Judging the value of automation

Rube Goldberg machine
Image credit rubegoldberg.com

I automate everything I can. I enjoy the process of building automations in myriad contexts, using myriad tools. And I frequently have to assess whether I’ve spent more time automating something than I’m actually going to save using the automation.

I often think about the benefits of automation in the context of time savings. It makes things more efficient, removes drudgery. But I’ve realized over time that the real benefit of automation is avoiding mistakes.

When I automate something (anything), I’m defining the steps that need to be included to complete the task. I’m no longer relying on my memory to ensure that every step is complete or the specific ways in which a step should be completed. This is especially useful if it’s something I don’t do very often, which means that my normal calculation for “was it worth automating” is actually moot: if it helps me do the exact same thing one time a year later, that’s often worth as much as any amount of total time saved in my life.

My automation tools run the gamut, from snippets in TextExpander that make sure I’ve conveyed all of the right information to an email recipient, to build scripts I developed for a coding project, to bedtime home automation sequences I built using Homekit. All of these prevent missed steps and undesired results.

So from now on, instead of saying “this automation saves me one minute every time I do this four-minute task,” I’m going to try to additionally look at it from the perspective of how much pain it saved me had the task been done incorrectly, and how much time I would have had to spend re-learning a process after it wasn’t fresh in memory anymore. Those aspects add value to any automation and shouldn’t be discounted.

And it will help me sleep better at night, knowing I don’t waste as much time as I think I do.

Brett Terpstra

Brett is a writer and developer living in Minnesota, USA. You can follow him as ttscoff on Twitter, GitHub, and Mastodon. Keep up with this blog by subscribing in your favorite news reader.

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