Everyone has 24 hours to spend. There is only so much we can do in a day – unless we automate it.
Last year, I was determined to take back the wheels. Since then, I took a step back to evaluate what can be done differently, especially around time management.
Instinctively, we know that as busy as we can be in building our empire, there are things that we have to regularly maintain. Those are the things that either we cannot negotiate or need to happen frequently enough to yield a meaningful result. Eating more healthily, for instance. Just two salad lunches won’t cut it – the eating choice has to be consistently maintained.
Here is a little confession though: I was not a fan of routine. I am even inclined to think that routine is boring. Having a pre-determined set of activities will take the spontaneity out of my life, I thought. Worse, it might confine and slow me down in reacting to sudden opportunities.
However, again, I knew that at least, I can maintain a few small habits to keep myself sane.
And then, in the middle of carving these habits, I stumbled upon this Youtube video from Dr. Jordan B Peterson, a famous psychology professor from Canada. You may or may not agree with his views, but you can see that he is a man that has figured life out, for sure.
And he pointed out an interesting theory about routine – that biologically, we need a few routines to function at our best. Our body has its own routine – generating new skin layer every 27 days, the body clock/circadian rhythm, menstrual cycle for women, and many more. Even dogs need routine, he said, to go outside and have a walk every day. If not, they will get sick.
These examples prove that routine is not just a boring, self-help fad. Routine is the way nature works. We can take advantage of being in the autopilot mode and leave more room in our brain for learning, executing, and taking risks.
But how to have and maintain one? They will take a portion of your time.
This is where automation comes in handy.
Automation = delegating your routine
Automation is a way to delegate your routine, so you don’t have to manually do every single step. Our brain does it to ourselves in a degree – you don’t really think about the steps you take for brushing your teeth, for instance. You just do it instinctively because you have done it for so many times.
The automation that I’m talking about goes beyond what’s natural. We are going to hack the system. And delegating doesn’t mean that you need to pay another person to do the tasks for you. That’s called Personal Assistant, and although you can now have one for less than 30 bucks a month, we’ll start free first.
So.. who do we delegate the routine to, then?
There are at least two ways that have made automation works for me: delegate the routine to the past you, or to technology.
This is similar to planning, except planning often stops until “when to get it done”. With automating, we have done 95% of the work beforehand. On the d-day, all we need to do is the final push.
Here are a few examples that I did:
Automating what to wear
Steve Jobs is famous for the black turtleneck sweaters that he used to wear constantly. He did that for both convenience and having a signature style. Well, I haven’t gone that far, but I have decided on the clothing item for the week every Saturday and steamed it all, as detailed in this post.
Recently, I added more structure by using the same hanger color for an outfit. So, let’s say that on Monday, I am wearing a black trouser, blue shirt, black undershirt and blue hijab. I use red hangers for these. For Tuesday’s set, I use white hangers. So far it adds a nice color consistency touch to my closet.
In-line with planning vs automating, I don’t just plan that I will wear this set or that set for the week. I hang them, group them, steam them. All I need to do in the morning is to wear the clothes and get out of the house.
To get new clothes, I have a good hack to share: buy secondhand at ThredUp (Use the link for 10$ free). You can get designer, well-made pieces for way less. They also hold a high standard for the secondhand they sell – it must be in a very pristine condition, like new. Not the stained, damaged, or questionable secondhand items. The clothes are from the ladies that got bored and need to empty out their closet to make room for new season’s pieces.
Good for the environment, your wallet, and fashion sense.
Automating your social media presence
I used to wonder, how can Instagram models and celebrities like Awkarin keep up posting beautiful, curated pictures with strong captions. Their feed looks put-together, too, with a common binding theme. I tried to save my posts in Instagram draft, but sometimes it gets deleted for no reason, or I forgot to post for 3 days. I use to take a lot of time to edit, write the caption, and search for hashtags.
Lo and behold, one day, Awkarin blessed our soul with this Youtube PSA about scheduling Instagram content. She shared the trick about using VSCO to apply a common filter to all the posts, which cuts back 90% of editing time. She also shared about following patterns to make the feed looks coherent.
So I follow her advice and plan ahead for Instagram content every weekend, like this:
I use the app Later for planning the Instagram posts. The time I choose is the peak time period that, according to Instagram’s Insights, has the most audience engagement.
You need to make your profile public and business to get the insights. For a start, post at random times to get data points. As the data accumulates, you will then see which time slot is the best slot to post.
Again, on planning vs automating, I don’t just plan that I will publish an Instagram post every day. I pick and edit the pictures, write the caption and choose the hashtags beforehand. All I need to do is to approve the post when the Later notification pops in the middle brushing teeth or going to work.
By having the Instagram posts pre-meditated, I post more consistently and have more time to choose the best hashtags, which is important to extend the reach. So far, I have gained 20% more followers since starting doing this.
Automating your grocery shopping
The same weekly planning is also applied to meals, that I have detailed in this post. What I haven’t mentioned is we actually also automate the grocery shopping as well.
My husband and I shared the same Google Keep notes, in which every time we found out that eggs supply or ketchup is running out, we would put it in the notes. The list usually accumulates near the end of the month, when we will go to either Costco for repeat items, the halal butcher for meat, HEB for small quantity perishables, and 99 Ranch for Asian stuff.
Having Costco membership definitely helps, since we don’t need to think twice to buy bulk items like rice or cooking oil. However, not all items are available there, such as green onions. Some items are too bulky for our family size that it will likely to rot before we can finish it. For that kind of items, we put “HEB” at the end, like “Lemon HEB”.
The same with every other store. That way, when we do the monthly grocery shopping, we know where to shop.
Don’t: wake up with alarm
During the quest to automate one of the most important tasks of life – sleep – I found a method that doesn’t work. I tried to wake up at a certain hour, so naturally, I use an alarm clock at first.
Bad idea. I wake up agitated and not refreshed.
So I use this method called “mental alarm”. Before going to bed, I tell myself that I want to wake up at 6 am, for instance. Magically, it works, most of the time. Obviously, for important events that I cannot be late, I’d use an alarm clock. But for day-to-day, I don’t.
What to Automate Next?
The best part about living with automation is how good it feels to have your life under control. when the basics like eating and getting dressed are taken care of, everything else seems easier.
What I really want to tackle is the pre-meditated blog post. But it has been a challenge since it normally takes me more than 3 hours to write a single post – including the research, proofreading, and setting up newsletter alert. I don’t want to compromise on the article quality – so it looks like I need to take a day or two off to pre-write contents.
If you have a life automation hack that works for you, please let me know in the comment. I’d love to learn from you!