We usually see automation as a thing we do to save time. But, there’s more to it than just saving time.

Several years ago, I built a tool called org2blog that let me write blog posts in my text-editor, and publish them with just a couple of key-strokes. I spent several man-weeks getting it to work well – adding lots of features including image uploads. The time I spent on developing and maintaining it dwarfs the time saved by automation.

But, in the three months following this, I published 30 blog posts – as many as I would’ve otherwise published during the whole year. org2blog wasn’t just saving time – it drastically reduced the friction to publish new posts. On some occasions where I would’ve previously avoided writing a new post, I ended up writing one because org2blog made it a breeze. I could focus on actually writing the post and not let my attention be hijacked by the repetitive and boring steps that were previously required to start writing a new post and publish it.

Automation abstracts away the details that we would’ve otherwise had to spend our attention on. This reduced mental overload encourages us to “do the right thing”, when we would’ve otherwise been lazy and taken the easier route of not doing something. No wonder, Douglas Adams confessed to happily spending a day on automating something that would’ve taken him ten seconds.

When extended to a team setting this would mean our (automation) tools nudging everyone on the team towards better habits and behavior. We must recognize this and treat our tools as an integral part of our team, and not just time-savers. The Zulip community is a good example of this. Tim, the lead developer of Zulip, pays particular attention to developer workflows in Zulip and is constantly on the lookout to automate tasks and/or eliminate unnecessary tasks, to make it easier for everyone to “do things right”.

The tools we build aren’t just saving us time, but are changing us back. Building better tools helps build better teams. Go forth and automate!

PS: This post is inspired from this talk by Jessica Kerr where, among other things, she talks about Automation and some reasons for doing it.

PPS: Jason Silva talks about humans as being a technology creating species, and how the tools we create change us, and how we change them to change us further. This seems a lot like the idea in this post, except at a much larger scale.

Thanks to Shantanu for reviewing this blog post.