How to automate (or building your own robot butler)

Welcome to part five of how to find time to do the stuff you really love! This post is all about how to automate. If you didn’t catch the four tips covered in this series so far, check them out here.

Your own robot butler?

Automating means that you set something in motion that:

  1. continues without your input – or at least minimum input,
  2. happens regularly, and
  3. avoids, or partially avoids, repetitive tasks.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a robot butler who sorted your washing? Or an android that tidied your kids’ shoes and coats and toys? Or made dinner for you, did the shopping, and reminded you of appointments? Your own personal android would be better, but automation is like that robot PA – only YOU set the thing in motion and then let it run itself as much as possible.

All about learning to automate

So, tip number 5 is: automate. As much as possible, automate the things you do regularly. Make a list of them, then work out how you could put them on repeat. There are five main kinds of automation, which I explain below. Essentially, automation involves:

  1. working on the small things.
  2. planning ahead.
  3. habits and routines.
  4. life hacks.
  5. delegation.

Working on the small things

Learning to automate means paying attention to everyday, small things, like separating laundry using a divided basket, so it doesn’t have to be resorted, or getting a key fob and sticking it on the wall so you don’t keep forgetting your keys.

Planning ahead

We’re talking stuff you can do in advance to be kind to your future self. Make a list of meals that are healthy and easy to bung in the oven. Or batch cook and freeze ahead. Make four weekly menus and rotate them. Pack your bag and set your clothes out the night before. I like to pack a ‘going out’ bag. You can add anything that needs to leave the house, like letters, payments etc and leave it near the door.

Habits and routines

If you can do some things without even thinking about it (in the same way you brush your teeth before bed), you free up head space for other stuff. Our son’s bedtime routine is pretty straight forward – bath, story, bed – but as he’s followed it since he was a baby, he does it without question. Use the habits and routines you already have as inspiration for the habits and routines you’d like to get into.

Life hacks

Automation involves life hacks that seems over the top to people who aren’t busy, but when you are busy they become life-savers. A single friend of mine with three kids bought school lockers on Gumtree to go by the door to keep their stuff in.  Someone else I know keeps a box by the door – used to store the stuff the family need to leave the house with.


Learning to automate means delegating and sharing or taking turns. For instance, we’ve ‘automated’ toy storage to a certain extent by getting plastic jars (the kind you’d see in an old fashioned sweet shop) and filling them with small things like animals, figures or Lego. But we haven’t managed to get into a routine that involves our son helping tidy up without fuss, even when I play the tidy up song – although it definitely helps. We’re working on it.

Examples of automating

Here are some of the ways that we automate in our house: We use a breakfast box, containing stuff we need for breakfast that we simply lift out of the cupboard, so we don’t have to sort it out every morning. I have a saved shopping list online for regular groceries and other purchases. I print a weekly menu to stuck to the fridge. Plus, we’ve got a blackboard to make shopping lists, and a large family calendar where we scribble appointments. (A friend of ours used blackboard paint to turn a whole wall into a menu / shopping list station.) Getting ready in the morning is a real hot spot for our family, as it is for a lot of families. We’ve got hooks for bags plus a shoe and coat rack near the door. There are separate pegs for our son to hang his book bag and school coat.

Find more examples online

You’ll find lots more time saving life hacks like this online. Some more useful than others. Here are a couple of examples. This a list of 30 time-saving home hacks and here’s one from Mental Floss. Put ‘life hacks’ into Amazon and you’ll get a bunch of search results. I’ve just ordered Tanith Carey’s Mum Hacks. I also thought Annabel Staff’s Life Hacks: Uncommon Solutions to Common Problems looked good. I might check out that one next.

There are also lists of work related life-hacks out there. For instance, blogger Michael Hyatt uses email templates and personalizes them to save time on his email. I find it fun to research life hacks, but remembering them is difficult! I try to find the problem that I need to solve (for instance, how do I make the mornings run more smoothly?) and then find a way to use automation to solve the problem – that way you’ve got a vested interest in remembering the system and turning it into a habit.

Why does automating help?

Automating saves me a bit of time each day – mainly in looking for stuff I would have lost otherwise! We don’t argue as much. BUT its main significance is about focus. Your mind clears and you can focus on other things. If you don’t have to worry about your emails, or your laundry any more, you can focus on with other stuff. I find that being about to focus is more important than saving an extra fifteen minutes here and there.

Next up: Tip Number Six.

Check out these great productivity resources.


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