Software Savvy: Part 4| March 7, 2023
Empower your business with smart software choices
Ivisited my daughter’s school for a meeting with her principal. As I sat across from Mrs. Goldberg, ready to discuss my Dini, her phone rang.
“Excuse me,” she said, and picked up the call. After a minute, she walked to the main office to speak to the secretary. The door was ajar, and I was able to hear bits and pieces of their conversation:
“Do any teachers have a free period then?”
“Umm, let me check. Shaina Schonfeld does, should I ask her?”
“You could try, but she’s probably busy with her class’s play. What about the permanent subs, are any of them available?”
A few minutes later, Mrs. Goldberg walked back in and apologized for the wait.
She sighed, “Somehow, as organized as we try to be, it’s never enough. There’s always a teacher who doesn’t get the memo, or something like that. I don’t know what to do differently anymore.”
I nodded; I hear this all the time. People don’t realize there are easy solutions to small organizational problems. I leaned forward.
“I know that I’m here to talk about Dini, but I think I can help.”
Mrs. Goldberg’s eyes lit up. “You want to sub fourth grade?”
I laughed. “No way, but I can help you set up software to manage all of these organizational tasks, so this doesn’t happen again.”
“How can software help me cover second period?”
“In a word, ‘automation,’ ” I said. “You’re working too hard on so many small tasks. Setting up a few simple automations to do these things for you will free up a lot of your time, and you won’t have these last-minute frustrations.”
Mrs. Goldberg raised her eyebrows skeptically.
“Tell me more,” she said.
Simply, an automation does a task for you, automatically. Many small repetitive tasks can be automated.
A basic automation has two parts: a trigger and an action.
The trigger can be receiving an email, a teacher clocking in, or even when a button is clicked. It’s the prompt that signals the automation: Start now!
The action is what the automation actually does; examples can include sending an email or updating a task.
“How can that help me?” Mrs. Goldberg was still very doubtful.
“Imagine if you set up a system that addressed the issue of missing teachers,” I explained. “The teacher who can’t make it sends a message that triggers an automation. The automation will check to see which teacher has a free period during the classes that need subs. It will then send a text to each of these teachers to ask them if any of them can cover the class, and it’ll also text all the school’s regular subs.
“Any teacher or sub who can do it will text back ‘yes’ and the period that they can sub. Once all of the periods that need subs are filled, you’ll get a message telling you which teacher will be subbing during which period. And if teachers are paid extra to sub, the system will update the additional pay that you owe them as well.”
“It can do that?” Mrs. Goldberg’s eyes were bulging, and her jaw was slack. I stifled a grin. She was thawing.
“If it’s set up properly — yes!” I exclaimed. “And much more.”
How are automations set up?
It depends on what type of automation you need. If you use project management software, then there are many basic automations you can set up within the software.
For example: When a task is created, the automation will email the person who the task is assigned to; when a certain task is completed, the automation will create a follow-up task.
For more complex automations, you’ll need to use a third-party automation platform (i.e., Zapier, Make, or Workato). Third-party platforms can connect a few platforms that you use and automate things between them. This means that your trigger can occur in one platform, and the action will be done in a different platform.
For example, if a teacher updates in her calendar that she’s taking a day off (trigger), the automation can email all subs asking who is available, update the school system that this teacher is using a vacation day, and update the sub’s paycheck (three separate actions).
Note: One trigger can cause multiple actions.
“Wow, what else can I automate?” Mrs. Goldberg asked eagerly.
Finally, a convert.
“Honestly, pretty much any repetitive task that involves organization,” I said. “Think about these situations: How do you update parents and teachers on a snow day? How do you order supplies for the office? How do you pay your teachers? How do you input students’ grades into report cards? All those things can be automated.”
Mrs. Goldberg looked excited. “This sounds too good to be true. How do I even figure any of this out?”
I nodded approvingly. She was a quick student and asking all the right questions.
“For the best results, you really need to map your workflow,” I continued.
Like with all other software, the first step in the process is setting up your workflow. To do that, you need to think about every step of everything that you do (or that gets done).
For example, when a new parent applies to the school: Where does the application go, when do you schedule an interview, call references, send acceptance letters, etc.?
Once you have a clear workflow, pay attention to the tasks in the workflow that have a clear trigger and a clear action following it. In other words: cause and effect.
Once you’ve clarified the trigger and action, each of these tasks can be set up as an automation. So when a new application is submitted in the school portal (trigger), an automated email (action) will let the parent know it was received, and their information will be pulled (action) from the application and added to a spreadsheet of all new applicants and their information.
“This sounds like it can cut down on half of my work!” Mrs. Goldberg was ecstatic.
“That’s the point! Let software do as much as it can, leaving you time to do the things that only YOU can do.”
In our next installment, we’ll discuss what to know before automating your world. For questions, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Liora Waxman is the Director of Content at TidyStack, a company that helps small businesses find software that will perfectly fit their needs. She can be contacted through Mishpacha.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 952)
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