Automate Your Business To Save Time
Email is the top time waster for small business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers and professionals, according to an OfficeTime survey released earlier this year for National Time Management Month. Out of 1,200 respondents, 44 percent said they spend an hour or more a day answering emails. Meetings, Internet surfing, traveling and dealing with technology problems round out the top five time wasters. Although technology can create time management problems, it can also help solve them. Here are five ways you can automate your business, so you have more time to focus on priority tasks.
Most email programs include a number of automated time-saving features. Preventing junk from reaching your folder is the first step. Email programs usually have built-in filters that you can customize to catch junk. For instance, Outlook 2013 has an automatic junk filter that you can supplement by adding lists of safe senders, safe recipients and blocked senders, as Microsoft’s website details. You can also use your email program’s general filter tools to flag junk by keyword or other criteria. Entrepreneur contributor Jacqueline Whitmore suggests that you can further reduce the amount of junk in your inbox by searching on the term “unsubscribe” and reviewing which mailing lists you want to remove yourself from.
Filters also make email management easier by letting you sort email so it automatically goes into specific folders instead of your inbox. Additionally, you can use features, such as categories, labels, tags and marks (depending on what your program calls them), to automatically identify which emails need priority attention.
In addition to these built-in tools, you can enhance the power of email programs by integrating them with other software. For instance, Zapier lets you supplement most common email programs by adding text notifications, to-do lists and other features.
To save time, manage meetings and coordinate projects, make the most of your calendar management software. For instance, Outlook 2013 lets you drag meeting invitations from your email into your calendar to automatically schedule an appointment with the details from your email. Hubspot editor Ginny Soskey shares some Google Calendar features that let you automate tasks, such as finding available meeting times, sharing your calendar with others and emailing event attendees.
Scheduling Repetitive Tasks
If you or your staff find yourself performing the same computer tasks frequently, using automation tools can save you considerable time. For instance, devices running on Apple’s OS X come with a built-in tool called Automator, which uses a point-and-click interface to automatically create custom workflows, reducing multiple steps to a single macro. Office 2013 comes with similar tools that create macros for Word and other programs. To automatically back up your files, some storage services, such as Mozy’s automatic cloud backup, let you automate this task.
Document creation and management often involves repetitive steps and tedious editing. Document Management System (DMS) software helps automate tasks such as standardizing workflow, digitizing documents and tracking version updates. Top Ten Reviews provides a comparison of some leading DMS solutions.
Some tasks that do not lend themselves to full automation nonetheless lend themselves to semi-automation. For instance, email marketing autoresponder services automate tasks such as adding mailing list subscribers, sending out newsletters, sending invoices and receipts, and responding to customer service inquiries.
Social media tasks such as content curation and distribution, tweet scheduling and post publishing can also be semi-automated. WordPress marketing automation platform Socal provides a step-by-step guide to designing a social media automation strategy.
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