If the Internet has ever stolen time from you, here’s how to get it back.
All you need is a smartphone, an ingenious program called IFTTT and a Google account—and you can forget about boring, time-consuming tasks like tracking shipments, updating contacts and cleaning up inbox clutter because the Internet will do it all for you, like a personal assistant of sorts.
Check out the five tasks the Internet can take off your to-do list:
1. Plan Your Day: There is nothing more distracting to your morning routine than checking your phone. You pick it up to see the weather forecast, spot a notification about a high school friend's wedding and down you dive into a deep, dark Facebook hole.
Instead, set a wake-up call (yes, an actual phone call—so 1990s). Use this IFTTT recipe to schedule a daily call that reads you the date, time, temperature, forecast and a slew of other relevant information that you can edit to your personal preferences. IFTTT helps you connect separate Internet services—Gmail, Evernote, iOS, Android and Dropbox—through simple conditional statements known as “Recipes.” These recipes are triggered automatically when the specified conditions are met. IFTTT has more than 130 “channels,” with more added on a daily basis, enabling you to automate almost everything you do online. You can use it on all your mobile devices and from your desktop.
2. Deal with Email: As I’ve written about previously, email is undisputedly one of modern life’s biggest distractions. Unfortunately, the Internet can’t read and reply to your email for you, at least not entirely. If you are a Gmail user, try some of these automated solutions to cut down on inbox time:
Automatically create to-dos from email messages with this IFTTT recipe. Simply star an email to create an iOS Reminder to take care of it. Don’t use iOS? There are numerous “channels” to choose from, so you’re sure to find one that fits your workflow.
Clear your inbox clutter without hitting a single key with Unroll.me. This service identifies all your subscription emails and compiles them into one email for you to peruse whenever you choose.
Boomerang lets you schedule times to automatically send and receive email in Gmail, set reminders to make sure you got a response to that important message, and specify a time or date to return an email to your inbox when you’re ready to deal with it.
3. Track Your Shipments: If you do a lot of online purchasing, either for business or pleasure, you are probably wasting time tracking packages—opening the email, clicking the link, signing up for the notifications from UPS or FedEx, etc. You can stop all of that now.
Simply download Slice (for Android and iOS) and allow it access to your email account. It will pull in any email dealing with shipments or purchases and then automatically track the shipment, pushing a notification to your phone when it’s shipped, out for delivery and delivered. You can also set up an IFTTT action to automatically add the package delivery date to your calendar.
4. Track Your Miles: If you have to track your mileage for work, you know how time consuming it can be. Even with apps set up to help you, it’s still a lot of manual data entry.
Automatic ($79) is an intelligent gadget you plug into your car (most makes and models made since 1996) and that talks to your car’s onboard computer and uses your smartphone’s GPS and data plan. Automatic has a slew of features, but my favorite is this IFTTT recipe that automatically logs all of your trips to a Google spreadsheet.
5. Manage Your Contacts: Rapportive saves time by researching your contacts for you. It pulls their LinkedIn profiles, job titles, websites and any other relevant information available on the web right into your Gmail inbox. It also displays a picture and lets you connect with them on LinkedIn without leaving your inbox—which is great for those who have trouble remembering people or need to keep track of a large number of clients.
There’s an app for keeping your address book up to date, too. Personal assistant app Easily Do has a feature that automatically pulls contact info from your emails and prompts you to add it to your address book, either to an existing contact or a new one. All it takes is a couple taps and your contact is in your address book, you’re connected on LinkedIn, and the details are populated to Evernote Hello and Salesforce, if you so desire.