If technology is supposed to make our lives simpler, why do our lives seem more stressful than ever? One reason might be the endless digital drudgery that dominates our workdays — too much time spent on menial, manual tasks better left to the robots in our midst. But with a little help from our favorite task-automation service, IFTTT, you can put mundane chores on autopilot and spend more time on the interesting stuff.
IFTTT stands for If This, Then That. It's a free service that lets you build simple, automated processes to handle various online situations. From performing automated Craigslist searches and sending you the relevant results to automatically emailing your colleagues when your plane lands in their area, IFTTT can make you instantly more productive with almost no effort on your part.
How IFTTT works
IFTTT does its thing by connecting to a whole bunch of cloud-based services, ranging from Dropbox and Google Drive to iOS Reminders, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can link your cloud accounts to your IFTTT account and then watch for events that can trigger actions.
The heart of IFTTT's automation strategy is the recipe — a fairly simple set of instructions that tells IFTTT to watch a channel (such as Gmail) for an event (like, say, a message containing a specific word in the subject line) and, when that condition is satisfied, to trigger a customized response (such as sending you a text message or formatting the contents of a qualifying email message into a document).
To create or use recipes, you must first activate channels for the cloud services you'd like to use. Currently, 76 channels are available, including Craigslist, Dropbox, Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter. There are generic channels, too, for sending email and SMS messages, triggering actions at specific times, or accepting triggers via voicemail. And there are mobile channels for tracking the location of your phone or interacting with iOS apps.
You can easily write your own recipes on IFTTT if you like, but you don't have to. The easiest way to get started is to piggyback on the work that others have done, by using shared recipes from the IFTTT community.
Note: At the moment, IFTTT is heavily skewed in favor of iOS users, and doesn't directly support Android devices for certain features. That said, many third-party channels, such as Pushover, have Android apps of their own.
Put these IFTTT recipes to work:
Add a calendar event by voicemail
Channels used: Phone Call, Google Calendar
This simple recipe takes the contents of a voicemail message and drops them directly into Google Calendar. To use it, just dial the IFTTT number and say exactly the words you want put into Google Calendar, like this: "10am tomorrow, call Jane Smith." Voilà: Your event will appear on the calendar.
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