What springs to mind when I say “automation”?
The other day I was having a conversation on Slack with Dean, one of our awesome Dojo members, about this.
He said, and I agree, that most people “think of automation as turning lights on and off”. We love home automation as much as anyone, but we think that focusing on ways you can automate your whole life (with or without technology) is even more foundational and impactful.
(Side note: Being able to talk through productivity topics with motivated, engaged members is one of my absolutely favorite things about the Dojo. You should check it out for a month and I suspect you’ll find the same thing.)
What we think of when we think about automation
Here’s how Wikipedia defines automation:
Automation is the technology by which a process or procedure is performed with minimum human assistance.
That’s not bad, but I like to think of automation as something you can set up to remove things from your life so that you don’t have to do them, and you can then use that time and mental energy on something more important.
The thing (whatever it is) still needs to be completed, but your involvement in it is either removed or significantly lessened.
Benefits of Automation
We’ve found that most productivity challenges come down to an issue in one of three areas:
We call this the TEA Framework. Automation is a tool that can help a little bit with Energy and Attention (by not needing to focus on some things, you can have increased focus and energy for others), but it can really help with Time.
Time is the area of the TEA framework that most people struggle with (or feel they do), so if that is you, you can read more about things to help with your time here.
We believe that you should be able to get your important things done in the time that you have, and part of that is freeing up your Time, Energy, and Attention. Automation helps you do that.
What if you like doing some of the things on this list?
In this article, I’m going to take you through five ways you can automate your life, (mostly) without relying on technology. There won’t be any turning on and off lights here.
As you’re going through the list, I can almost guarantee you will ask this question at least once:
Brooks, what if I like doing some of the things on your list?
I get it. I don’t want to be the one that stands between you and something that sparks joy for you.
This is what I will say: even if it is something you like to do, it doesn’t mean you should be doing it. In many cases, there are better ways to use your time.
Only you can figure out where that like/should line is, but I would encourage you to at least keep it in mind as you go through the list.
5 Ways You Can Automate Your Life Without Technology
Between Thanh, members of the AE team, and members of the Dojo, we have tried automation strategy after automation strategy. Some of them help and some of them have very little impact.
Here’s your guide to five things that have helped us, and we think they’ll help you too.
1. Get Essentials Automatically Delivered
Clearly, this depends on where in the world you live, but there are big time and energy benefits to be had by having your essentials automatically delivered.
What do we mean by this? We’re referring to things that you use on a regular basis that are sent to you vs. you having to go out and get them.
This can be a difficult mindset shift. Going out to buy razor blades or coffee beans isn’t rocket science. It’s probably something you are able to do without too much difficulty.
(If it is something difficult for you due to physical issues, these delivery services can be a godsend. One of our Dojo members is housebound due to medical issues, and she says “I would have had to move into semi-assisted housing without the e-Commerce revolution.”)
Here are some common objections to having things delivered:
- “I’m worried about quality. Only I can choose a good avocado.” (I understand. I myself am an Avocado Whisperer.)
- “Shopping is a good excuse for me to get out of the house.”
- “My mother-in-law came to this country with nothing. She’ll think I’m insane if she finds out I am paying extra to have groceries delivered.” (I may be projecting here.)
Here’s the problem with these objections. They don’t think of the big picture. They are all decent enough reasons enough to go out and shop, but (in our opinion) not great reasons when you compare the time you spend with other things you could be using your time for.
Do you need toilet paper? Yes. Do you want to spend 30+ minutes going to the store instead of stacking up that time to spend with your friends or family? Possibly not.
Are you the best person alive at picking out the perfect avocado? No, that is me. Are you second best? Possibly! However, you can give instructions for how you like your avocados. Maybe occasionally you will get a not-your-quality avocado, but still, the benefits for the other 80% of the time outweigh it. It is the classic delegation challenge.
Also, we tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to do these things. Yes, buying bananas is pretty fast, but once you factor in getting out the door, traveling to the store, standing in line, getting home, putting things away, etc. — it takes a surprising amount of time, and only a small part of that might be the “enjoyable” part.
Here are some things you can automatically have delivered:
- Groceries (Thanh likes Instacart for this)
- Staples like toilet paper, paper towel, etc.
- Water bottles (we can always tell when Thanh is grabbing water on meeting day when we hear the glug of his water cooler)
- Coffee (once you find beans you like, set it and forget it)
- Diapers (I wish diaper delivery was a thing when my kids were that age, but not enough to have a third…)
- Supplements (Thanh’s housecleaner has standing instructions: when she notices his supplements are running low, she can just use the Amazon Echo to order more)
There are many ways to accomplish essential deliveries. Amazon Subscribe & Save is the most common, but more and more local grocery stores support delivery. Give it a try — you won’t want to go back.
2. Meal Kit Delivery Services
A meal kit delivery service is great if you like (or want to like) to cook, but you only want to cook. You don’t want to decide what to make, you don’t want to figure out/find/shop for ingredients, and you don’t want to sit there measuring and chopping every single thing up.
A meal kit delivery service sends you pre-measured ingredients with a pre-determined menu (that you can change/skip if you want), and they take you step-by-step how to cook each meal.
If you like/want to cook but don’t have time or energy to figure out what to make, or you don’t have any cooking skills (like me), this is for you.
Here’s something Carli from the Dojo says:
I like to cook, but I hate meal planning and/or grocery shopping. The decision-making quota I’ve saved since signing up for Hello Fresh/Home Chef/Blue Apron (we’ve tried MANY, I have favorites) is indispensable! Definite automation win!”
I only have experience with HelloFresh (disclaimer, they’ve been a sponsor of The Productivity Show in the past, but I pay for it myself), but there are lots of services out there.
One side benefit of meal-kit automation: it adds variety. There’s always something new, and something you wouldn’t otherwise even think to make.
For example, last week I made my kids roasted Mediterranean veggies with burrata and farro.
Before then, I had never heard of burrata or farro, but I have now!
3. Prepackaged Meal Delivery
Now let’s take a step further. Let’s say you want the benefit of healthy, portion-controlled meals, but you don’t want to have to cook anything.
Pre-packaged meal delivery is for you.
With these services, the meals come cooked and pre-packaged. All you need to do is heat them up.
Pre-packaged meal delivery is super time-efficient. The only time it takes is to warm it up, and while that is happening you can do something else.
Time is not the only benefit. If you have fitness goals or dietary needs, you can get meals that are guaranteed to fit what you want.
There are even many services that are specifically tailored to special diets like low-carb, paleo, or keto.
Thanh talks about how he has turned meal delivery into a system that saves him time and energy in this article about turning money into time.
I’ve used the meal delivery service before I did the thought exercise so I was aware how much of a time-saver it was but only after the fact I used it. My main motivation to use one was I needed to follow a specific diet according to my personal trainer and the easiest solution was to use a meal delivery service to keep me on track. Plus, I didn’t want to learn cooking so I settled on paying more money than cooking myself. Little did I know what kind of ROI it would have on my time!
If you live in a reasonably-sized city, chances are there are a number of pre-packaged meal delivery services where you are.
If not, here are two that members of the team have had experience with:
- Freshly: Chef-cooked, healthy meals
- Ketofridge: Good if you are following the keto diet
These services are the most efficient way if you are strict about counting calories. You don’t have to think about it — you know for sure.
Hiring a housecleaner is another area where people can have big mental blocks, but it is almost always so worth it.
Do you want to spend your evenings or weekends vacuuming around the sofa or cleaning toilet bowls?
Even if you like cleaning, is that really the best use of your time?
It turns out that there are many people out there that enjoy cleaning and are more than happy to help you do it.
Once you get past the mental block of actually paying someone to help you keep your home clean, the next barrier may be financial.
This is one area where costs can vary widely. Cleaning services generally can be quite expensive, but if you shop around/ask around, you can often find someone who does an awesome job for surprisingly little money.
Ask around to friends and co-workers and see who they use. Chances are, their cleaner may be taking on new clients. My wife asked a co-worker for a recommendation, and we’ve been using her cleaner ever since. She hasn’t worked with that person for 10 years, but 13 years later we still have the same cleaner!
If you don’t know anyone who uses a reasonable housecleaner, or if you are afraid your friends and family will think you’re crazy for considering it, try TaskRabbit. You may be able to find someone on there.
5. Financial Automation
At the start of this article, I referenced a Slack conversation with Dojo member Dean. What he said is absolutely true:
Some of the most important and impactful automation in people’s lives is financial.
For many people, financial well-being can impact emotional well-being. If you struggle with finances, it can have huge Energy and Attention impact.
(There’s the TEA framework again!)
One thing Dean’s family decided to do was to “escrow their life”. There are always expenses you know you are going to have:
- Property tax
- Car insurance
- Dental visits
- Home renos/repairs
Even if you don’t know the exact dollar amount it will be, you know you will probably have to pay something this year for it.
So they set up sub-accounts for each category that they want to “put in escrow” and sweep money into it each month to build up for it.
I don’t use sub-accounts, but I do something similar in YNAB. Every month, I build up money for each category so that once that car insurance bill hits every November, the money is ready to go.
I miss that 1/12 of my car insurance bill a lot less every month than I would having the whole thing hit and not having money set aside for it.
Here are some other ways you can automate your finances:
- Pay yourself first. Put aside a percentage of your income every month to savings right away. Ideally, have it automated so it just goes to your savings account before you can get your hands on it.
- Automatically pay bills. You don’t want to have late payment fees, credit hits, or the hassle of missing bill payments. If you can, have it automatically paid every month. Usually, you have a chance to review it before the charge happens.
- Switch to Annual payments. If it makes sense cashflow-wise, there are often incentives to pay for things annually instead of monthly. Then you save money, and it is easier to manage one payment vs. 12. A lot of our Dojo members choose to do this.
As a recap, here are five ways you can automate your life:
- Get essentials automatically delivered – if you have it where you live, pick something you buy regularly and have it delivered as a test.
- Try out a meal kit delivery service – leave a comment, and when we have some, we’ll hook you up with some HelloFresh codes to try it out.
- Test out some prepared meal delivery services
- Find a housecleaner
- Sort out your financial automation
Pick one thing from this list and give it a try for a month. See how it goes! We’ll bet you won’t want to go back.