Productivity Optimization: Tips and Tools for Automating Your Workflows | Kevin Siskar | Skillshare

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Productivity Optimization: Tips and Tools for Automating Your Workflows

teacher avatar Kevin Siskar, CEO, Finta

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Measuring Time


    • 3.

      Determining Opportunities


    • 4.

      Planning Automations


    • 5.

      Measuring Your ROI


    • 6.

      Maintaining Automations


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Make the most of each workday with Finta CEO Kevin Siskar! 

Automation softwares are so important for becoming more efficient and creating meaningful output across your team. Join Kevin as he shares top productivity tools for automating your workflows, enabling you to refocus your energy on what you're passionate about and become the best version of yourself.

Together with Kevin, you will learn how to:

  • Measure your time in order to maximize your ROI
  • Determine the automation opportunities within your workflows 
  • Plan and build your workflow automation
  • Re-measure your ROI to ensure you are actually saving time and energy
  • Maintain and monitor your automations for long term success 

Whether you’re in a leadership position on your team or just starting out, this class will provide you with the tools to focus on what really matters and exercise your creativity in the process.


Kevin’s class is designed for students of all levels.

Meet Your Teacher

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Kevin Siskar

CEO, Finta


Kevin Siskar is the CEO of Finta. Previously he was Managing Director of the Founder Institute in New York where he built an investment portfolio of over 150 early-stage companies. Kevin is the host of the Ambition Today podcast where he explores the hardships and heroism of the entrepreneurs, creators, investors, and builders who ambitiously change the world. You can find him on talking startups, products, technology and services -- and the people who build them.

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1. Introduction: I love creating automations because it frees people up to be the best version of themselves, to creatively and intellectually focus on the things that they're passionate about doing, versus doing boring, repetitive tasks over and over again. Hi, my name is Kevin Siskar. Today we're going to talk about productivity and how we can automate your workforce. Over the last few years, I've worked with hundreds of companies, I'm an investor with 43North, where we invest $5 million per year in a high-growth technology companies. I also run Finta a software company that helps founders automate the fundraising process, and I have a Podcast Ambition Today, where we interview founders and their entrepreneurial journeys. In today's class productivity tools, we'll talk about how to automate your workflows. First, we have to establish a baseline, measure your week and figure out which opportunities are prime for automation. Then we're going to pick those, figure out how much time they're going to likely save us, and then plan and build those automations. Once they're built, we're going to remeasure our time, figuring out how much intellectual and creative energy we've got your back. Then finally, we'll make a plan on how to maintain those automations going forward. I really hope that you take away the idea that there's a better way to do things sometimes. It can create more output and productivity in the long run across a team that's meaningful. Throughout this class, if you want to follow along, you're welcome to use any of the tools mentioned in the past. I've also provided a worksheet that you can find in the resources section down below. I encourage you to share it for everyone else to comment and discuss. You can all help each other as it Skillshare community. Let's get started with productivity tools, how to automate your workflows. 2. Measuring Time: In this lesson, we're going to start by measuring your time. This is going to help us establish a baseline. Measuring your time is important because you don't want to be repeating the same repetitive task over and over. But measuring your time and summing it all up across a week, we can start to see where we can get you the biggest return on investment for creating these automations. If you can maximize your ROI, you can maximize the amount of time and creativity you get back into your life. When you multiply that by 52 weeks in a year or a few years, that time really compounds, saving you not just that time per week, but in the long run, countless hours, maybe even days. In 2021, Asana did a state of work report, and this report uncovered some surprising facts about how we work today. Burnout is on the rise. Seventy-one percent of workers experienced burnout in 2020. Also, about 87 percent of employees reported consistently working late. What does this mean? Compounding things like tool overload, hurting team alignment. They also found that amid the race to stay connected, workers are switching between 10 apps almost 25 times per day. Fragments in team communication and reducing efficiency overall. Basic coordination tasks are consuming about 60 percent of people's day. As a result, only 26 percent of time is spent on the skilled job someone was hired to do. If you're a marketer, actually doing market analysis, if you're a software developer, actually doing software development, and only 14 percent of our time is spent on forward-looking strategy. Meaning that the bulk of our days, every day, five days a week, is being spent on coordination and parts of our job that we really weren't hired to do. Those weren't the skill sets intended when we were brought on, but that is how our time is being spent to do the current nature of work in 2021. The same way that machines created exponential productivity outputs in the industrialization age of the past century. We're now living in the information age. Setting up automations and automating our workflows does the exact same thing and creates exponential productivity outputs for companies today. Zapier recently did another study about how office workers spend their time. What they found was that 76 percent of respondents said they spend 1-3 hours simply moving data from one place to another, and only three and five knowledge workers, about 61 percent use automation software at work. But nearly all of those whose automation software, 98 percent say it benefits them. I think that's an important point worth mentioning here, that almost everyone who has set up workflow automations is glad they did so and continues to use them going forward. Taking that step back has only continued to yield and pay dividends for them down the road. To start by measuring your time in the worksheet provided, we have a basic layout of your week, Monday through Sunday, hour-by-hour, and you can start to manually pen and paper, write down how you're spending your time. If you prefer to use digital tools instead of pen and paper, I can also going to recommend a few software solutions to record a time as well. I personally use Timeular, which is free. You take a look at the calendar here, you can see that there's a blank calendar hour-by-hour and you can also see that I've saved the activities and the tasks that I most commonly do. You can then start to record those tasks in here at a glance and start to measure that time. You can even add notes or tags to save and give a little more depth into what you've been working on. Timeular also provides insights throughout the week that can show you where you spent the most of your time. In addition to Timeular, you can also check out Toggl, another free app that will offer you free time tracking software. What are the great parts about Toggl is it'll actually use your Chrome tabs to automatically record your time and auto-log it for you. In addition to that, iOS and macOS, as well as Windows and Android, all provide screen time software. You can take a look here and you can start to refresh your memory on what you've been working on simply by going into your settings and taking a look at your screen time as well. Now that you've determined how you're going to measure your time, start looking back on the last few days of work and try to remember and write down where you spend the most energy and the most time and continue to do that in the next few days moving forward as well. You just start to quickly see where you spend a lot of the same time and tasks over and over again. If you'd want, record your work time, record your personal time. The more information you log, the more informed and the better off you'll be in this task, in this process. Go ahead, take some time now and start to fill out the worksheet and record your time, and then we're going to take a look at it together in this next lesson. 3. Determining Opportunities: Now that you've recorded your time, in this lesson, we're going to take a look at it. We're going to determine the best opportunities for automation within your workflows. It's important that we determine where you can get the most time back. We do that by taking a look at this past week and figuring out where you spent the most time and where those opportunities are to automate that time. You don't want to automate something at the bottom of your list because it might take you more time to set up that automation than it takes you to actually do those tasks. We want to make sure that we're saving your time and creating return on investment. By taking a look at this list and taking the stuff at the top where you maybe spend an hour, 2, 3, 4, 10 hours per week over and over doing the same task. If we could take that energy and that time and give it back to you so you could focus and be productive on other meaningful aspects of your job, then that's where we can create the most return on investment in these exercises. That's where over the next 52 weeks, a year, two years, you could see the greatest return on investment, giving you the most piece of mind and time and energy back. Taking a look at your last week, let's add up all the time you've spent on the same tasks. Whether you were commuting, add all that time up, whether you're doing email, add all that time up. We're starting to see chunks of where you're spending the most time and where there is room to automate. Now that we've seen where you spend the most time, we want to start to determine where the opportunities to automate are. Start to break them into two categories. One, predominantly digital and software-based. These are tasks that probably have a clear trigger. Something that happens very specifically, and then causes an action. Other kinds of tasks are maybe more human-oriented. They require more creativity. They require more of a human touch to be done. Let's start to put our tasks in those two buckets and figure out where we have the opportunity to automate. We're going to predominately focused on the software aspects and those tasks today. We'll talk a little bit about how you can optimize and automate those other tasks as well. Now that we've started to talk about how to determine the best parts and aspects of your job to potentially automate, I want to show you how I've set up some of these automations. With my company Finta, we create software that helps founders share a deal with investors and they do that by sharing a single link. What I did within Zapier, which is one platform and one place that you could use, we created a Zapier recipe that tells us in Slack, every time a new user creates a deal room and shares it. This lets us follow up easily. The trigger of a new deal being created lets us see that right away and then reach out to that founder and provide feedback on their deal room. What that looks like in Zapier is everything always starts with a trigger. This is one task, one thing that happens that sets off a chain of events to follow suit. So within this, someone creates a new deal room. We see that, we delay it for a little bit of time to give people that opportunity to finish it. We clean up some of the numbers and how they're presented, so they are clearly and cleanly presented to us in Slack. Then we send a new message to Slack. We set this up one-by-one, step-by-step, almost like if this then that. Then when we test it, we'll see here that it's going to fire a new Slack notification. We come in and we could see here, there it is that this person just created a deal room. We can click this link, go in, look at it, and see how they're doing, give them feedback and share more information. This specific task happens over and over every day within our company. So rather than us manually having to search it out, go in and check accounts, we now get automatically notified every time someone takes as action and we could follow up accordingly. Saving as countless minutes and hours every day spent manually digging through our own company's accounts, figuring out how and when users have been taking actions. We now know automatically and we have a clear and concise process for how to handle and respond to those actions. If you haven't already completed this section of the worksheet, add up and summarize all your time, categorize it by digital or non-digital, and start to see where you have the biggest opportunities to automate. 4. Planning Automations: Now that we've measured our time and we've highlighted the prime opportunities for automation, let's jump into it and let's start automating those tasks. We're going to focus first on digital tasks and how you can automate those. For the purpose of these examples, we're going to use Zapier. I worked with Zapier because that's the tool that I'm most familiar with and my company works with due to the integrations they offer. But there's a few other alternatives that I'd like to walk you through here as well. is another alternative and they have some different integration. You might want to take a look. If This Then That is a little bit less business focused and a little bit more personal focused. Let's say you arrive home from work and your phone knows your GPS location, and you want to turn on the lights in your house, If This Then That is a great solution for that. There's also free solutions built into the operating systems of your computer likely. Apple has an application called shortcuts that's free both on iOS and Mac OS, where you can create automations that way. Then Microsoft has flow alternative for windows that can create automations as well. Regardless of the tool you choose, you really just want to make sure that the integration is supported by these platforms and that the task you want to automate is capable of being automated by either Zapier or Automate, If This Then That, whatever tool you choose. But all of these platforms follow the same structure. They have a trigger followed by an action. You want to send a text message each time you receive an email, then that trigger would be a new e-mail. The action would be sending a text message. Sometimes you can string multiple actions together. Now, I'm going to walk you through how to set up an automation using Zapier as my example. Let's take a look at how to create a new recipe right now. After you create a free account, you're going to come in and create a ZAP. Now, this is like I said, going to start with a trigger. A trigger is an event that starts your recipe, starts your ZAP your automation. We're going to use Typeform. Typeform is a simple form builder that lets people submit forms and fill in questions and answers. I have a form going and I need to connect to my Typeform account to access that. Now that we've connected the account, we're going to start to see our forms. We're going to pick our form, and when someone completes our investor interest form here, we will test the trigger, we can see that there's a recent response, and we can continue. We know the form is talking, we know the trigger is defined, and now we want to send an email. You can use Google or Gmail, but also Zapier offers their own email client. We're going to send an outbound email we're going to send it too. You would put the variable for the person's email in here. For the purpose of this example I'm going to put my own e-mail so it goes to me. We can write out our subject line, so thank you for applying. Then we can write out the body of the email. Hey, and then we can insert a variable such as first-name, Jim. This will dynamically update for every new person that fills out the form. Thanks for applying and we would love to work with you. How is next week to discuss further? We can say it's from Kevin or whoever on your team might be fielding these and we can press "Continue." Let's test it and we'll see if I get the email. Return on Zap and we're good to go. We tested it. We'll go to my email account here and we can see thank you for applying. We'd love to work with you. Something as simple as that really only took me about two minutes. The marketing team could go promote the link to that form, have people fill it out. Then every single person that comes in and fills it out is going to immediately get a response from our team. We can start to take things a step further and string actions together. In my previous example where I said we have people come into Slack and notify us, and then we manually reach out, we can take that a step further like in this example and then automate that reach out as well. Stringing these things together and really saving us time and energy, and automating a lot of these workflows and processes. Often these platforms also offer a ZAP history. You can see a record of all the automations every time it runs. The last month across nine automations our company has automated 4,763 tasks. You could see how each one is run, how often it's used, and start to measure them that way as well. Now, take a few minutes to dive in and start to set up your automations. Choose your platform, find the one that supports the integrations you need. Create your account, determine your triggers, set up your trigger, then set up your subsequent action or actions if you want to automate multiple steps, and start to set those up, and turn them on. You can see the log and the record of them going forward. 5. Measuring Your ROI: Now that you've taken the time to set up your automations and turn them on, let's take a minute and see how they're creating a return on investment for you. You want to make sure that the tasks you've set up are actually saving you time and energy. What we're going to do here is take that blank weekly schedule that we did once before and we're going to do it again. What we're going to be able to do is compare the first one to next one, and start to see where we saw differences and where we saw changes. Hopefully, we'll see that the automations you've set up have won you back time and energy that you could spend in more meaningful in productive tasks in your day-to-day. Let's take another blank week. Let's lay it down in front of us and let's start to fill it in. I use Timeular, and you could see here that I filled in my entire week. We compare them before and after, we can start to see where we've made improvements, where we've got those gains and how we've won back our time and energy, not just for ourselves, but also our own productivity for the company as well. If you've saved time, then you should keep that automation running. Maybe you can even expand upon it, adding some other actions. That's probably been a very valuable thing to set up for you. If not, then maybe you need to go in and tweak your automations a little bit, continuing to expand on them, maybe adding some subsequent actions until they really are saving you time and energy. Now that you've determined how much time energy you've saved, what you're ROI was? Other people on a team of probably done this as well. If you could start to add up that time and think about not just how much time it's saving you, but also saving your entire team. That's meaningful to the company. We've seen that within my own company, when you start to take multiple people and you free them up to not only just do the work that they love and do what they love, but remove the repetitive tasks and create animations. It gives your company a massive advantage. For this lesson on your worksheet, recomplete the week and write down a document how you're spending your time. Take a moment to compare that to the week before and highlight those opportunities where you one back time and you free yourself up to do the things that you love. 6. Maintaining Automations: You now have multiple automation setup that can help you win back time. But maintaining those automations is also important. You're going to have triggers that are always monitoring and always firing and causing some other action to follow. So a few things to talk about here. One, you should make sure that everyone on your team knows what automations are running. The last thing you want to have happen is someone to fire off a trigger unknowingly and then e-mails 6,000 people. This happened to us once actually. We had a form that people would fill out and it would send them a welcome e-mail to our non-profit that we started. We had an intern come in and uploaded a few thousand people to a spreadsheet that was connected to that form. It looked like that form had new completes and had e-mail all those people, the welcome e-mail. Many of whom didn't really sign up. You want to make sure everyone on the team knows what automations are set up and that they unknowingly trigger something that causes an unexpected action. You also want to monitor your automations because sometimes the integration you're using such as type form or Google pushes some change to the integration and that could affect how your automation runs either from a trigger, or action perspective. Maybe every six months or so, eight months a year, you want to make sure you come into the account. You just glance and look them over and make sure they're running smoothly. Put yourself in a position where you can know whether these automations are running and every six months and you take a look at it, maybe you check your inbox and you see all those e-mails stopped two weeks ago, and you go and look into it. Think about when you create your automations, how you can set up little breadcrumbs or ways to keep you in the loop. You don't actually have to do any work, but you can still monitor and see those automations are running smoothly and properly and continuing to work. One easy way to do this, is either in your task manager, or your calendar, create a recurring event every six months or so that reminds you to come in and check on your automations. I login to my Zapier account and I can see all of my recipes and my automations set up here. I can see that they're on and that they're running. Then I can also go over here to the Zap history and I can also take a look to see where and what is running the most. Now something that's useful especially in Zapier, is I can actually filter by whether or not something failed. I can come in here and I can filter by stopped or errored, or stopped and halted and I can see which automations didn't run fully. Maybe this new user notification automation that I have set up here, which has been halted a few times in the last few days, is something that I want to take a look into. Maybe it's halted because I wanted it to, or maybe there's something erroring out here because there was an underlying change in the integration. That's just one example of what you want to be looking out for and how you can make sure that these aren't failing, and things are always running properly as you intended. If something's broken, I do keep a close eye on my e-mail and I typically get alerted by the platforms. If the platform you're using doesn't offer any historical, or search, or filter tools to take a look at your account, then maybe what you want to do is just write it down. You can document it in a Google Sheet, or a pen and paper. But setting up automations has honestly been key. It's a big difference in not only company culture and leadership being able to free people up to focus on what they love, but also a strategic advantage. I can't tell you how often I see companies default to just doing manual labor, manual work and that's great, that brings in money and that pays the bills. But there's a big difference between a software company that scales to a billion dollars and predominant does that because of automation. Now oftentimes they're writing code to do that. But the big difference is the focus and the energy with which they're doing it and going and working in that direction. If you could set up automations using one of these platforms, drag and drop style, you're still going to be light years ahead of any competitor, or any other company manually doing this work, or shuffling paper. If multiple people on the team have done this exercise, then get together. Add up all the time you've saved, multiply it by 52 and see how much time you save for the year. I could personally tell you from my own experience that every time I've been able to help someone get out of doing some redundant, repetitive tasks that they don't enjoy and have allowed them to focus on something they care and the passionate about. It changes the entire dynamic, the entire energy, happiness of the team and it's something that's really powerful and improves morale and improves the vision long-term for everyone on the team, how they work together, how they collaborate, and honestly just how much fun they have working. Take a step back, do this and I think you'll see and be really happy with the results, especially how it works across everyone on the team. For this lesson, take a look at the worksheet and start to create reminders. Maybe every six months, eight months or a year, whatever you're comfortable with to come back in and check your automations. Keep an eye on your e-mail inbox because these platforms will often alert you if there is something changing that you need to keep an eye out for, or go in and check and include yourself. Build yourself into the automations so you can monitor them as they happen from the triggers, the actions, and the responses. 7. Final Thoughts: What I want to leave you with today is the important reminder that in this decade, every company is becoming a software company, whether you're a mainstream business or Fortune 500, software is eating the world. The more that you lean into that, the better off you'll be. Making sure that you take a step back to setup these automations, find these opportunities really will help you stay disruptive and innovative and under cutting edge of your industry. I hope that you've seen how much time you've saved from measuring that initial baseline to seeing the after of setting up your automations and seeing how much time and ROI you've saved. I hope that going forward I've inspired you to set up more automations, find other opportunities in your job and your work to say, how could this be done better and improve not only your day-to-day, but the company's productivity output. I encourage you to submit your worksheet, ask any questions you have in the project gallery below, and I'll respond, give you feedback and I can't wait to see the work that you've done. Thank you so much for being here. I hope we've made a profound impact in the way you work and improve the day-to-day life. Stay curious everyone. My name is Kevin Siske and I will see you in my next Skillshare class.