Back in 2007, Bill Gates wrote a provocative essay entitled A Robot in Every Home, in which he predicted that someday soon, affordable robot assistants—as in cooks, nurses, and lawn mowers—are coming to a middle class home near you.
If this sounds outlandish (or too good to be true), consider that Gates was one of the first to envision the modern ubiquity of “personal” computers—this at a time when the most advanced computers took up entire rooms to provide the computing power of the tip calculator on your iPhone.
We’ve certainly come a long way.
So, in the meantime, while innovators work toward developing the first personal robot assistants to satiate our laziness, I want to share three useful tools that I use to assist me, and why I believe that a lifestyle enabled by automation at home and work isn’t laziness at all, but an ideal of efficiency that maximizes the bottom lines of our lives—value to our clients, the resulting profits we enjoy, mental energy available for higher thinking and strategizing, and, ultimately, happiness.
Without further adieu…
This free service emails you back some time in the future to remind you to follow up with whoever you’re emailing in the present.
Let’s pretend I’m a PR pro emailing an in-demand editor, Dream.Editor@NationalPublicity.com, to pitch a story about my client. After creating an account with FollowUpThen, I can simply CC or BCC any interval I want, let’s say email@example.com, right in my outgoing email to Dream.Editor.
When I hit Send, I can rest assured knowing that in 7 days I will receive a copy of my email, serving as a reminder to follow up with Dream.Editor if I haven’t yet heard back from him.
FollowUpThen has been a great assistant to me for contacting hard-to-reach decision makers, scheduling sit-downs with busy college professors, and pursuing mentor relationships. An unexpected benefit? Peace of mind. It’s hard enough to craft what to say in an important correspondence. Why not use a robot that will free your mind of keeping track of when to say it?
Studies have shown that people who take short breaks get more done. Interning at Dixon Schwabl has shown me firsthand the critical importance of a positive, productive workplace culture—my favorite cultural ritual of the Dixon Schwabl people, of course, being the Abbott’s vanilla custard that accompanies the weekly 10-minute holiday known as Ice Cream Thursday.
One great tool that has helped me ritualize taking small breaks in my own life is an iOs app called Mindfulness. The app lets you set up repeating notifications, one of which is an alarm with the sound of a traditional Zen Buddhist meditation bell that simultaneously brings up a graphic on your phone reading “Take a deep breath.”
When If (interns have to be humble) I run my own company one day, I will be sure to build some sort of mindfulness cuckoo clock into the office culture. Once a day at a random time, when everybody hears the bell, stop what you’re doing as the agency takes a collective deep breath.
Automated enlightenment? Welcome to the 21st century.
3. Evernote Web Clipper
Last but not least, Evernote Web Clipper is a powerful extension for Google Chrome that lets you automatically copy entire webpages and save them for later reference in the cloud, with a single click on a button at the top of your browser.
Some people use this for saving receipts of online purchases or archiving Facebook memes or cat pictures, but that kind of thing doesn’t really get me excited.
Where I find the Web Clipper amazing is in capturing images of banner ads, direct emails, and article titles that move consumers to action. And by consumers, I mean me.
Whenever I click on an online ad, direct email, or article from an unfamiliar writer based solely on the title, I hit the back button on my browser and save the page with the call to action that got me. After a while of doing this, as a marketing professional, it is very interesting to sift through my tomes of disparate advertising pieces that share only the trait of having compelled me to act. When I’m stuck creatively, this archive is a great resource for generating new ideas based on what has been proven to work (albeit with a sample size of one).
Web Clipper is, in function if not in physical form, about as good as my own living, breathing assistant archivist (or assistant robot, which twenty years from now might be a more relevant analogy).
Hopefully you can implement one or more of these tools in your work to make yourself more effective and more at ease, while we both wait for affordable robot assistants to hit stores.
Until then, I unfortunately will be mowing my own lawn and making dinner when I get home from work.
Zach Grove is an intern in the Public Relations department. He graduated from Alfred University as an Honors Scholar in May 2012 with a BS in Marketing and will spend a year teaching English in South Korea beginning in the fall.