August 21, 2014

Stay (Mission) Focused: A Simple Tool to Help You Save Time and Speed Up Your Organization

If you’re like me, 24 hours is more than enough time to get everything done that you want to get done in a day. And a five-day work week? That’s two days too many. And money? it ain’t no thing. There’s more than enough to fund all the events, initiatives, and programs I want to do.

Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

Most of us are both time- and budget-strapped. We want to stay focused on our mission, but, try as we may, it seems there is always more to do than there is time to do it. Yet, the people we serve and the funders who underwrite our efforts expect us to produce results.

So, what’s a time- and cash-strapped nonprofit to do?

Here’s an answer: Automate time-consuming, but necessary processes using modern technology.

How Much Time Did Routine Tasks Take Up Last Week?

Take a second and think about some of the routine tasks your organization does – entering data into systems, transferring that data between systems, getting approvals, promoting content through social channels, etc.

How many hours did your organization spend on those activities last week? Last month? Last year? For example, at StartupLansing.org, we spend time each week on:

  • Managing our social media platforms
  • Finding content to write about
  • Tracking & managing our content calendar
  • Curating content relevant to our audience(s)
  • Tracking events around Lansing and consolidating them into a single, comprehensive calendar
  • Aligning our team around our various organizational goals

The list goes on.

I’m sure you do some (if not, most) of these things in your organization. You know how much work it is. Maybe you avoid these things precisely because it’s too much work.

There’s A System for Everything – and That’s the Problem

So much of the work involved in the tasks described above requires managing multiple systems. For instance, at StartupLansing, we use Trello, Hipchat, Google Drive, Hootsuite, and other tools to accomplish the tasks I mentioned. Each of these systems excels at a specific thing: Trello makes it really easy to work on projects together; Google Drive makes it easy to collaborate on documents; and Hootsuite makes it easy to manage social media.

The problem is that these systems do not natively interact with each other. This leads to redundant work. For example, we use Trello to manage our social media calendar:

Trello editorial calendar

 

As a team, we brainstorm the content we want to share, assign specific tasks to individuals to optimize it and, when the content is ready to be shared, I approve it by dragging the content to the “Approved” column.

This is fantastic for collaboration.

But what about when we want to get the content into, say, Facebook? What should we do? Copy and paste the content into posts? Maybe, if there’s only one or two posts per day. But what about Twitter? We typically post 5-9 times/day – should we copy and paste 45-50 pieces of content per week into these platforms? At what time(s)?

You can see how this starts to become onerous, quickly.

Enter Hootsuite. This platform allows users to bulk-upload content to social media platforms for distribution at pre-specified times. All one need do is upload a spreadsheet with data in a specific format, and the content will be published accordingly.

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Great. We have a good collaboration tool (Trello) and an efficient way to upload our content (Hootsuite).

Here’s the problem…they don’t talk to each other, so we still have to copy and paste data from Trello to Hootsuite.

Or do we?

Enter Web Automation

The problem of having systems interact with each other is particularly acute in the modern era. There is software to accomplish almost every task you can imagine. Too often, however, they do not interact with each other.

Zapier & IFTTT

 

Tools like Zapier.com and IFTTT.com have emerged precisely to solve that problem. Think of these tools as behaving like old-fashioned switchboard operators — they connect two parties who want to interact.

For example, to solve my social media problem, I use Zapier to send approved Facebook posts to a Google Spreadsheet that we can use to do a single upload to Hootsuite.

Thus, we get the benefit of scheduling our social media in advance, with almost no human effort spent on the task. Instead, our time is spent on finding good content to curate and (trying) to write clever content for our audience (our mission).

Seven Simple Steps

Setting this up is really easy and can be done in just a few steps. For instance, to connect Trello to Google Drive, we simply do the following:

1. Select the two systems we want to have interact with each other

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2. Authenticate the first account

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(Disclaimer: the reason this says “Cognite Labs Trello” is because my company owns the Trello account)

3. Authenticate the second account FloresJess.img6

4. Tell the system what to do with the first account

In this case, I tell the system to use the StartupLansing Social Media Calendar board and to “trigger” when new activity happens on the “Approved” list.

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5. Tell the system what to do with the second account

Here, I tell the system I want to create a new row in a Google spreadsheet when the activity on Trello is triggered. I specify how fields on the spreadsheet ought to be mapped to Trello.

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6. Test it and make sure it works

To make sure you set up the recipe correctly, you can test it before you turn it on.

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7. Turn it on!

Once you are satisfied with the test, then turn it on and watch your non-value added work decrease!

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So Many Use Cases

I just highlighted a single use case above, but I use recipes for different things:

  • Promoting events on Twitter as soon as they are added to the StartupLansing calendar (GCal to Twitter)
  • Creating Facebook events when we add a new event to the StartupLansing event calendar (GCal to Facebook)
  • Customizing Facebook posts when we publish something new on the blog (WordPress to Facebook)
  • Saving content I read on the web and want my team to curate (Pocket to Gmail)
  • … And so much more.

Getting Started is Easy

Admittedly, it is hard to think of what can be automated from the outset. I suggest the following candidates for automation:

  • Instances where someone is copying and pasting data between systems
  • Instances where a lot of time is spent on data entry
  • Instances where you want team members to be able to dump data into a single, shared repository
  • Repetitive tasks

Most of us have a lot to do and not enough time to do it. Fortunately, web automation tools like Zapier and IFTTT make it easy to reduce the time we spend on non-value added tasks, when what we really care about is the output or product of those tasks.

I encourage you to think about the work being done in your organization, then check out the recipes on Zapier and IFTTT. I promise you will find ways to reduce work, so that you and your organization can spend time on what really matters: your mission.

Jesse Flores
Jesse Flores is the Founder of StartupLansing.org. He enjoys technology & entrepreneurship and believes that Lansing has many of the resources needed to break out as a city. When he's not working on StartupLansing, he's running his software company, Cognite Labs, or hanging out with his family. You can find him on Twitter @jflores1c.
Interest Categories: Operations, System Integration
Tags: Digital Strategy