Better living through IFTTT

Domino Dancing

You might not call yourself a developer. You might just be a designer or an entrepreneur or a markup hacker. But, I’ll bet you’ve developed a few applications in your day. You don’t have to pick up a book on Python or PHP and start figuring our arrays and variables to build an app. You started learning how to do it when you were a kid.

Programming is simply a way to make stuff happen. When I push this button or type in this phrase, then something else will happen.

Take dominoes for example. Now, I have no idea how to actually play the game of dominoes. I think some sort of math is involved. But, I do know a little something about stacking dominoes side by side by side to create elaborate mazes of plastic that, in the end, can turn on a TV set in another room. As a kid, I’d patiently line them up and test the design. Can I make a marble roll right? Left? How close do the dominoes have to be to make everything work? If it didn’t work the first time, I’d start over and debug the process.

I think I spent an entire summer indoors building this contraption and wishing I had an Atari.

Programming is a lot like this. It’s based on a simple idea: if I do this, then that will happen. So, imagine my excitement when I discovered a way to program the Internet the same way I lined up dominoes. If ESPN reports that my favorite team scored, then send me a text message. Or, even better: if ESPN reports that my favorite team scored, then send a taunt to my brother who doesn’t know the proper team to root for.

Using IFTTT to work smarter, not harder

IFTTT (If This Then That) makes this magic possible. If you haven’t played with IFTTT before, I highly recommend you check out this post by Julie Deneen. It explains how you can automate and track your social media activity using IFTTT, and how to set up your first few programs (aka recipes). What I love about Julie’s post is that it explains how IFTTT can help you get more done. It can help you curate content and find ideas that are relevant to your business. It’s like having a research guru on staff.

And, once you start publishing and sharing content online, IFTTT can help you spread the word a little further. It can help you remind people what you have to offer. Automatically.

Work Smarter using IFTTT

Sounds rad, right? That’s some serious power. With this in mind, Julie leaves us with a warning that I think is worth repeating:

Automation is no substitute for human interaction. As you can see, I’ve used IFTTT to make some of my redundant tasks easier. I’ve also used it to help me keep track of my own (and others) activity. But I do not use it to thank people and reply to comments, because I value the authenticity of a real human response. Keep this in mind. Automation is meant to free up your time to be human, not to be more robotic.

Just because you can automate thank-yous and wishing your loved ones “happy birthday,” doesn’t mean you should. Trust me, I’m still feeling a little guilty for wishing my brother happy birthday — automatically.

Here are some ideas to get you started

So, there are thousands of legitimate recipes you can play with using IFTTT. A friend of mine can turn off the lights in his house via text message. I know a team that changes the color of their office every time they sell something. A woman I know tracks how much time she spends in the office, automatically, in a Google® spreadsheet. Need a creative reminder to stop eating after 5pm? IFTTT can do that.

And if you’re like me and you’re like Julie, you can use IFTTT to keep track of articles and news stories you might want to blog about or share with friends. Connect IFTTT to popular news readers like Readability™, Feedly or Instapaper and every time you favorite an article, you can save the reference in a Google Doc automatically. Or, if you’re feeling a little more aggressive, you could automatically send out a Tweet or Facebook@ post. Or, publish to your blog. Or, send your mom an email. Or, send my mom an email.

There are thousands of possibilities. Go. Play. Be smart.

Shawn Pfunder
Shawn's been working with freelancers, entrepreneurs, and business owners for more than 20 years. He's consulted companies large and small on communication, social media, and marketing strategies. At heart he's a small-business superfan. He believes that working for yourself is one of the most courageous and creative moves anyone can make. Currently, he's the Editor in Chief for The Garage. When he's not hanging out with solopreneurs, Shawn loves to write, run, and travel. He's passionate about teaching and he's convinced that a good story is the best way to do it — especially if it involves El Caminos, potato fields, and really loud music.