T-SQL Tuesday 127 – Tips and Tricks to Automate Your Life

This month’s #tsql2sday is hosted by Ken Fisher (b|t) who asks us to share tips unrelated to database systems. I will take this opportunity to talk about what you can do to easily automate a lot of your daily tasks, and never miss a thing.

Obligatory link-back to the invitation post

I am a huge proponent of automation. Automation is an important element when increasing productivity. I also talked about this topic in T-SQL Tuesday 123.

Automation tools are still quite underutilized these days, especially when it’s unrelated to a specific business or product.

For example, I’m currently working towards being accepted into the Microsoft MVP program. That requires from me to log every activity for the SQL Server community in an Excel file. You really think I can bother with this kind of thing every time I’m doing something? Heck, no! I’m automating this with Microsoft Flow! (a.k.a. “Power Automate”)

I simply set up several flows with an RSS trigger for my blog, my GitHub gists, YouTube and such, with an action to write to an Excel file in my OneDrive.

I also know of someone who set up a Microsoft Flow automation to be triggered by the SQL Server Radio RSS feed and send them an email whenever a new episode is released (unfortunately, no such existing email-based subscription is available from our host Libsyn at this time, so we made our own using Microsoft Flow).

Don’t want to miss a tweet from a certain person and/or a specific hashtag? You can set up a Twitter trigger to monitor for that and send you an email or retweet it or whatever it is you want.

You can also integrate with task management apps to turn events into tasks, or tasks into… uh… events, I guess? For example Jira, GitHub issues, Microsoft Planner, To-Do, Azure DevOps Work Items and more and more and more! You can monitor for all kinds of events to trigger your flows… Changes in OneDrive files, SharePoint, all kinds of social media activity, and more. The list of connectors supported by Microsoft Flow is really impressive. Check it out!

The triggers can also be scheduled or even be activated by a manual click of a button. If you feel sophisticated, you might want to integrate some kind of approval mechanism into your flow, which would require human interaction in order to proceed.

And if you really wanna go wild (and you have a premium account), you can set up an HTTP webhook using the HTTP REST API connector, and then, as they say, the sky is the limit.

But wait, there’s more!

Don’t feel like using Microsoft Flow for whatever reason? That’s okay, I understand. Despite its impressive portfolio of supported connectors, it still has its limits, I know.

But don’t worry, because there are plenty of alternatives, no less impressive than Microsoft Flow:

  • Zapier has gotta be at the top of the list here. It’s the leading competitor at this time, with support for even more connectors than Microsoft Flow.
  • Integromat is another impressive yet somewhat cheaper alternative.
  • Workato is another alternative with free plans aimed at personal users.
  • IFTTT is a widely used, totally free automation tool. Although it’s mostly limited to its built-in templates. Creating custom flows is not as straight-forward as in other alternatives.

Together with Microsoft Flow, these are the Top 5 currently in my opinion. But there are even more available!

Check out this comparison page for more alternatives. Or this more detailed and focused comparison page. Or this page with even more possible alternatives.

Do you think you have some kind of menial daily task that you could automate? Let us know how you fix it using an automation tool! Are you already using an automation tool for an interesting operation? Share your experience in the comments!

I hope you learned something new, and always remember: Automate or Die!

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