Image from IFTTT.

Image from IFTTT.

*I specify Android throughout the article because I have an Android phone, but iOS and Android do have some similar channels and triggers/actions.

I’m a fan of taking full advantage of technology in order to make my life more streamlined and efficient. I do this consciously with OneNote and Google Calendar, and unconsciously with If This Then That (IFTTT). IFTTT is an app/website to connect different aspects or online platforms of your life, usually without you spending any mental resources on those connections.

How It Works

IFTTT uses two-part ‘recipes’ consisting of a trigger (the IF) and a consequent action (the THEN). For example, one of my recipes ensures that I respond to my dad when he texts me: IF my dad texts me, THEN indicate on my Google Calendar I need to respond to him in the next hour. The app understands that recipe as: IF a new SMS is received from xxx-xxx-xxxx (my dad’s phone number), THEN quick add event to (main Google account on which I use Google Calendar). I had given IFTTT ‘permission’ to recognize a text from my dad and to add events to my calendar. It requires me to give permission for access to every ‘channel’.

Channels are the various platforms/aspects of your life. There are channels for blogging (Tumblr, WordPress), mobile devices (Android Wear, iOS Contacts), business (LinkedIn, Square), commerce (Etsy, eBay), fitness (Fitbit, UP), lifestyle (weather, date/time), music (Spotify, SoundCloud), news (NPR, Buzzfeed), photo/video (YouTube, Instagram), productivity (Dropbox, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, OneNote, Pocket), and, of course, social networking (Facebook, Twitter, GroupMe). There are over 200 channels. If there’s an independent app for it, there’s probably a channel for it.

Image from IFTTT.

Image from IFTTT.

Each channel can have certain triggers and actions. For example, YouTube’s triggers are “new liked video”, “new watch later video”, and “new public video uploaded by you”. Facebook’s actions are “create a status message”, “create a link post”, and “upload a photo from URL”. Note: there’s no YouTube trigger for “new upload by [channel name]” or Facebook action for “unfriend [friend name]”, so there are limitations on how you can take advantage of this app. So no matter how much I’d like to be texted an update that Jenn Im has uploaded a new OOTD, or how much I’d like to automatically unfriend those kids from my high school once they post racist statuses, I’ll have to accept that technology hasn’t gotten there yet. But with over 200 channels and x amount of triggers and actions for each (and the customizable details), there are endless recipes you can make that don’t even have to make sense: IF NPR published a new story in the pop culture section, THEN email my grandma in Canada asking ‘How’s the knitting going?’

How to Set it Up

I strongly encourage against going through all 228 channels to see what triggers and actions you can utilize in your life. Instead, skim the channel list and STOP. Close the app/website and go about life for the next couple days. Note-I mean, actually physically note-any frustrations or minor inconveniences you experience:

  • You didn’t realize it was raining until you get outside and you left your umbrella in your dorm on the 9th floor…and you’re running late for class.
  • You forgot to put your phone on silent, and now there’s the constant buzz of your phone vibrating during an exam because mom really wants to know if you’ve been doing laundry.
  • You lost your phone SOMEWHERE in your room and you KNOW it’s there, but it’s on silent AGAIN and…ugh.

Now, it is time. Make an account (for free) online and download the app on your phone. Connect ONLY the RELEVANT channels:

  • Raining and no umbrella = Weather + iOS reminder
  • Awkward exam because of concerned mom = Android Location* + Android Device
  • Lost phone and weary frustration = Android SMS + Android Device

Next, make the recipes.

  • IF tomorrow will be rainy, THEN set an iOS reminder at 8:00 AM for me to bring my umbrella when I leave for my morning class.
  • IF I enter ___ building on campus, THEN silence my phone.
  • IF I receive a text reading “volume up”, THEN increase my ringtone volume to 10. (Then ask a friend to call your phone, thus revealing its location).

At this point, you have the option to specify the recipe details (“ingredients”) which can be very helpful or unnecessary. Remember that the goal is to make life simpler. Manage the additional details accordingly.

Image from IFTTT.

Here’s why I encouraged against exploring all of the channels thoroughly before knowing how you actually need the app: You may end up doing the opposite of the goal. You can start cooking up recipes (no pun intended) that will make your life more complicated: Save NASA’s picture of the day to my Google Drive, Save my tweets to OneNote, Save Facebook photos I’m tagged in to my phone. Do you actually need 365 photos of space? Can’t you see all of your tweets…on Twitter? And what if you don’t look good in that photo? Now there’s two copies. Sometimes we get excited with all the possibilities offered with new productivity tools that we ‘overdo’ it. Try not to take advantage of all the possibilities just because you can.

Useful Recipes for Students

For the studious student:

  • IF I get an email from Professor __ with an attachment, THEN save the attachment to my Google Drive.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF new email in inbox from [professor’s email address], THEN upload file from URL.
    • Channels to connect: Gmail (or preferred email service), Google Drive (or Dropbox)
    • Details to specify: folder path (where to store attachment)
  • IF I enter the campus library, THEN mute my phone.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF you enter [campus library area], THEN mute ringtone.
    • Channels to connect: Android Location, Android Device
    • Details to specify: N/A

For the frugal student:

  • IF my bank sends me my statement, THEN add an event to my calendar to read it.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF new email in inbox from search [statement ready to view], THEN quick add event.
    • Channels to connect: Gmail, Google Calendar
    • Details to specify: title of event (“Read statement”)
  • Save ‘Your Money’ articles from the New York Times to my Pocket.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF new article in section [Your Money], THEN save for later in Pocket.
    • Channels to connect: New York Times, Pocket
    • Details to specify: N/A

For the fit student:

  • Enter activity from my Fitbit into my fitness log on Google Sheets.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF daily activity summary, THEN add row to spreadsheet [name of fitness log].
    • Channels to connect: Fitbit, Google Drive
    • Details to specify: formatting of new row, folder path (where spreadsheet is stored)
  • Send me an email with a link to NPR’s new ‘Health and Science’ stories.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF new story published in ‘Health and Science’, THEN send an email to [email address]
    • Channels to connect: NPR, Gmail (or preferred email service)
    • Details to specify: N/A

For the lovebirds:

  • IF my phone has low battery, THEN text my SO to notify them.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF battery is low, THEN send an SMS to [SO’s phone number] reading [message].
    • Channels to connect: Android Battery, Android SMS
    • Details to specify: message (“Low battery. I’ll talk to you soon!”)
  • Text my SO when I leave work at the end of the day to come home.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF you exit [workplace area], THEN send an SMS to [SO’s phone number] reading [message].
    • Channels to connect: Android Location, Android SMS
    • Details to specify: message (“Just left work. See you soon!”)

For the student whose phone is always at 1%:

  • Turn off my WiFi when I leave home.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF you exit [home], THEN turn off WiFi.
    • Channels to connect: Android Location, Android Device
    • Details to specify: N/A
    • Pro-tip: You can set this recipe up multiple times for different locations: work location, buildings where you have class, campus library, etc.

For the student who runs out of storage space because they snap selfies on a daily basis, and screenshot everyone else’s embarrassing ones:

  • Back up my pictures/screenshots to Dropbox.
    • IFTTT reads as: IF any new photo/screenshot, THEN upload file from URL.
    • Channels to connect: Android Photo, Dropbox
    • Details to specify: N/A

Try out these recipes and, remember, you can always disable them if you feel they’re not making your life any easier. IFTTT is one of my holy grail productivity finds that have helped me stay on top of various aspects of my life both in the classroom and out.

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the author

Alicia Lalicon is a junior at The College of New Jersey, pursuing a Psychology major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. When she’s not reading about mental health and feminist ideas, she proudly enjoys dancing across bamboo sticks as the secretary of Barkada (TCNJ’s Filipino club). Her life philosophy is to always strive for improvement: physically, mentally, and intellectually. Her life motto is “You don’t owe anyone any emotions or reactions.” You can find her being seemingly cold-hearted on Twitter, reblogging black clothes and food on Tumblr, and reading intently behind a book or laptop screen.

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