Today, automation is a necessary part of most IT roles. The more tools you have available to do your job, the easier and less time-consuming it will be. However, as with any pervasive technology in the workplace, there can be downsides — such as overdoing it and getting “automation burnout” or becoming too reliant on those tools. Whether you’re an IT manager looking to grow your team or a techie struggling with managing productivity and burnout, this post will help! Here are some tips that I’ve learned over the years that can help you avoid cheat automation related stress.
1. Make it a habit
Automation should be something that you do on a daily basis. This is where automation of all kinds — such as software, email, and programming tools — can become overwhelming. I find myself in this boat regularly, especially when trying to schedule meetings or follow up after meetings with people. In order to run my business, I must be able to manage this schedule effectively. It’s important to make certain that it’s automated so you don’t forget which items you scheduled and how often they need to be followed up on.
2. Don’t get trigger happy
The more tools you have at your disposal, the easier it is to use them for everything. While this can be highly beneficial, it can also lead to a lot of unnecessary work. For instance, I recently started using a new scheduling tool that allows me to send automated email replies while scheduling meetings and other events. I got so hooked on “automating” my follow-up emails that I created over 30 automated messages! Needless to say, this became cumbersome and time consuming.
3. Sign up for a year of education
If you really want to learn about automation and other such tools, talk to your manager and ask to attend a one-day workshop. Most of the executives I work with have attended at least one IT training course in their career. My first and current boss is a CIO for an international company so he’s very knowledgeable on IT trends and technology trends in general. He regularly attends conferences and authorizes time off for employees to attend training courses each year. One example is the annual Microsoft Master Class held every February in Seattle, which has focused more on learning than teaching over the years (though they do offer free classes).
4. Take a break
If you’re spending time on automation tools and you’re not really seeing the value, stop using them. I recently read Fill Your Bucket , a book on happiness and digital wellness. Author Tom Rath suggests that we take at least one “digital Sabbath” where we completely unplug from all technology for three days. As an IT professional, I can attest that this can be quite difficult to do, but it is rewarding in the end. Personally, I like to take a day off and just enjoy my family or other non-work activities without any distractions.
5. Create a simple workflow
Write down your tasks, goals and/or projects. Create a framework (such as Gantt charts) that will help you manage them. Identify areas where you’d like automation and develop a plan. For instance, in my business I have various automated emails with templates depending on the message. However, I also have to manually schedule emails with the same templates that go out before each event or meeting to drive awareness of those items.
6. Develop an automation tool of your own
Writing code isn’t for everyone but developing tools can make it easier to automate work processes. For instance, I have a tool that lets me collect information from all my contacts and import it into a spreadsheet. I can then use the spreadsheet to help me schedule and follow-up with people. Alternatively, if you have an Excel spreadsheet with contact information, you could generate automated PDFs using Google Drive or similar services to make all your information readily available.
7. Again, have a plan
Tools can be helpful but they won’t magically solve every issue at hand. Before you start automating anything, identify what you want to automate and how it will improve your work process overall. Then create a plan that can help you achieve those goals. For instance, if you have a tight timeline and need to find the best person for a position, then automation can help you prioritize certain tasks (such as searching the web) based on the number of available candidates.
8. Take breaks too!
As I mentioned above, I like to take a day or two where I don’t do any work at all. It is good to get away from tools and just focus on something else: in my case, spending time with family. When you’re done with that break, maybe go back and make sure your workflow is still working for you. It can be easy to get wrapped up in automation and forget how your daily workflow plays out.
Automation can be a powerful tool to help you get more done in less time. But you have to be careful — that power can lead to burnout and other issues if you’re not careful! Take some time each day to manage your workflow and make adjustments as necessary. That way, when you’re ready to automate something new, it will work with the rest of your workflow instead of against it.