Make the Internet your personal assistant

Genie Leslie is a copywriter (as well as regular writer) and actor in Seattle.

The first time I heard about If This, Then That (IFTTT), I scoffed. How much more automated do we need our smartphones to be? Do I really need my phone to automatically order a print of my just-posted Instagram pics? Do I want a spreadsheet detailing every location I’ve been? 

No. I don’t need that, that, or that. I bet you don’t either. But I started digging into IFTTT (rhymes with “gift”) and discovered it can save me time, help me get organized, and even bail me out of an endless meeting.


If This, Then That is an app that creates connections between the online services you use all the time. For instance, if you post a picture to Instagram, maybe you want to automatically back up that picture to your Dropbox account. Just create an IFTTT “recipe” and that will happen automatically.

Recipes are automated connections you create. “If I post a picture to Instagram, then save the photo to Dropbox.” The channels are the services you connect to your IFTTT account in order to create these recipes. Dropbox, GmailEvernote—these are just 3 of the 200+ channels you can connect to your account.

Use handy premade recipes

IFTTT includes a lot of premade recipes. These can be useful, but while it can be exciting to grab all the recipes you see… I can get movies opening this weekend added to my calendar! A lot of movies open every weekend. Watch for information overload. Choose the recipes you’ll use.

Here are some of the handiest recipes I’ve found on IFTTT:

Mute phone at movie theater

This recipe should be required for every human who owns a smartphone. Add the address of your favorite movie theater(s), and when you go to that location, your phone automatically enters silent mode—triggered by your location. And here’s a tip: Set up another recipe to unmute your phone when you arrive at home.

Save email receipts to Evernote or Google Drive

IFTTT can grab emails with keywords that you specify, so set this one up to grab emails with “receipt” or “order” in the subject line. Now, your receipts, orders, and shipping notifications can be automatically stored in one place.

Log time in a Google spreadsheet

This recipe uses your location to mark, in a spreadsheet, when you arrived and left certain places. You can use this for logging work hours, volunteer hours, or time spent at the gym. 

Get yourself out of an awkward situation

Are you on an awkward blind date? Stuck in an unnecessary meeting? Send an SMS message to IFTTT with a customized hashtag, such as #escape, and a phone call will be placed to your number. Answer it, make your excuses, and get out of there!

Build your own recipes

You can also create your own IFTTT recipes. Here are a couple I created for myself:

Save specific craigslist posts to Evernote

Apartment hunting is a beast, so I’m automating it. I entered in my search criteria (two bedrooms, preferred neighborhood, price limit) to see what’s available and what I should be prepared for when it’s time to move. Every day or so, I check Evernote and all the new posts are waiting for me to review.

Save specific articles to Pocket

I use the IFTTT RSS feed channel to connect to a particular writer I like, so when I open Pocket, her latest articles are waiting for me. 

I may not be ready to totally automate my life with IFTTT, but I have found a few very good ways to make my life easier. And I can get out of an uncomfortable situation with one text.

Published on AT&T Thread, July 12, 2016