12 Simple Automation to Help You Get Started

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A Rube Goldberg machine is an overly complex device that performs a simple task through a series of chain reactions. If you’re not familiar with automation, it can often feel like building a Rube Golberg machine. But it doesn’t have to! Today, I’m going to tell you how automation can be simple, and give you 12 examples from my own life that prove the point. In the PRO show, I tell you all about why I moved to Thrivecart, and how my “writing on Medium” experiment is going.

Top Takeaways

  • The point of automation is to do things so you don’t have to do them. That makes simple tasks the perfect candidates for automation. 
  • Voice and text expansion can be great ways to get started automating for capturing and writing
  • Trigger emails based on status changes in Airtable or Google Sheets are slightly more complicated, but the concept is simple and the time savings are great!

Show Notes


Joe Casabona: One of the reasons people tell me they don’t automate is because it sounds complicated. They don’t think that way. And the automations they hear about are like complicated Rube Goldberg machines. Now I use the term Rube Goldberg machine, they didn’t. But the point is that a lot of people think automation is beyond them, it’s only something that programmers and computer nerds and people who are really in it can do.

But today, I’m going to tell you that automation can be simple. Then I’m going to go through a bunch of my favorite simple automations that anybody, even someone without experience can start with. So I’m really excited for that. There’s gonna be a bunch of show notes. You’ll be able to find all of them over at howibuilt.it/317. That’s howibuilt.it/317.

And stick around for How I Built It Pro because I’m going to talk about how my months long experiment writing on Medium has been going. So if you want to hear about that, you can sign up for the membership, which will be linked in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/317.

But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the episode.

[00:01:26] <music>

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better creator business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority in your field. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:01:48] <music>

Joe Casabona: So in the intro, I talked about how automations can feel like complicated Rube Goldberg machines. And if you’re not familiar with what a Rube Goldberg machine is, I asked ChatGPT for a definition, and here’s what I got back. “A Rube Goldberg machine is a complex, often humorous device that performs a simple task through a series of chain reactions using everyday objects and machines. The machine is named after American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who drew many cartoons depicting such machines.”

So if you’re familiar with a lot of OK Go music videos or the inventions from Wallace and Gromit, you’ll know what a Rube Goldberg machine is. This is like having a 20-step machine that like knocks down dominoes, that then rolls a ball down an alley, that breaks a light bulb that pours your cup of coffee, right? That’s like what a Rube Goldberg machine is.

And while automation can feel like this, it doesn’t have to. Automation can be simple. A while back over on Medium over on the soloautomator.com, I wrote about how automation is iterative. And this is a members-only post but I’ll get into the details a little bit in a second. The idea is to start with a simple concept and build on it. The truth is that being complicated is not the point of automation. The point of automation is to do things so that you don’t have to do them. And simple tasks are the perfect candidate for automation.

So here are some examples from my home automation setup. These are simple automations that I’ve set up to make my life and my family’s life easier. One, turn off all the lights in the house at 11 p.m. If we are all asleep, which generally by 11 p.m. were at least all in bed, we don’t want to leave any lights on. So turn them all off at 11 p.m.

Number two, turn off the living room lights or turn on the living room lights when a camera detects motion. It’s reasonable to think that if someone is in the living room, they probably want the lights on or at least a light on. And if someone’s breaking into my house and they see the lights turn on, they will probably think twice about being there.

And at 6 p.m. my personal focus mode on my phone turns on which turns off most notifications and kill certain apps and my office lights turn red. This is a simple signal to let me know that it’s the end of my workday, I should step away from my computer because I have to spend or I should, I need to spend time with my family—it is that time.

So stepping away from home automation, though, if you want to hear more we’re about home automation, let me know on Twitter @Jcasabona or via the feedback form at howibuilt.it/feedback. Stepping away from home automation, let’s look at one of my simplest Make automations.

This automation is two steps, the trigger, right and to quickly review the types of things that happen, right, the four components of an automation. There’s the trigger, that’s the event that kicks everything off; the actions, that’s one or more things that happen because of the trigger; there’s timing, how often do you want this to happen and then there is routing. I think I did timing and routing backwards. I should really come up with an acronym, so I can easily remember these things. But routing, which is do different actions based on the input from the trigger, and there’s timing, how often and when do you want this to happen.

So the trigger for this automation is a subscriber is tagged with a specific tag, the action is send an email. That’s it. Because before ConvertKit emailed me about purchases people have made through ConvertKit Commerce, I needed a way to do this myself. So when I was selling my membership through ConvertKit, I’ve since moved to ThriveCart, I’ll talk about that in How I Built It Pro as well, I set up a two-step automation. When someone is added to the members tag, which means they purchased my membership, send an email letting me know that someone has become a member. That’s it. I wanted to know when someone became a member without having to manually check, and so I set up an automation to do so.

And in fact, there are lots of two to three-step simple automations in my Make library. There’s that, there’s add a member to transistor. So when someone purchases my membership, create a private feed for the Pro show for them. Whenever I get an email from HARO, read that email and look for mentions of podcasting, and then put it in a Google Sheet.

When I post on Medium, create a new blog post, in my personal site, casabona.org. That way I can link to Medium from my personal blog. Whenever someone orders audit, which again was done through ConvertKit Commerce, so I would tag them as audit, send me an email. Things like that. When someone assigns me a task in Asana, send it to my task manager, which is things three. Little things like that that make my life easier. These are simple automations that I would otherwise have to do manually.

Remember that automation can be simple. And when starting out, it should be simple. Again, I talked about this article I wrote called Automation is Iterative. I want to share this story with you from that article. On April 20th, 2023, Space X sent starship on its first launch with the goal of replacing their existing ships, like Falcon 9, as the reusable rocket that can successfully launch, make it to space, come back and land safely.

Now, you might have heard that the first launch didn’t go as planned. It was successfully launched, it made it into the atmosphere, but then it exploded in what they called a rapid unscheduled disassembly. You wouldn’t have known that the mission was not as planned, that it didn’t do everything it was supposed to do. Because if you checked SpaceX’s mission control camera, you would have seen cheers and champagne, and happiness.

Why is that? Because they know that doing anything interesting, anything complicated is iterative. They didn’t start with starship. They started with Falcon 9 and similar projects. And before that they started with Falcon 1. So with all of these things, they worked off the space projects that came before them. And they knew that this first launch of starship was going to be the first of many, and they learned a lot of things, and the next iteration will be even better. So understand that automation is iterative—that you don’t need to create complicated Rube Goldberg machines from the start.

In that same article, I have an example of an automation that started with two steps before going to three steps before going to four steps. Because the more I used it, the more I wanted to optimize and make changes to it. I started simple so automation can be simple.

So I want to get into some of my favorite simple automations to give you some ideas for what you can do. But first, I want to take a break so that you can hear from our sponsors.

[00:10:32] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right, we are back. So now I want to take you through some of my favorite simple automations. I’m going to cover a bunch of different apps here. I’ll link them in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/317. Also, you can get some of them, at least from my free automations database, which you can find at the same place, howibuilt.it/317. Sign up, you’ll join my mailing list, you’ll get a copy of my free automations database. This is about a quarter of the paid automations that members get but it’s a great starting point and a great place for ideas.

So let’s go through some of them. Here’s a great one. You won’t find this in the database because this is direct app-to-app. But upload videos from Dropbox to Vimeo. This is something that Vimeo supports natively. So maybe you record a video and you need to upload it somewhere, like Vimeo. Now, of course, Loom is a good tool that will do this just directly integrated with their system. But let’s say you’re creating an online course or a cohort-based course and you want to use a video hosting platform that can lock down your videos based on URL. This is exactly what I use Vimeo for.

One example of this is my live streams. When they’re done, they become members only, so I make them private on YouTube. I have them uploaded to Vimeo so that I can create a list of links for members. I was doing this manually at first, and then I was doing it with Zapier. But Vimeo has this direct integration, you can go to the settings area to connected apps and you can connect your Dropbox account. And you can tell Vimeo to watch a Dropbox folder, and then any video that goes into that folder, it will automatically upload to its platform. So if you don’t want to have to ever upload anything again, you can take the recording, put it in Dropbox right from your computer and now it’ll get uploaded to Vimeo. This works super fast. It’s super great. And I love it.

Another one, I mentioned this earlier, is filter email to a spreadsheet. So in Make or Zapier, you can connect and basically have it search your email for specific terms. So one of the things I do is I look for the subject HARO or whatever HARO sends, that’s Help A Reporter Out. I have a search for that subject and then I have it search the body of the email for the terms podcaster, podcasting, and I think course creator. I should probably update it because I’m doing less Course Creator stuff and more automation stuff now.

But the point is that it will add the emails that come from that search to a spreadsheet. So I don’t have to read every HARO email when there’s like three a day. I can only read the relevant ones, which is fantastic, because it’s going to save me a bunch of time having to sift through a bunch of requests. Whereas if I only open the ones I know are going to have something relevant, then I can just search for that term and make the request.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be HARO requests, though. It could be emails from your team. Maybe if they use a certain term or if new orders come in, maybe you want to add those orders to a spreadsheet or add the person’s name to a spreadsheet or add them not to a spreadsheet, but to a CRM. There’s a lot of reasons that you might want to do this little two-step email filter to spreadsheet or some other tool. This saves me a bunch of time.

Number three on this quick list I have is clean up the downloads folder. Hazel… I need to do more content on Hazel. It’s the best. I want to focus on simple automations here but I have a really complicated Hazel automation that basically just manages my podcast production folder for me. It’s amazing.

But Hazel, will also… First of all, it’s Mac-only. So sorry Windows users. But I use an app called Hazel to automatically manage my downloads folders. It will move images, documents, apps, music, videos automatically to the appropriate folders. So images, go to the Pictures folder. It will also tag those files with blue because you have like color tags on Mac. So it’ll tag them as blue so they’re easy to find. And I think it’s for seven days. So any file that’s older than seven days and will untag. So something I downloaded within the last week.

But this keeps my downloads folder super clean, it will also auto-delete anything that is over 30 days. So anything you downloaded 30 days ago, automatically gets cleaned up and deleted, which is fantastic. The great thing about that is that Hazel just comes with those. They have some starting automation, they have some starting roles, they’re called. And this is one of them that just you don’t have to do anything except turn it on.

Something else I’ll do is have to clean up my desktop. Or there’s another one where I’ll have it move old video files to cold storage. So I have it watch my video editing folder, and anything that hasn’t been opened in 40 days gets moved to my NAS, my network area storage, which is just like cold storage essentially. So if you’re looking to automate file management, Hazel is a really nice tool because it’s easy to get started. But it can also be super powerful. Big fan of that one.

Now, if you want to get even simpler, and full disclosure TextExpander, who I’m about to talk about is a sponsor has been a sponsor of the show, but I use TextExpander before they became a sponsor, I’m a big fan of them and a happily paying customer for years now. If you want to get even simpler than that, you can use TextExpander snippets.

TextExpander automatically looks up texts, can prevent typos, and even write full emails. I save hours per month. And this is not they send you like stats every month and they’ll say like, “Oh, you saved like 45 minutes.” I saved a lot more than 45 minutes. And here’s why. Because it is simple referencing that I don’t have to think about anymore.

So, for example, usually I’ll write the instructions for my editor to edit these episodes. Most of it is going to be the same and just a few things differ. Sponsors might differ or like where the sponsor gap is, since I’m doing dynamically inserted sponsors now. And the edit notes, that’s gonna change. I can’t just send him the same exact email every time otherwise, I would automate it. I need to know like what edit points there are.

So I have a text expander snippet that basically writes out the full instructions and leaves me a gap to just write my edit notes in. And I have some boilerplate text. They’re like, no edits, just clean it up, which is usually what I say. But if I do need edits, I can write them in that box. And that’s a TextExpander snippet. I have lots of emails like that, where if someone emails me and I have a canned response, I have TextExpander snippet for it.

I also have a whole section called affiliate links or affiliate links helpful blog posts. These are things that I find myself emailing people a lot. And I don’t want to have to remember those URLs. Or even if I remember the URL, I would still have to either type it out or go to the browser, start typing it in, hit enter, and then copy and paste it. But with TextExpander snippet, I can write like percent sign, AF CK and that’s my affiliate link for ConvertKit. I can write percent sign, BP, recording and that’s my like recording blog post, something like that.

I don’t have to go looking stuff up, thanks to TextExpander snippets. And that’s a simple form of automation, right? Because it is something you don’t have to do. You don’t have to type out the full URL. You don’t have to go look up the URL. You don’t have to write out that full email. You can type a few keys on your keyboard and have it all done for you. So love TextExpander, big fan. They were sponsoring the show so you can find their link and probably get a discount. Maybe they sponsored this one. So check the show notes, I guess.

I guess number five in this informal list I have is scheduling. I have a really complicated guest scheduling automation. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. It could just be, Here’s my scheduling link, this is connected to my calendar. We don’t have to do the time zone dance. I think a lot of people are familiar with this one. I will tell you that I had a call with Jay Clause this morning as I record this and we went a little longer than expected, and he had his inbox open. And he said, “Did you just email me?” And it was the automatic email that Calendly sends following up after a call, thanking them for their time asking them for a couple of things. So that little automation I like watched surprise and delight happened in real-time.

This is, again, something that a scheduling link can do for you. You can set up emails and reminders and Zoom call just by someone booking a time on your calendar. So easy for you to set up and then easy to implement and move on from later.

The same thing goes for Airtable. Airtable has vast and deep automations, and I think they’re really fantastic. But one of the easiest ones to set up is, when the status of a record changes, send an email. This is something that I do all the time, especially with my podcast planner. When an episode gets marked as back from edit, or ready for publish, whatever, then my VA gets an email telling her there’s a new episode ready for publish.

When an episode gets marked out for edit, my editor gets an email letting him know that there is a new episode in our shared folder that’s ready for edit. So like those things… Again, two steps, one trigger, one action, easy to setup. Something slightly more complicated, but still really good is I have my guest outreach base or my guest outreach table and Airtable. So I have a bunch of fields here, like first name, last name, email address, why I want them to come on the show, what the show is about.

And then when I mark that row as “ready to send,” Airtable builds the email. So it’s a personalized email essentially that gets built. I even have a personal note field. So it builds that email and then send the email from my email address. So that one is slightly more complicated, but only because you’re building out an email and not sending like a canned one. But it’s still one step, right? The row is marked ready for send, send an email. I guess we’ll call that number six on this list, using Airtable automations to send emails, which I think is really, really nifty.

The last tool I’m gonna mention here is Shortcuts, Apple Shortcuts, Siri shortcuts, whatever they’re calling it these days. I mean, they’re just calling it Shortcuts. But that’s an actual word. So I’m going to say… usually I’ll intro it, now I’ll say Apple Shortcuts. But it’s the Shortcuts app on your iPhone, iPad or Mac.

I have apparently 133 shortcuts here. I probably use like half of them. And that number pales in comparison to like what Matt Cassinelli or David Sparks or Rosemary Orchard or Federico Viticci have. Those people are like shortcuts experts. Now, a lot of these are to automate my home, right, some of the automations I mentioned at the top of the show. But some I really think are fantastic for quick-capturing ideas.

So in a couple of weeks, next week, two weeks from now, as you listen to this, or two episodes from now, I’ll interview Chenell Basillio from Growth in Reverse. She talks about the importance of quick capture. I think we both really agree on this, right, is he needs to make it easy to capture ideas. So I have a shortcut called “I have an idea” that creates a new note in my Notes app, which is if you’re a longtime listener, you’ll know I probably changed this a million times. Right now it’s Bear. But it doesn’t matter. I update the shortcut, the shortcut stays the same. So whenever I say “I have an idea” doesn’t matter. The app is essentially abstracted away. And I know I’m capturing the idea with whatever app I want to use.

Right now it’s Bear Notes. I’m gonna recommend most people just use the Notes app that comes with their phone. So Apple Notes or Google Notes. If you’re looking for like a cross-platform, upgrade Simple Notes is nice. I use Bear Notes because it’s a lot like Apple Notes that supports markdown, and I like markdown. So anyway, I say I have an idea, and then I can either type the note in the box that pops up, or if I’m dictating it to my car, or from my watch, I can dictate it. I can even say like new line, and it will create the note in my notes app.

Same thing with add task. I say, “Add task,” and then it will add it to things three. You could do the same thing with reminder. This is like native support, add reminder and it’ll create a reminder in the Reminders app. Add to shopping list, makes it really easy for me to shout in my house, “Hey, blah, blah, add to shopping list,” and then add a bunch of things to the shopping list.

At one point, I actually had a shortcut wherever I said new line and created a new task. Maybe this is that one. It’s been so long since I’ve looked at these. Yeah, right. So I say, “Hey, blah, blah, add to shopping list,” and then I can say, “Carrots, new line, peanut butter, new line, cereal, new line,” and this shortcut will split by new line and add each task to the shopping list, which is shared with my wife. So it’s really easy for us to figure out. She never needs to text me, “Hey, do we need anything?” If the system works, I have added it to our shopping list already.

So those are a few shortcuts for quick capture. I have another one. This is slightly more complicated. But I have one called “clip to craft” where I will just take whatever’s on my clipboard and put it into my Craft, which is like my research app. Usually, that’s for my newsletter.

So leveraging stuff like shortcuts, especially for voice automations is great. When I can say, “Blah, blah, I’m recording,” it’ll turn my recording light on, it’ll turn the right focus mode on, so I don’t get any notifications while I’m recording. It’ll turn the sound off so if I do get… there are a few people who can get through all of my firewalls. One is my wife, one is my kids’ school. So even if that happens, it’s at least not an audible notification that will come through on a recording.

So automations like that are simple. It’s a single trigger. In the case of Shortcuts, it’s you say something and then something happens, right? In the case of Make or Zapier or Hazel, you know, it’s something happens with Hazel, it’s like a file hits a folder somewhere. And then with TextExpander, it’s like you type a small thing and then a big thing gets written.

So those things are places where you can automate because they are simple, they don’t take a lot of logic. If you think to yourself, “Oh man, I wish I could say add task to my phone,” and the task is added, you can do that with Shortcuts. A lot of these things, again, will be in the free automation library. I think I called it the database. Before it was the automation library.

All of them will be in the one for members. So you can become a member starting at 10 bucks a month. The link is over at howibuilt.it/317. That’s it for this episode. We talked about how automation is simple and should be iterative. And then I ran through, I don’t know, a dozen or so of my favorite simple automations. If you want to get some of those automations, again, you can sign up for the free version of the automations library over at howibuilt.it/317. If you want to get all of them, you can become a member starting at 10 bucks a month over at… the link is howibuilt.it/317. It’s casabona.org/join if you just want to cut to the chase. A

And again, that includes ad-free extended versions of this show, it includes the full automations library and includes my Friday newsletter, and it includes a little live stream archive. Now, in today’s version of Pro, like I said, I’m going to be talking about my writing on Medium experiment. I’m also going to be talking about how I moved the membership to ThriveCart and why and how a little bit. So if you’re interested in all that, again casabona.org/join. And you can get all of the show notes over at howibuilt.it/317. Have I said that URL enough?

Thanks so much to our sponsors for this episode. Thank you for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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