A Note on Automation

Or why we should bring active users down to zero

At Papershift our mission statement starts with “We believe that time is the most important resource.” In order to save this valuable resource, a specific degree of automation is needed and with every level of abstraction that is added this degree (hopefully) increases.

On the next few lines I’d like to share a few personal views on automation, what that means for our software and the future of Papershift.

History

My personal journey on automation started a couple of years ago. Clicking randomly through Wikipedia at 3am in the morning, I found the page on Washing Mashines.

I learned that when the first electrical, fully-automated washing mashine was introduced in the early 1950s in Germany, a dramatic amount of time spent on laundry was suddenly freed — before that, so called “washing days” sometimes took up to 15 hours and were extremely labour intensive.

Reading this, I started to ask myself what other repetitive tasks I do on a regular basis that I could try automating to free up more of my time. I started with emails.

Email Automation

Today around 99% of my emails are being processed automatically. I use the filter feature of Postbox heavily where I can define specific rules and emails are then deleted, forwarded, archived, etc. My latest project was regarding incoming invoices:

Old (manual) process:

  • Receiving invoice from Notion, Google or any other online vendor
  • Open email
  • Download attachment
  • Archive email
  • Open Dropbox folder
  • Upload invoice to Dropbox folder

New (automated) process:

  • Filter on Postbox is forwarding the email to Zapier, archiving it and marking it as read
  • Zapier “Inbound Email”-Zap takes the attachment and uploads it to pre-defined folder on Dropbox

I never have to do this again manually. Fantastic.

Talking Numbers

Lets move away from the concrete examples and have a more abstract view on this. Lets talk numbers!

I’m 30 years old so I expect (or hope) to live another 50 years:

  • If there is a manual task that takes 5 seconds (like opening an email, screening it and then deleting it) which is done 100 times a day at the end of my life this would add up to 105 days
  • A task that takes 1 minute which is done 5 times a day, adds up to 63 days

When picking tasks to automate it is important to keep that in mind. Tasks should be easy to automate and really done frequently. If we had to spend 3 days on building automation for something that happens once a month that saves 10 seconds it’s clearly not a good deal!

Workflows at Papershift

Back to Papershift: Doing this excessively on a personal level, it was time to bring this to our company. A couple of years ago we started building a workflow module that enables users to chain certain conditions that, if met, trigger an action.

What makes me so excited about this is when we find a manual process with a customer that would save 100 days over a lifetime, we can roll it out for all customers and we are suddenly talking about 100s of years that are not spent on repetitive, manual tasks. Time that can be spent on bringing actual value!

Just recently we had a customer with the following use case: For around 100 employees, on a daily basis, all time trackings had to be checked against certain criteria:

  • Not longer than 10 hours net
  • Time tracking tagged by employee
  • Assigned to a specific working area
  • Existing break

We used this to build rules that do this automatically and if all criteria is met we confirm the time tracking, leaving the customer with only a handful of time trackings that need attention.

A quick preview: Over the course of 2021 we are going to build more of that and we are really looking forward to this. (If you are a customer, or soon to be, please get in touch with us, we are happy to assist and find a solution with you.)

Playing the Endgame

Lots of companies are using monthly, weekly or daily active users as a KPI, creating habit loops to keep users busy, etc. Fully thinking through the above concept for Papershift, I conclude on a different goal: Converging active users against zero.

By adding level after level of abstraction, in the long run, we see Papershift running businesses, giving users the least amount of tasks that need their attention. Not only is time the most important resource — time is the only, truly limited resource. Let’s not spend it on organizational and operational overhead.

CTO at Papershift | Employee scheduling & Time tracking software for Planners & HR Managers. We are hiring! https://www.papershift.com/en