Feature

Five tips for automating your tech

From taming that overflowing inbox to creating intelligent apps, Breakthrough Technology Editor Marcus Austin outlines five technology time-savers

Remember how technology was supposed to free us from the drudgery of work? Why then do you spend five minutes every day emptying your email trash and marking things ‘unread’, and another 10 minutes updating applications on your smartphone? To help you win back that time we’ve come up with five time-saving tips for automating your tech, from a simple free service that lets you share files wherever you are in the world through to sophisticated services that can save you hours of work a week, freeing you up to do the more interesting and profitable things in life.

Remember how technology was supposed to free us from the drudgery of work? Why then do you spend five minutes every day emptying your email trash and marking things ‘unread’, and another 10 minutes updating applications on your smartphone? To help you win back that time we’ve come up with five time-saving tips for automating your tech, from a simple free service that lets you share files wherever you are in the world through to sophisticated services that can save you hours of work a week, freeing you up to do the more interesting and profitable things in life.

1) Keep ahead on the information superhighway
If you like to keep abreast of current affairs you’ll no doubt have a list containing a dozen news sites that you visit regularly. So why not gather all these sites in one place? Feedly.com lets you read articles and news from any site with an RSS feed, creating a single up-to-the-minute rolling newsfeed.

2) Create a brighter Outlook
While an overflowing email inbox may be a sign that your business is booming, it’s also a monster that needs taming 24/7. Luckily the most popular email platform Outlook has some powerful tools to help reduce the email burden and the ‘Rules’ engine is one of the most useful. With Rules you can automatically prioritise your emails so only the most important ones remain in your inbox. The first thing you need to do is create some new folders in Outlook. At the very least, I’d suggest a folder for emails in which you’re cc’d, one for external emails, and one for invites to meetings.

To create a cc’d folder:

  • Go to the ‘Home’ tab, and click the ‘Rules’ dropdown.
  • Click ‘Manage Rules and Alerts’, and click on ‘New Rule’.
  • Select the template “Move messages from someone to a folder” and click ‘Next’. When it asks which conditions you want, you need to select “From people or public group”, “Where my name is in the cc box.”
  • In the Rule description box, click the underlined specified and select your cc’d folder
  • Click ‘Finish’.

Moving invites to a separate folder is also straightforward:

  • Follow the same procedure as above, but this time select “from people or distribution list” and “which is a meeting invitation or update”.
  • In the Rule description box, click the underlined specified and select your invites folder, then click on ‘Finish’.

Moving emails from external sources is a little more complicated:

  • Follow the same procedure as above, but this time select “from people or distribution list” and add the exception “except with yourbusiness.co.uk in the senders address” (where ‘yourbusiness.co.uk’ is your business’ email address).

"...an overflowing email inbox may be a sign that your business is booming, it’s also a monster that needs taming 24/7. Luckily the most popular email platform Outlook has some powerful tools to help..." 

3) Create files that follow what you’re doing
If you have a smartphone, tablet, laptop and a desktop then you’ll be familiar with the experience of realising that the document you need to share is on the device that’s still at home or in the office. The strategic solution to this problem would be to save everything into the cloud. However, we can’t always be online so sometimes you need a little help, and Box Sync is the perfect solution. With Box’s free Sync application your files are saved in the cloud, but each device also contains a local version that syncs every time you connect to the internet and can be accessed whether you’re 30,000 feet above the Atlantic or on a train crossing the middle of nowhere.

4) Let your apps talk to each other
One of the most powerful ways of automating your data channels is to use a web service like IFTTT (If This Then That) or itDuzzit.com. Both let you create quite sophisticated systems that enable devices or applications to ‘talk’ to each another, based on a set of simple rules. For example, itDuzzit.com allows you to set an automatic rule to send a tweet every time you update your blog, or when you add a new file to Basecamp you can automatically send a copy to Box. And on IFTTT you can create a ‘recipe’ so that every time you add a contact to your iPhone it will be automatically backed up to Google Drive, or automatically send an SMS to your partner when you’re 20 minutes from home.

The real beauty of itDuzzit and IFTT is that they don’t require any programming skills. IFTT also has over 10,000 template recipes written by other users that you can take and use yourself, so getting up and running takes no time at all. The main difference is IFTTT is free while itDuzzit charges, and if you’re running lots of different rules those costs can soon add up.

5) Strip data straight from the web
We left this one until last because it’s the most powerful and the most complicated to use. It’s also the one that could create not only an automated assistant but also a new revenue stream for your business.

If you find yourself regularly visiting a group of websites to get information then Import.io is for you. With this web application you can automate routine web jobs, quickly and easily and save yourself hours of time a week. With Import.io you can automate tasks like getting prices from your competitor’s websites, monitor sites to find the best price for a product, or, if you’re really adept, create whole applications to perform complicated tasks. For example, the connectivity map wifiandplugs.co.uk [http://wifiandplugs.co.uk/] uses Import.io to find the fastest Wi-Fi hotspots in a given area by using data from social network Foursquare.

Other Articles

The new Apprenticeship Levy could help transport and logistics companies solve their recruitment problems and equip their workforces with…

Cornwall is a land steeped in legend but this salty business success story is no myth.

Santander Incubator social enterprise, Liverpool Girl Geeks, has secured £20k in Rosa funding to help them grow their programmes and…

Santander Incubator social enterprise, Liverpool Girl Geeks, has secured £20k in Rosa funding to help them grow their programmes and…

Travelstar European Ltd, one of the West Midlands’ leading coach hire companies, has moved to larger premises in Portland Street, Walsall,…

Santander’s local Business Banking team recently held a Breakthrough Masterclass at the English Whisky Company, with local East Anglian…

Where Next?

Focus On

Making it in china

John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK

Bulletin