Can You Take Automation Too Far?

Robot Man

Last week, I posted some tips for automating boring everyday tasks. However, I feel I should point out that automation’s like a nice wine: you can have too much of a good thing if you overdo it.

I spend a significant amount of time thinking about productivity and get great pleasure out of finding more efficient ways to get my work done. I think that if I can get all of my work done without working crazy long hours, I have more time for having fun. But there are some things that I don’t automate, even though I could, because I like being able to give things a personal, authentic touch that comes from me and not a machine.

Here’s a look at some of the things that I don’t automate. I’ll probably take some heat for some of these, since many people do automate these tasks. All I ask is that you think about some of these and decide whether you really benefit from those few seconds of extra productivity.

Email Auto-responders

I don’t like auto-responders. Note that I’m not talking about the out-of-office replies that go something like this, “Hi, I’m vacationing someplace really awesome, and you are stuck at work. I’ll get back to you in a week after I’m done having an amazing getaway.” While I’m often jealous that other people are off having fun when I am working, it’s reasonable to have this kind of automation. The ones that I don’t like are the ones that read something like this, “I am too important to answer your email. So many people love me and send me email that I can’t possibly respond to it all.”

Now, I’m the first one to admit that I don’t respond to all of my email, but I just can’t bring myself to automate my responses. I answer the emails that I can and hope that the others forget that they wanted something from me. Admittedly, that’s not a perfect solution, but I’m OK with it.

Auto Cross-Posting

I have been guilty of auto cross-posting between different social media tools in the past; for a while, all of my tweets went right into my Facebook status. For the most part, this was just annoying. Many people see me on both Twitter and Facebook, but the people who were only on Facebook were mostly confused by the @replies, hashtags and fragments of conversations. I decided to stop automatically posting to both and take back some control over what gets posted to which channel. I do occasionally post the same update to both, but I do it intentionally and infrequently. I also sometimes post almost the same update to both Twitter and Facebook, but with changes that improve readability for the users of each service: I use @replies and hashtags on Twitter and post a similar update Facebook but without the Twitter lingo.

Automated Twitter Updates

I get annoyed with the constant barrage of automated tweets from blog posts, location-based services, and all the other social media or online services that spit irrelevant information into your Twitter stream. This is especially egregious for personal accounts; I’ve gotten to the point where I will not give these services access to my Twitter account. Think about whether anyone cares that you are shopping at the grocery store, marking a video as a favorite, attending an event, etc. Most of the time, these automated posts are just noise. I would rather spend an extra minute to manually post something when I do think it is relevant and interesting for other people rather than sending automated posts, and I can customize the conten with a personal touch at the same time. I’ve also seen these malfunction too many times where a service just goes a little crazy and pukes a few dozen posts into your Twitter stream all at once.

Automated Social Media Responses

You’ve probably seen those direct messages or replies that say something like, “Thanks for following me, you can read more about how great I am here and find my latest project here …” Do those messages seem genuine, personal and interesting to you? No? Me neither. Yes, I know that you want to promote your latest thing, but think about how it looks from the other side. Messages like that seems very impersonal and some of them seem a little too much like spam for my taste. Send people relevant, personal messages when it makes sense, rather than sending something impersonal and automated to everyone.

What are some other examples of things that shouldn’t be automated?

Image by Flickr user Jacob Appelbaum used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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