I am sure that for most of us there are several software/apps/services that are essential or at least of great help in our daily lives. Managing them can be time-consuming. Even with something familiar to everyone such as email, our apps have a tendency to take up way too much of our time. But what if we could automate certain tasks based on triggers? For example, consider this scenario. “If my boss sends me an email, send me a text message”.
Flow by Microsoft and IFTTT allow us to set actions to be carried out with compatible apps based on certain conditions. From receiving text messages when someone important sends you an email or turning on your smart lighting system at a certain time, these two apps aim to allow us to work smarter by automating monotonous tasks with the aim of allowing us to ultimately achieve more.
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Since Flow is the newcomer to the automation scene we will start with it first. Flow’s aim is to create automated workflows between the apps and services that we value in order to cut down on the amount of time spent working.
Note: Flow is currently available as what Microsoft describes a preview which indicates that there are probably still a few kinks to work out.
Although it is a relatively new service being offered, Flow allows for workflows to be created with several well-known apps and services which are already used by many in order to increase their productivity. The full list of compatible apps/services can be viewed here.
How to build a flow
A flow is the term given to an automated process created with Microsoft’s Flow. In order to create a flow, you will first need to point your browser to the My flowssection of the website.
You will then be able to build a flow either completely from scratch or you can start by building one from a template.
Some of the flows which are available are as follows:
Translate non-English emails
Email yourself new Tweets about a certain keyword
Send me an email when a new item is added to a SharePoint Online list
Post to Yammer if new tweets match with hashtag
Those 4 examples alone give insight into just how powerful Flow is. However, we will walk through how to create a flow from scratch in order to highlight all of the different types of activities which are possible.
On the My flows page, you will need to select Create from blank instead of Browse templates. From there you will be asked what type of flow you wish to create.
Examine the currently available options and select the option you wish to use. For this example, we will be exploring a flow that creates a new task in the to-do list app Wunderlist whenever an important email is delivered to your inbox.
If you have selected to use a service which requires you to sign in to use it, you will have to go through some kind of authentication process first.
After that is completed, you will then be able to continue with creating your task. In our case, we were asked to select which Wunderlist list to monitor for new tasks. In our task, we needed to fill in the corresponding folder path in our email inbox and any other relevant conditions. In this case emails with ‘Important’ in the Subject field will be flagged.
After setting up the email parameters we now need to setup the parameters for Wunderlist. A task will be added to the list called Guiding Tech in Wunderlist whenever a new email is sent. This task will be given the title of the subject of the email.
After this step is completed, select Create Flow and then you will be able to test it to see if it works.
This is just one type of activity that can be carried out and already we can see how powerful it is. Instead of leaving remembering answering important emails to chance, you can have a note automatically made in Wunderlist.
There are several types of different actions that can be carried out and multiple conditions can be specified before carrying out an action. Multiple actions can also be carried out. You can also schedule flows.
Flow has a variety of different options which allow users to creatively automate monotonous, time-consuming tasks.
IFTTT combines functionalities from a variety of apps/services in order to automate tasks.
The various online services available through IFTTT are referred to as channels on the website. Currently, there are over 300 different channels which are available from which you can create actions in order to automate things.
Automated tasks on IFTTT are referred to as recipes. How does this sound compared to flows?
How To Create A Recipe
In order to create a recipe, you will need to first sign up for an account. After you have completed this step, select My Recipes and then hit Create a Recipe.
You will now be able to see a body of text saying if this then that in bold face. Click on that in order to begin creating your recipe.
You will need to now select the channel you wish to work with.
We’ll walk through an example with the well-know Pocket app which is used to save links that you want to review later.
After making a connection to the app by clicking on Connect, depending on the channel you select, you might have to sign-in to the app and set up authorization for its use with IFTTT.
We will be setting up a recipe that triggers an action after a new item is added to Pocket.
You will now be able to select the that part of your recipe.
In this example, we choose to have an email be sent via Gmail when a link is added to Pocket.
This recipe will send an email with the title of the saved link as the subject of the email and the link will be included in the email.
Here is the email that was received soon after saving a link.
IFTTT makes automating tasks quite easy. There are over 300 channels that you can choose from. You just select the two that you want to combine and use the available functionality in order to improve your productivity.
With Flow, you can create very detailed processes and really dial in on what it is you want to automate. However, being a relatively new platform, you will be limited in terms of the apps/services you can use with it. That being said, it seems to be geared towards businesses as it requires you to sign up with a work email. There are also plenty of apps available for use in flows such as Slack and Trello which are commonly used by teams and businesses.
IFTTT, on the other hand, covers a wider range of apps, even allowing you to do things like control a smart lighting system or even change the background of your Android device based on specified conditions. You are however limited to a single ‘if this then that’ recipe unlike with Flow where several actions and conditions can be combined.
If you are looking for automation geared specifically at streamlining a business I would have to say Flow would be your best bet. If you are looking to automate some of your day-to-day tasks then go with IFTTT. One service isn’t necessarily better than the other. They are just better suited for different things due to the way they are designed.