If This Then That, better known as IFTTT is an amazing tool, though one a bit tricky to explain—namely because it’s so versatile. Many things to many people, IFTTT offers a flexible, powerful platform for productivity that just about anyone can come to love.
Want to get a text every time it’s supposed to rain? How about auto-archiving all of your Flickr photos to Evernote or Dropbox? At its core, IFTTT lets you connect the services, apps and accounts that you use the most. It’s a robust, API-powered platform for creative lifehacks, letting you effortlessly stitch together services that otherwise would never talk to each other. The result is as fun as it is useful, so let’s get started.
At the time of writing, IFTTT boasts 71 “channels”. A channel is anything that plugs into IFTTT, literally any service that you can put in a side of the site’s “If x then y” formulation. To activate a channel, you’ll need to grant IFTTT permission to interact with it, which is a simple one-click process.
You can start by browsing channels or by jumping right into recipes, which we’ll get to. What channels are available? Some of the most common include Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Google Calendar, SMS (your phone number), Evernote, any RSS feed, Google Drive, Flickr and well, you get the idea—IFTTT has just about everything a productivity lover could ask for. Check out the full channel list and start scheming.
Channels are the building blocks of IFTTT and recipes let you click them together, Lego-style. It’s that easy, and that’s a beautiful thing. You can fire up a recipe in IFTTT two ways, either by creating your own, or by choosing existing recipes. Any user can make a recipe, and these are all listed in IFTTT’s “browse” tab. A good starting place is to pick a curated option from the featured section, or to try out something from the list of the recipes that are hot right now. New channels are being added all the time, so checking back on this page often pays off.
IFTTT’s possibilities are pretty much endless, so seeing what others come up with can be useful for inspiration too. For example, the New York Times just launched an IFTTT channel with some really cool options that go above and beyond what the super-flexible RSS channel makes possible.
Finally, Do It Yourself: Triggers
The real fun starts when you go rogue and build your own recipes—and really, thanks to the “If X the Y” structure of the service, it couldn’t be easier. To make your own recipe, you’ll want to point yourself toward the “create” portion of the site. You’ll then be prompted to choose a “this” for your personal formulation. The “this” is the prompting event, so pick your channel accordingly and then drill down to a specific “trigger” within the channel.
Say you’re notoriously late on mailing a rent check and your normal calendar and reminders aren’t cutting it. Choose the “date and time” channel and choose the “Every month on the…” trigger. Plug in the trigger’s details with the date you need a rent due reminder.
Now, you’ll select the “that” portion of the recipe. How do you want to be reminded? What’s a way you absolutely won’t ignore? If you’re better at checking your texts than checking your calendar, pick the SMS channel. Activate it and you’ll get a text every month reminding you to put the rent check in the mail. Still forgot to mail the check? Tweak your recipe to email you, instant message you or actually call your phone with a reminder.
Remember, you can have as many recipes active as you’d like. Each channel has specific triggers, but they can work together in interesting ways once you start linking services through your own recipes. Some channels offer fewer triggers (i.e., prompting events) than others, but others, like RSS and email, become more flexible when you start tinkering around.
IFTTT is best explored by diving right in. The site is clean, the set up is dead-simple and the result is remarkably powerful and infinitely customizable—especially if you get creative. And if you can’t get enough, there’s an IFTTT companion app for iOS (we hope an Android version isn’t too far behind).
We all have different habits, and crafting good productivity rituals means harnessing the power of habit (after all, it’s what we’re already doing). IFTTT is the simplest, most powerful tool around to tap into those habits or hack them altogether. Streamline your workflow, supercharge it or build a new one from the ground up—you really can’t go wrong exploring IFTTT’s vast possibilities.