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Start Your Automation Journey in 5 Simple Steps

Lindsay McGuire
February 2, 2023
Min Read

I need to send those emails. 

Where did that file go? 

Oops, I copied and pasted that into the wrong row. 

Are these common thoughts that filter through your mind? Do these menial, tedious tasks take up way too much of your time every day? If so, you’re not alone: Our State of Digital Maturity report found that 51% of workers waste at least two hours per day on repetitive, manual tasks. 

Do you ever wish you could just make it stop? 

Automation can help with that. Maybe you’ve already considered automating some of your day-to-day work but are unsure where to start. Or you feel a bit overwhelmed by the concept as a whole. It can be challenging to identify where to start, the right tools to use, and the best way to build out your automations.  

There’s a lot to figure out, but luckily you don’t have to do it on your own. We recently hosted Daniel Zrůst, a solutions architect at the automation platform Make, on an episode of Formstack’s Practically Genius podcast to discuss why you should use automation and how to get started. Below, we cover his five-step process for beginning your automation journey. 

Before digging into the how, let’s hear why Daniel thinks automation is so crucial to business success: 

Listen Now: If you’re more of a listener than a reader, check out Daniel’s full episode Unlocking Your Automation Superpower now

Step 1: Start with a Single Process 

With automation, the possibilities are endless. This is great, but it’s not very helpful when trying to get started. The paradox of choice might creep in, causing you to go back and forth on where to start. 

Daniel recommends narrowing your options down to three or five candidates. He explains: 

The best way to identify your starting options is to consider the workflows you complete daily or weekly. Think of processes that include lots of manual tasks, like emailing, copying and pasting data, and jumping between multiple apps.

Once you’ve identified the best candidates, decide which one would bring the most value if you could automate it. You can measure this by the time you could get back, the extra money you could generate, or the ability to minimize reliance on other teams and tools. 

The key is to not get distracted. Keep your focus on the selected workflow instead of trying to automate multiple workflows at once. Start small and isolated, and then you can grow from there. 

How Workflow Automation Can Save You 18 Hours a Week

Step 2: Map Out the Entire Workflow

Congratulations! You’ve identified a single workflow and have officially begun your automation journey. Now it’s time to map out this workflow from start to finish. 

Don’t skip any steps, tools, or actions that are needed for the workflow. Every little detail must be accounted for so you can understand where there are opportunities to automate. The more in-depth you go, the more time you can potentially save once you begin bringing in automations. 

You can map out your process in a simple text-based document or use a visual tool like Figma. Once your entire workflow process is outlined, identify manual tasks you could automate. Things to consider include: 

  • Sending data from one tool to another 
  • Managing emails and chat communications
  • Sorting, categorizing, and storing data 
  • Notifying colleagues of statuses or approvals 

Understanding what you would like to happen when will help you identify the triggers needed within an automation tool. Being crystal clear on everything involved in the workflow from beginning to end will ensure you pick automation software that includes the right triggers, integrations, and functions. 

Related: Design Thinking: The Secret to Building Better Processes

Step 3: Identify Your "Must Haves"

You’ve mapped out your workflow from beginning to end and identified all the possible opportunities for automation. Now you must prioritize what is most important. Why? Because according to Daniel, “No matter how good your automation platform is, you will have to be making some compromises because not everything which you made up in your head is actually possible to do.” 

Quote from Daniel Zrust of Make

You will likely never be able to find one piece of software that can automate it all. That’s why it’s necessary to identify your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and not-very-important-to-haves. What integrations does your workflow require? What triggers within tools are a must? What automations would be nice to have but can be deprioritized based on their ROI? 

These are important decisions to make before you begin looking for software. If you don’t understand your must-haves, you may end up selecting a tool that doesn’t fit your baseline requirements. This priority list will also help you narrow down your options when beginning the research phase—which is what comes next. 

Bonus Tip: As you’re making your priority list, take some time to investigate whether your automation dreams are achievable within the software you use already. You can likely automate some of your workflows without investing in new software, which can help you narrow down requirements even further. 

Step 4: Research Automation Software 

Your priority list is built, which means you are now ready to start researching automation software. Use your must-haves to guide your research, from Google searches to inquiring with colleagues about their recommendations. 

Some tools to consider include Make, Zapier, Workato, Microsoft Power Automate, Tray.io, and  Integrately. When selecting an automation tool, Daniel says to keep these two important considerations in mind: 

At this stage of your automation journey, it’s essential to take your time and be thorough. If any of the tools you are considering have a free trial, take advantage of it! This can help you get a good feeling for how the tool works, the technical skills needed to run it, and if it can do all that you hope it can. 

7 Things to Consider Before Buying Software

Step 5: Build, Test, and Optimize

Now the grand finale: It’s time to automate your first workflow! After selecting the right automation software for your needs, dig into their resources. Most software companies have robust resource centers (hint, hint!) that can help you learn how to best use their software and get up to speed quickly. 

Resources can help you better understand what’s possible and how to achieve it, but the real learning comes from building automations yourself. So dive into the tool and start building! Use the process outline you created in step two to guide your work and ensure you don’t miss any steps. 

Once you’ve built your prototype, it’s time to test it. Most automation tools are no-code, so you can see changes and updates in real time. This means you don’t have to worry if a trigger misfires or a step is built out wrong. Issues can be caught relatively quickly during testing and fixed without needing to call on IT. 

Do keep in mind that the work of automating is never truly done. Continue to build, test, and optimize on a regular cadence. As your organization grows, tools change, and processes adapt, your workflows will need upkeep to ensure they are running smoothly. 

Unlock Your Automation Superpowers

With the proper preparation, software, and testing processes in place, you can build the automated workflows of your dreams. You don’t need technical skills or coding knowledge to bring automation into your workday. By following the simple steps above, you can begin building automated workflows that save you time, money, and stress. 

Hear all of Daniel’s best tips on getting started with automation by listening to his Practically Genius podcast episode Unlocking Your Automation Superpower.


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Lindsay McGuire
Lindsay is the Content Marketing Manager at Formstack, splitting her time between creating blog content, writing reports, and hosting Formstack's Practically Genius podcast. She's a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism (MIZ!) and loves connecting with others on LinkedIn.
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