How I Automated The Boring Parts Of Life

Twitpic CEO Steven Corona found himself doing something many of us are guilty of — waiting until the last minute. Instead of fighting procrastination with sheer willpower, Steve turned to automation for booking flights, shopping and more. The cost? Surprisingly low. Here's how he did it.

Image via Pixotico (Shutterstock).

I have a bad habit: waiting until the last minute to do things. Like, last month I had to fly to New York to run a 310km relay race. I knew about the trip for almost six months, but didn't buy plane tickets until three days before, at four times the cost. True dedication to the art of procrastination. You can call me somewhat of an expert, and it's one of my biggest shortcomings.

It's not because I'm lazy — in fact, the exact opposite is true. I'm incredibly productive. I move fast, but I single task. I don't bounce around with a million things at once because of the incredible cost of context switching. Spending time planning trips, picking flights, and buying tickets just doesn't really seem important to me until it's three days away.

Paying $US700 bucks for plane tickets, though, when they should have cost $US200, isn't the best move — so I've spent the past month trying to get a handle on my procrastination.

Fixing procrastination without willpower

Self-discipline and Willpower. Two words that aren't the solution. You only have a fixed amount of self-discipline and after it's been used up, you need to wait for it to recharge. If you "fix" a personality defect by brute-forcing with self-discipline, you'll be back in the same boat a week later.

I broke the cycle of procrastination and willpower exhaustion by automating the things I was putting off. Yup, I threw money at the problem, and it was cheaper than you think.

Get a personal assistant

Hold off your judgement for a second. I'm still new to the assistant thing, but it easily falls into the 10 most effective life changes I've ever made. Within the first 24 hours of having an assistant, I delegated two tasks that had been marinating in my to-do list for months. You know, the thing you say you're going to finally get done every time Monday rolls around? Well last Monday, it finally got done and all I had to do was send an email. Mind-blowing.

Total cost? $US25A MONTH. The service I use is FancyHands and it paid for itself on the first day. (That's an affiliate link — You get 50 per cent off, I get $US10 when you signup. I have no ties with FancyHands).

Think it's ridiculous? So did I, but it ended up changing my entire workflow. Like, I just had them book an AirBnB place for a trip next month. Next month! This is coming from a guy that was buying plane tickets days before a trip.

If it doesn't end up being useful you can just have your assistant email me about how much I suck. Might as well get your money's worth.

Amazon Subscribe & Save and Emergency Deodorant

Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't, but Amazon lets you setup reoccurring orders that get shipped automatically. It takes like five minutes to setup and has saved me so much frustration. I used to be the guy running to Target on the way out to buy a little thing I like to call "emergency deodorant". I've found myself standing in the deodorant aisle nonchalantly applying some Old Spice before taking it up to the register more times than I can count.

It was surprisingly hard to come up with ideas for using Subscribe and Save, so if you need some inspiration, check out the list of things Amazon automatically sends me. Fair warning: It's hilarious to open your door to a UPS guy carrying a 40-pack of toilet paper, IN THE ORIGINAL PACKAGING.

Automate the things you hate

Even though I really enjoy writing, I despise proofreading and editing. Like to the point where I rather just not write at all so I don't have to deal with the proofreading part. Nothing kills my flow more than having to re-read what I just wrote 1000 times.

Even though the book I'm working on has been an overall success, one of my biggest failures with the project has been not proofreading it. I'd fall into the cycle of just not writing, so I wouldn't have to proofread.

Instead of fighting it with willpower, I automated it. How? I tested both Mechanical Turk and Fiverr as proofreading platforms. Fiverr cost a total of $US50 to have 62 pages edited. Just to give you an idea, editing 62 pages is my idea of a personal hell. But for less than a dollar/page, all of my hesitation, doubt, and negativity vanished.

Try it out today

You can automate almost all of the boring parts of your life, today, for less than 25 bucks and half an hour on Amazon. And make sure to have your assistant email me telling me how much time I saved you.

How I Automated the Boring Parts of Life Steve Corona [stevecorona.com]

Steve Corona is the CTO of Twitpic and author of Scaling PHP. Follow him on Twitter @stevencorona.


Comments

    Are there any personal assistant services like FancyHands in Australia?

      Yup - they're called wives.

        Ha you misogynistic and sexist.

          I'm a woman and I wish someone would have had the wit to keep "That woman" in the kitchen. Totally embarressing to have that pedestrian voice drone on and on. She needs Kath n Kym as ministerial aides...

            If you judge the PM's abilities on her voice then you have seriously flawed judgement. Did you avoid voting for Howard because of his appalling eyebrows?
            Did you choose your life's work, your spouse and your car on such flimsy and irrelevant data?

              As "That Woman" also appears to me at least to be so patronising with "That Voice" as well as arguably lie and undermine her fellow Labor colleagues with "That Voice", plus created union slush funds for mates with "That Voice", I'd take that as data on "That Voice"!

              Not only are Kath & Kym great comrades in parody, so is "This Lady":
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83V4y-Qw2us

      Whether there are or are not, they need someone to fix their god damned website...

    Delegated rather than Automated. Goody for him.

    Sooo... This article appears on Lifehacker Australia, yet the Amazon Subscribe and Save function gives me an error saying that they can't ship to my country (Australia). What's the point of mentioning it in the article?

    There is something similar here. It's called Airtasker I think. But honestly I doubt it works well.
    The problem I have with things like this is:
    It would take more effort to make sure the tasks are done properly, than to just do them yourself
    and
    It would take just as much time to explain a task and provide all the necessary information, as it would to just do it yourself.
    Then there is the price of course. Airtasker is crowd based so you never know what quality work you will get and the pricing varies depending on what the employer decides.

    For example - there is a post that says "need someone to fill out rental application forms" $25.
    Right. So now you have to provide all the (personal) information and then probably sign the forms anyway. If you have 100 of these to fill out.... use a photocopier. If you have 5, then you've spent more time posting the task then it would take to fill out 5 forms.

    That being said I'd like to give all this a try, but I don't see how finding an assistant to book my tax appointment is really going to save me time.

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