Practical guide to simple, real-world automation using IFTTT

Do you know how to automate simple tasks? No? Well, here's a guide to help you learn - and implement - quickly.
30 April 2018

Automation is easy and you can do it right away. Source: Shutterstock

Everyone around you is talking about automation. It all seems so fascinating and yet so complicated, doesn’t it? Well, there are a lot of solutions you could use to automate a variety of repetitive tasks, but the question users really want to ask is this: can I do it myself, today?

Fortunately, there is a simple answer. Yes, you can automate simple tasks, all by yourself, for free – and you can do it right now. Excited? Let’s get down to it then.

What kind of tasks can we automate?

By definition, we can automate repetitive tasks.

In the real context, for maybe a social media manager, this might be retweeting content from the handles of all company executives or retweeting content with a specific hashtag that interests the business.

For a project manager, it might mean automatically creating Trello cards from a list.

For a sales executive, it could mean automatically creating a Google document with all calls you missed while on the field so you can call back and add notes when you’re back at your desk.

Does that sound incredibly useful? If yes, well, it’s going to take you less than 5 minutes to “automate” each task.

5 steps to automating (some of) your tasks

Step 1: Break down your task into steps

Once you’ve identified the repetitive tasks you do, take each one, write them down on a blank word document (or notepad) and then list down the steps you take to complete the task.

So, for example, if you want to retweet everything your team members say, here’s what your workflow will look like:

  • Log into Twitter
  • Search for your teammate, Mr. A’s Twitter profile
  • Check if Mr. A has a new tweet
  • If yes, re-tweet
  • Search for your teammate, Mr. B’s Twitter profile
  • Check if Mr. B has a new tweet
  • If yes, re-tweet
  • […] repeat for all team members and log out of Twitter

Step 2: Choose and download an automation platform

There are plenty of solutions out there that can help you automate your tasks for free. One example is WorkFusion’s RPA or you could use IFTTT (if this then that – a web-based “applet” deployment service). The former is a more serious “robotic process automation” platform while the latter is a simpler solution.

For our examples, IFTTT would be better suited since it’s easier and quicker to deploy and maintain. You can also work on it via your phone or desktop.

IFTTT works on the logic: If this – then that. If this triggers what happens next. To get a task automated, you can either surf through hundreds of applets on IFTTT or you can just create your own.

Step 3: Train the platform to do your task automatically

Lets consider using IFTTT. Sign up. Choose “build a new applet”, and you’ll come to a screen that says “If this then that”.

Now, pick up the task you want automated. So, for example, retweeting your teammates.

On this screen, click on this, and choose the service (Twitter, for example), and then choose the action (new tweet by a specific user), and then complete the trigger by adding the username/Twitter handle of your first teammate, Mr. A.

Select “create trigger”, and you’ll go back to the “If this then that” screen. Click on that, and choose your service (Twitter), and then the action (post a tweet) and complete the action by specifying how you want the tweet to read. If you want to quote your teammate, for example, use RT @[UserName]: [Text], and if you just want the contents of their tweet, just add the ingredient [Text] and delete the rest of the information.

Wait, what’s an ingredient? It’s the basic tag/identifier when you’re “completing an action”. Don’t fuss over it and you won’t be bothered by it at all.

Step 4: Test it out and amend it if necessary

Once you’ve built your applet on IFTTT, test it out. If you like the outcome, it’s great. If not, well, tweak it to do what you need it to do and turn it on.

You have now successfully automated one part of your task.

Step 5: Repeat for all parts of your task and finish

Depending on the type of task you want to automate, you may or may not need to create multiple actions. If your applets don’t let you create multiple actions for your trigger, you’ll need to set up multiple applets.

Simply create the necessary applets and you’re all set to go. If you’re setting up multiple triggers, be sure to test each one just in case something requires special attention (one team member might always tweet with a @ at the start of his or her tweets, which might cause you to duplicate the @ sign which will look funny on your corporate feed).

Once you understand how to automate your tasks, there’s a world of opportunities that will open up to you. You will be able to automate almost anything you need – and make fun automation projects as well. By the way, the company just raised US$24 million which means it can do even more exciting things in the future – so keep your eyes peeled.