We all know the fable about the grasshopper and the ant. While the ant works throughout the summer to store food for the winter, the grasshopper enjoys the sunshine. When winter comes, the grasshopper begs the ant for food, but the ant turns its back. There’s a modern version of that story in which the ant shares its food and in return, the grasshopper shares the warmth of months of stored-up sunshine.
I prefer the latter version. First, it offers a more nuanced view of work. And second, it recognizes the value of rest and other activities besides dutifully toiling away.
When it comes to innovation, our modern-day hustle culture tracks the traditional version of the fable. Great innovators are tireless toilers. More is more. But after 17 years of running my company, I’m convinced that what distinguishes great innovators is not a matter of quantity, but rather, the quality of the work they do and their commitment to giving their brain a rest. They choose tasks strategically and clear the rest from their plates.
You’re probably wondering: But how?
One strategy that has worked for me is automation. Automation lets you speed up or completely relinquish tedious tasks, aka busywork, freeing up invaluable time and mental energy for innovation. What’s more, you don’t need to hire a team or spend money on expensive new products. Automation is accessible to anyone who wants to take advantage of it. In fact, the market for hyper-automation technologies is projected to total $27 billion in 2023 – up 20% from last year. Gartner predicts that spending on no-code technologies will reach $720 billion in 2023.
Here, a closer look at how automation both boosts and democratizes innovation.
Conserving Time and Brain Power
The pandemic was a watershed moment for many. Personally, I was felled by COVID-19. Between a hospital stay and weeks without leaving home, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my work life – and I wasn’t alone. As Jennifer Moss writes for Harvard Business Review, “Working under the weight of chronic stress, financial insecurity, and collective grief forced people to work harder and longer to get to the same goals. We became exhausted, self-efficacy decreased, and cynicism grew. It’s no wonder that people eventually hit the wall.”
Especially in times of crisis, be it health or economic, it’s easy to spend your whole day putting out fires – to work more than ever, and still, feel like you’re not accomplishing anything that moves the needle for you or your career.
During my recovery, I renewed my commitment to working less – and working smarter. After all, it became clear that my family and health were priorities.
Using automated tools enables you to overcome human limitations. It’s critical to restore and replenish in order to perform effectively and think sharp when we need it. Like stew in a crockpot, automation works in the background while we’re resting or tackling more essential tasks.
It also increases speed on busywork – those pesky daily tasks that require time and attention, but don’t really add value. You know the type: invoicing, scheduling, notetaking, etc. When you factor in time lost to distraction, boredom, and sheer forgetfulness, busywork can swallow up even more hours in your day. Automated tools, on the other hand, can knock out busywork in a fraction of the time and reduce errors. Considering the time saved and tedium avoided, automation also reduces stress.
Taken together, the benefits that flow from automation free up precious time and energy for creative thinking. Here are a few examples of what that looks like in practice.
Examples of No-Code Automation Technology
At first blush, automation sounds intimidating, like a special tool for coders that’s either too complicated or prohibitively expensive for most of us. But the truth is, anyone can use automation. It’s just a matter of breaking down your daily tasks into discrete steps and identifying which steps can be taken care of by an automated tool or system. The real investment is your time. While it’s not insignificant in the beginning, pretty soon, that investment pays off in spades. And the more you automate, the more you reap the benefits, and the more you’re motivated to keep looking for ways to improve. It’s a self-propelling wheel.
Take email filters, a free and user-friendly tool for managing your inbox. Setting up email filters can shave minutes or hours off your daily busywork, leaving ample time for creative thinking or resting. For example, when my family and I embark on our annual summer vacation in my native Turkey, I limit email to an hour or less each day. Email filtering makes this possible because I don’t have to manually delete every *Sale Alert* and *Register Now!* email from my inbox. Using email filters, I can quickly browse my high-priority inbox, then get back to much-needed family time.
Or, consider a more elaborate process like content development. Things like automated emails and templates, in addition to carefully mapped workflows, can increase speed and decrease the margin of error. Let’s say you work in sales at a clothing brand. Each time a new line is released, the brand needs to produce a sales sheet for sharing with commercial clients and publishing online. Instead of a haphazard process in which no one is on the same page and oftentimes critical steps are forgotten, you can map out your workflow and automate various steps. The completion of a line initiates an automated email to marketing to request the creation of a sales sheet; the marketing director uses a template email to assign the task to an associate; once completed, marketing sends an automated approval email with an automated calendar invite. Each completed step triggers the next step, and the order is identical each time, even where certain steps contemplate loops for feedback and revision.
And again, these programmable automations cost nothing. Once they’re in place, they minimize errors on an individual and team level, ultimately saving time.
In today’s increasingly competitive market, automation can be your secret weapon, for both ensuring smooth day-to-day functioning and leaving ample space for innovation. Using automated tools, you can be both the ant and the grasshopper. You can work hard but also carve out time for the other side of the coin – rest, reflection, and your sharpest, most innovative thinking.