“Weren’t computers supposed to make our lives easier?” How often have you heard that question in a sarcastic or exasperated tone? The answer is simple, but unexpected. First of all, yes, computers are meant to make our lives easier. But, the reason it often seems they don’t is because computers are dumb. That is to say, they are machines and can only do what we tell time to do.
That can be a hindrance, such as when you can’t figure out the steps necessary to accomplish a task. But it’s also out greatest asset, especially when the steps are simple, clear and effective. One of the best examples I can think of is automation, and my favorite automation tool is something called IFTTT.
Automate Tasks with IFTTT
IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. You can use it to build actions, or recipes, to accomplish tasks for you. A recipe consists of two steps. The second step is triggered when — and only when — the first steps happens. To put it plainly:
If [this happens], then [do this other thing].
Let’s look at a few examples to get a feel for it. I post lots of photos to Facebook. I also like to maintain an archive of those photos outside of Facebook, for posterity and as a backup. I could do so manually, dragging each one to my desktop and then into an app like Evernote. It’s not a hassle, but I’m likely to forget a step. Instead, I have IFTTT do it for me. After signing up for a free account, I’m ready to make recipes. Here’s how:
- Click Create a Recipe.
- A new screen appears with “ifthisthenthat” in bold letters. Note that “this” is a link. Click it.
- Time to pick step one! This is the “thing” that must happen in order for step two to take place. Click “Facebook,” and give IFTTT permission to access it.
- Choose your Trigger. This is the thing Facebook must “do” in order to trigger step two. In this example, I choose “you upload a new photo.” Click Create Trigger to confirm.
- We’re back to those bold letters, but now the Facebook logo has replaced “this.” Click “that.”
- Choose your action from the grid. In our case, Evernote.
- Click “create image note from URL.”
- Finally, click “create action,” confirm that you see “if [Facebook] then [Evernote]”, click “create recipe” and you’re done!
Now, every time I post a photo to Facebook, it’s added to my Evernote account. It doesn’t matter if I use my phone, computer or camera. Off the image goes to Evernote, saving me time.
Using an Existing Recipe
If you like the idea of the service but don’t want to make recipes, that’s no problem. There are hundreds of recipes to choose from, all ready to go. Some popular ones include:
- Send an email message to Evernote.
- Get updates on what’s new on Netflix.
- Receive the day’s weather forecast as a text message.
- Receive an email if it’s going to rain, reminding you to pack an umbrella.
- Send starred RSS items to Evernote or Pocket for later reading.
It goes on and on. There’s so much you can do, from receiving or sending reminders, watching certain feeds for changes or, my favorite, completing mundane and time-consuming tasks automatically. Create an IFTTT account, start cooking recipes and see what you can do.