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Preserve Your Content Energy: Let Tools and Automation Do the Grunt Work

Anna Burgess Yang
August 30, 2023

“Productivity is a trap.

The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control.”

― Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Anyone who says they have everything under control is either lying or lives off-grid in a cabin in the woods. For the rest of us, we’re endlessly trying to juggle about 50,000 things that demand our attention. Our to-do lists never seem to stay all checked off, do they?

Marketers feel this deeply as we try to do more with less: tighter budgets, fewer resources, and the mood board of “creative things we’d love to work on.” Non-stop creating, publishing, and distributing can lead to burnout.

While I’ll admit that there’s no way to have everything under control, you can get some things under control with tools and automation. Trust me: I’ve tried working with automations and without, and my sanity improved dramatically once I removed the tedious and time-consuming work from my day.

And maybe, just maybe, it’ll free up your brain space for the more creative work that you truly care about, too.

Step one: Automate what’s tedious ASAP

The actual process of content marketing is filled with repetitive tasks. I’m a freelance writer now, but I previously worked at content agencies. Every new blog post required adding the topic to a project management tool, creating a Google doc for a draft, tracking the progress through said project management tool, notifying the client when it was ready for review, and more.

I use Zapier to automate repetitive tasks, but you can also use a product like Motion or IFTTT. The process is simple: you connect two apps and create an automation based on a trigger (something happens) and your desired resulting action (what you want to happen next).

Even now, as a content team of one, Zapier runs more than 50 automations for me per week, saving me time on more than 200 tasks. Even if each task would only take me 30 seconds to accomplish manually, that’s a lot of time saved (plus the inevitable context-switching as you flip between apps). I have automations for everything from my client work to my day-to-day business operations.

One thing to note: There’s a lot more to saving time than setting up single-trigger automations. My most complex automation in Zapier has 14 action steps, all related to new client work.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Please go into the weeds; I don’t know how to do this,” here are a few ideas to help you get started.

1. Create a draft document

Basic Level: When a piece of content moves to a certain stage in your project management tool, have a trigger set up that automatically creates a clean slate, new draft with your preferred formatting in Google Drive.

Next Level: You can add the draft link back to your project management tool, create the Google Doc based on a Template, and organize the Google Doc in the correct folder in your GDrive.

Tools: I use Trello for project management, but this would work with any project management tool—Asana, ClickUp, or Monday.com for example. I use Airtable for client management, and my “Next Level” automation relies on Airtable to organize my drafts into the appropriate client folder.

2. Add published content to a content library or portfolio

Basic Level: When any new content goes live on your website, add a link to a Content Library where you keep track of all published work you’ve had a hand in. You can keep track of the article title, date published, URL, and possibly some tags or categories.

Next Level: (Check out the content repurposing section below for this!)

Tools: I use Airtable to track my published content, but you could use something as simple as a Google Sheet. I’m pulling in published work (using RSS feeds) from my blog, Substack, and Medium. By using the RSS feed, you’re not limited to any particular publishing platform—though some (like WordPress) do have direct integration with automation tools.

3. Brainstorm ideas with GPT without the tool fatigue

Note: I’m quick to admit that I don’t think GPT can replace human writers, at all. But I’ll use it occasionally to jumpstart ideas on a topic.

Basic Level: Add a prompt in your project management tool (such as “What are 5 things to consider about X topic for Y audience?”) Send the prompt to GPT using an automation, and have it add the results directly to a Google Doc. This all happens in seconds, and then you’re not copying/pasting ideas from a GPT tool into your draft document.

Next Level: If you have your Google Doc link in your project management tool (see the “Next Level” advice from the first idea), when you move that content to a stage like “Review,” you could call GPT again and have it review the full draft with a prompt like, “What are three ways to improve this content?”

Tools: You probably won’t want GPT assistance on all of your content. Since I’m using Trello, I have a specific label set up called “OpenAI.” When I add this label, it runs the automation. Other project management tools would have something similar you could use, such as a category or tag.

Let’s shift gears: Automation is a content repurposing godsend

Marketers will bang the drum of content repurposing and waterfall content. “Turn every blog post into five social posts!” they say. There’s some wisdom to this, but it lacks a specific strategy for how the repurposing gets done.

Turn your blog post into five social posts… when? Right after it’s published, or later? When should those five social posts be published? Who is responsible for the repurposing?

Automation can handle more of your repurposing tactics (1 blog post = 5 social posts) than you might think by turning them into a specific plan on your content calendar. You can take the logistical thinking out of the process and free up your mind for more creative work.

Basic Level: When your content is published, add reminders to your project management tool to create tasks or to-dos to repurpose that content as social posts. Your automation should add due dates to these tasks of three weeks later, six weeks later, and nine weeks later (or whatever interval you want).

Next Level: Use automation to assign the responsible person in your project management tool and identify the platform for repurposing (such as LinkedIn, TikTok, or another channel). Include a link to the original content for easy review. Add another to-do to re-share the original content again in six months.

Tools: I use Trello (are you noticing a theme?) for my content calendar, but you should use whatever tool you use to manage your content calendar. I add a date, labels, and the link to the original content. When I’m ready to schedule my content for that date, creating social posts is a breeze.

Last but not least: Lean on a calendar assistant for time blocking

I’m a big proponent of time blocking, especially as a creative person who often needs several hours of “focus time” per day for writing.

But when you’re working on a team or at a company, it can be hard to preserve that creative time between internal meetings and other tasks you need to get done.

An AI-powered calendar assistant can “move” time blocks around on your calendar as your schedule changes. For instance, were you planning to work on an article from 9:00 am to 11:00 am, but then a meeting was dropped on your calendar for 9:30 am? A calendar assistant will move that writing time to the next available spot on your calendar.

And here’s the best part: When you’re bumping up against a deadline, then the AI will “defend” that time on your calendar. If you’re using an external calendar tool like Calendly, it’ll show that you’re not free during that time.

Basic Level: Start blocking time for all of your projects and recurring tasks using an AI-powered calendar assistant. Heck, you can even block time for lunch or for checking email! Let the AI do its magic in planning your day.

Next Level:Use automation to add new events to your calendar. For example, if you know you need two hours to finalize a draft the day before it’s due, you can use the due date in your project management tool to create a calendar event and hold some space for you the next day.

Tools: Reclaim.ai and Motion are two of the most-loved AI-powered calendar assistants. You connect them to your existing calendar and add your tasks/projects to block off time. I use Zapier to add calendar events automatically based on my different activities in Trello.

One final thought: Our brains can only do so much in a day

Without my to-do list and project management tool, I would surely overlook pertinent details and be less effective at my job. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating content for an internal team, working for an agency, or hustling as a freelancer; Content creation just has a lot of moving parts.

For me, better tech has handled so much grunt work for me in my business. I learned to set up automation years ago, not only to save myself time, but also to make sure I don’t overlook anything. Or make a mistake. Or handle work inconsistently.

Like I said earlier, for everything you can automate or rely on a tool to manage for you, you’re asking your brain to think less. And preserving that energy for more valuable work. For better content. For ideas that turn into something that really helps people.

Ask yourself this question: What’s something I do over and over? If it’s repeatable, there’s a good chance it can be automated.