.📱
  • Weekly campaign status updates. 📊
  • When an influencer creates a product order. 👗

Keeping your team up-to-date on projects not only saves vast amounts of time, but also benefits the quality of the whole project providing interesting insights. Data is power!

Do I still have a job?

So far, after only 6 months of automation, I’ve zapped as many tasks as to saved myself 45 whole working days a year. That’s more than 2 months that I’m using to focus on areas of my job that had been neglected through lack of time, and to carry out more rewarding work like analysing how influencer selfies impact social media engagement rates (blog post coming soon).

But surprisingly, time wasn’t the most interesting gain of this experiment.

By creating Zaps to automate a big part of my work I was forced to rethink my workflows and be more creative with solutions. I’ve expanded my analytical/engineering capacity and, more importantly, I’ve also improved the communication of our whole team.

So, yes, not only do I still have a job.

I’m definitely better at it. 🤜🤛

George @ This Here

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This Here is a data-fuelled creative agency (of the digital & social persuasion) with a 🇪🇺 European capability, a particular taste for influencer marketing, and a love for emojis 🙋 if that floats your boat.

Want to give automation a go? Here’re some Zapier top tips:

  • Name your Zaps clearly
  • Folder your Zaps
  • Check your task history to make sure you are not going above your quota
  • Spend time refining your Zaps from time to time to ensure are not wasting task credits
  • Bite the bullet and get a paid account