10 easy ways to automate your life: part one

Don't sweat the small stuff

Let’s imagine something for a minute. Let’s imagine all the annoying, niggling stuff on your to-do list each day – like getting your food shop in, paying your bills and deciding what to wear tomorrow – just disappeared. Can you imagine how much time and energy you’d have to focus on the actual stuff? The real life stuff? Like creating awesome things, spending more time with friends and family or just being able to choose to watch Netflix rather than doing it out of denial that you’ve got so much on.

Unfortunately we can’t magic away your responsibilities, but we can make them a lot easier to deal with week in and week out. We’ve collected together some of our favourite ways to automate our lives, from setting up direct debits through to deciding what your work “uniform” is and sticking to it. They’re all easy to put into practice too – unlike a lot of the automation tech and apps around that are often more hassle than they’re worth.

Why? Well, we’ve touched upon the huge benefits of eliminating choice from our lives before. Because by automating stuff, sorting stuff and getting rid of unnecessary stuff we can use that time and energy on the things we actually want to do. And it’s not just about freeing up an hour here or there- getting your life in order can have a big impact on your self-esteem too. There’s nothing quite as empowering as that smug feeling of knowing you’ve really got your shit together.

Your shopping

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Sure, some people shop because they enjoy it (I envy you guys). But whoever you are, often the necessities, the food and the household stuff feels like a chore. And the worst part is, you’re never finished. Fill up a basket at Tesco Express on Monday and you’ll find yourself back in the same spot on Wednesday. Which sounds like a really lame proverb, right?

Luckily, there are all kinds of services in place designed to take the sighs out of shopping. First up, you could try Ocado Reserved. It’s basically a way for you to ensure you get the same time slot for your Ocado food shop each week (or fortnight or month, whatever). But that’s not all: Ocado also creates suggested orders for you (you need to make three shops first so it can learn about you and your tastes), so if you like to get the same thing over and over, it just takes the click of a confirmation button to have it shipped out to you.

And did you know about Amazon UK’s Subscribe & Save? It’s a service that wants to automate buying all the boring stuff. Like pet food, nutritional supplements, razors, cosmetics, cleaning equipment, coffee, baby products and tea. It’s all the stuff that feels like an effort to buy but you know you’ll need it time and time again. With Subscribe & Save you set a recurring delivery schedule, subscribe once and that’s it, you’re done. You’ll never run out of toothpaste, coffee, shampoo, [insert other boring yet essential thing here] ever again. In a similar vein, check out point 5 in our subscription box roundup if you’d like to subscribe to tampons so you don’t have to think about those, either.

Your finances

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If you’re still paying bills as they come in, calling up hotlines and even writing cheques then stop now and just get everything sorted via direct debit. Yes, to some people this is a painfully obvious one. But many people just never get round to setting up automatic bill payments and end up losing valuable time each month — and even money as some places give you a discount for your direct debit payments.

Until the super popular Mint app comes to the UK, it’s worth trying out a few other services dedicated to keeping tabs on your personal finances — especially those that can automate your spending summaries and serve them up to you in a no-hassle way. The web-based YouNeedaBudget.com is considered to be one of the best options, but we like Money Dashboard (available for iOS and Android) for its simplicity. Just key in your details and it’ll serve up information about your spending habits each month so you can see where you’re splurging at a glance.

Your travel

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If you live in London, CommuterClub is here to redefine how you use your Oyster card, allowing you to access the big discounts you’d get from an annual travelcard with the flexibility of buying a monthly one. In short, this means you get every 12th month free. You should also set up auto-top up for Pay As You Go on your Oyster if you haven’t done that already.

CommuterClub also has a special section for people who travel by rail across the UK and it still offers easier top-up options and decent discounts.

Your clothes

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This one is bound to divide people. Sure, clothes can be awesome. Deciding what outfit you want to wear can be an exercise in self expression. Maybe spending time choosing your outfit each day is fun, fulfilling and an enjoyable part of your routine. But for many of us it’s just a bit of a headache we’d rather avoid. The answer? A work uniform.

I know, I know. It’s making me feel uncomfortable writing the word. Probably because I was forced into a blazer with shoulder pads for 4 years of secondary school. But even if you’re not at school and don’t even have a uniform for your job, you can create one.

It’s a common automation trick in the world of entrepreneurs and world leaders. Elite Daily claims a lot of the greats, from Obama to Einstein, had this trick up their sleeve and Steve Jobs famously wore the same thing day in and day out. Now we’re not suggesting you “do a Jobs” and buy 60+ black turtlenecks. But adding a bit less spontaneity into your clothing choices won’t hurt. And it can still be full of pink sparkles and glitter and flamboyance if that’s your thing. Just take a look at this post about finding your style uniform from self-professed sparkle queen Gala Darling. She writes:

“I don’t wear the exact same thing, because I know it would bore me senseless. But I buy the same shape and cut over and over again, and everything goes together.

A tank or cropped t-shirt + a high-waisted A-line skirt + boots = sartorial magic.

This outfit is what I always feel best in. It shows off my best features. The skirts may vary in length or pattern, and the tops may have a stripe or a slogan, but it all goes together. This recipe is easily adapted for colder temperatures (add a sweater, jacket, and stockings)…  And, perhaps most key, it feels like me.”

Your digital world

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We’ve written about the awesome automating power of IFTTT (and its two apps DO and IF) before. But we couldn’t leave it out of a feature about automation. It’s designed to automate how your favourite apps behave with each other. So post a photo to Instagram and have IFTTT save it to your Dropbox. Sounds simple, and it is. But it’s also very smart and the possibilities are, pretty much, endless.

Workflow is a different beast, kind of like IFTTT’s apps but it does smarter stuff with the content already in your iPhone — rather than dictating what happens to external apps. Like shortening URLS, saving all of the images from a webpage in Safari and finding stuff in your current location. All of them can be added to your homescreen and many believe it’s vital to make iOS smart enough to use.

If you’re an Android user, Tasker is a similar (but not as good-looking) option. You can set IFTTT style recipes, but they’re all about your handset. So turn off mobile data between certain times, voice activate certain apps, or turn on WiFi when you step in your front door – a little set-up saves a lot of time.

Enjoyed this? Check out 8 simple ways to make your life easier – and check back soon for part 2.

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