How to Automate Repetitive Tasks

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Take back control of your time

Let’s face it.

There is no such thing “lack of time”.

There is “lack of systems.”

This simple truth applies to everyone, including newsletter operators.

Running a newsletter might seem easy.

However, it involves many small, repetitive tasks. They can easily make you lose control of your time.

Feeling overwhelmed by these tasks?

Fortunately, Mike Cardona, also known as an “automation alchemist”, comes to the rescue. Mike helps digital creators save 20+ hours a month. He is also the mind behind the Hidden Levers AI newsletter & community.

I asked him:

Imagine that I run my newsletter business with manual work. I’m eager to introduce automations but lack the know-how.

Where should I begin?

He explained:

  • How to adopt an automation mindset

  • Steps to follow for automating a task using a real-life example

  • Choosing the right tools when starting out

A big thank you to Mike for sharing this insightful guideline.

Now, I’ll pass the mic to him. Enjoy!

Automation allows newsletter operators to remove the tedious and repetitive work so as to focus on stuff that matters: writing, engaging, learning, and distribution.

While starting out,

“One of the best things to do is adopt an “automation mindset” and proactively look for ways to run your newsletter more efficiently.”

You don’t need to have it all figured out.

For example, my friend Christine would spend 30-45 minutes every week manually reviewing emails and adding them to her swipe file Airtable database.

Here is her manual process before the automation:

When she received an email in Gmail that she wanted to add to her swipe file collection, she added the "swipe file" label to the email.

Then every Sunday she reviewed those labeled emails and manually added them to her Airtable database.

This task, while seemingly minor, takes up a significant chunk of time that could be better spent on more impactful activities such as content creation or engaging with her audience.

“A proactive automation-first mindset means finding a solution before it becomes a problem.”

Here is what I’d recommend:

Step 1: Identify Repetitive Tasks

  • Use a time-tracking tool to log all the tasks related to your newsletter creation process.

    Track your time for at least 1-2 newsletter issues so you have enough data to analyze.

    This will give you a clear picture of where your time is being spent on writing, research, design, promotion, etc.

    With enough task-level data, you'll be able to identify the repetitive workflows that are good automation candidates to help streamline your process.

  • Review the tasks that consume a lot of time and you repeat often.

    Aim for 5-10 tasks. Simple automation candidates:

    • Sharing social media posts

    • Adding data to spreadsheets

    • Managing files across apps

  • Focus on repetitive tasks, follow the same steps, and don’t require human intervention.

    Note: Some automations require humans and robots to work together. If you’re starting out, it’s best to aim for easy automation that only robots do.

  • Remember: before trying to automate something, ask yourself: "Do I really need to do this in the first place?"

    Eliminate anything that isn’t necessary.

Step 2: Break Down Tasks into Core Components

After reviewing the tasks, pick 1-3 tasks from your list and answer these questions. I’ve used Christine as an example:

  1. When do you normally do this task? What "triggers" you to do it?

    > Every Sunday when I review emails to add to my swipe file.

  2. What are all the steps you need to take to complete it?

    > Review Gmail for emails with "swipe file" label

    > Open each email and review if it should go into my swipe file

    > Manually copy and paste email content into my Airtable swipe file database

  3. What apps do you use to complete each of the steps?

    > Gmail - Reviewing emails

    > Gmail - Reading email content

    > Airtable - Adding email to swipe file database

Breaking down Christine's workflow into these components makes it clear when and where manual repetitive work happens.

Step 3: Define Triggers and Actions

Next, understanding the core concept of how automation is built is key.

Every automation begins with a trigger and has an action.

Multi-step automations have more than one action. This is true regardless of the tool you use.

Let’s take Christine’s workflow after it’s broken down and use this “Automation Recipe”:

"When X happens, then do Y," this is what we come up with:

When a new email is labeled "Swipe File" (in Gmail), add the email to Airtable.

Broken down into components we get:

  • Trigger: When a new email in Gmail gets the "swipe file" label (X happens)

  • Action 1: Extract email content like subject, body text, attachments, etc. (first Y task)

  • Action 2: Add the extracted email content to my Airtable swipe file database (second Y task)

“This trigger > action(s) framework is key to automating any repetitive task.

It helps reveal what event kicks things off, what exact steps need to happen, and what apps need to talk to each other at each step.”

Step 4: Map Key Data Points

Now that we’ve mapped out Christine's workflow, the next step is looking at data points.

For example, in Christine's case, the key data points we need to map are:

  • Email subject → Airtable record (”subject line”)

  • Email body → Airtable record (”content”)

  • Email attachments → Airtable record (”attachments”)

The point is - you need to articulately define each data type you want to be captured from the trigger app and where exactly it should go in the destination app.

“This data point matching ensures information flows accurately across your automation.

It's easy to miss but critical to avoid issues down the line.”

Tools for Starting Automation

  • Choose a tool that integrates with your current tech stack and that you're comfortable using.

  • The 2 main players are Zapier and Make.

    Zapier is easier to use but more pricey. Use it if you’re non-technical and want to quickly build an automation.

    Make allows for more complex workflows and is cheaper. Use it if you’re comfortable with tech.

  • Both Zapier and Make have resources to learn:

Prioritizing Automation

  • Use the Impact/Effort (Eisenhower) Matrix to prioritize which automations to build.

  • Start with the simplest automation you can quickly build to gain momentum.

  • Google search “Zapier (app name) + Integrations” which tool integrates with your app once you know which automations you’ll build.

    “(Automation tool name) + (App name) + Integrations”

That’s all for today.

See you on Sunday with my full interview with Mike Cardona about how he built Hidden Levers AI:

  • Facing fears: How he started creating content

  • Boosting growth: Key strategies

  • Paid subscription: Initial experience & learnings

  • Automation insights: His favorites

  • Key Learnings: What he would do differently if he started over

“My biggest fear was what others would think about my work. Worrying thoughts like - what if my writing sucked or no one liked it?

Essentially, I built it up bigger in my head than it needed to be.

As Tim Ferriss says, what we fear and dread the most is often exactly what we need to do.

Mike Cardona

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