Automation For Productivity: Machines Around The House

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Nufkin

I talked about how automation is so important to reclaiming your time last week, in Automation: An Overview of Getting Back Your Life. Today I’m going to talk about how to automate around the house using machines.

I believe that automating as much as possible in your life (without automating the things that really matter) frees our minds, time and attention up for other things. So I delegate many things, both big and small, to machines, and that gives me time back.


The Robot Vacuum

I hate vacuuming. Unfortunately with three humans, one dog and two cats in the house, skipping vacuuming is not an option.

I have been using a robotic vacuum for years. The iRobot vacuum will clean your floors automatically, using sensors to detect walls, stairs and furniture. The latest version I purchased (refurbished) is much better designed than previous models, and I have been pleased with both the ease of use, and the ease of replacing parts of the machines.

  • Higher level models will return themselves to the charging station.
  • Does a good job of picking up hair.
  • Newer models are sturdy with easy-to-replace parts.
  • Higher level models give you vocal clues of issues, like hair clogs and full bins.


  • The floors need to be picked up of small objects; cords need to be tucked away.
  • Lightweight area rugs can trip up the sensors
  • The device is expensive

While robotic vacuums are not for everyone, I find that it saves me about an hour or two each week and does a better job than my upright vacuum.

The Crock Pot

Cooking is another chore that can take up time — and large amounts of it — daily. By using a single appliance, I can have dinner cooking all day while I do other things. While I enjoy having home-prepared food, I don’t like the work it takes to cook a full meal after a day at the office.

I actually do my Thanksgiving dinner in crockpots as well – turkey in one, stuffing in another – to get me out of the kitchen.

  • Dinner is ready when you get home.
  • Crockpot recipes have improved dramatically and are flavorful and have good textures.
  • Many recipes just require putting things in the pot – no pre-cooking
  • Some recipes can be made the night before and put in the fridge – just popping the crock into the heat element in the morning.
  • Crockpots can be run in a garage to get the heat out of the kitchen in the summer.
  • Removable crocks can be put in the dishwasher, and there are disposable liners that make cleanup easy.


  • Some cooking times are shorter than the time you will be at work and the food can get overdone (pay attention to the recipe!)
  • Recipes are for food that is mixed together – tough for picky eaters.
  • If your power goes out, you won’t know how long the crockpot was off (a food safety issue)
  • Most recipes need to be tried the first time while you are in the house in order to monitor cooking time and spices.

My crockpot is my right arm in the kitchen, particularly during the colder months. I have a wide variety of go-to recipes that allow me to get dinner on the table with minimal fuss and effort.

The Rice Cooker

There is one thing you can count on in my kitchen: if I am cooking potatoes or rice on the stove, I will boil it over. This leaves a nasty mess on the stove that can take longer to clean up than actually cooking the item!

Since we have gone mostly gluten-free, more often than not our starch in the meal is rice. I purchased a rice cooker last year, and it has taken over the chore of cooking rice.

  • Cooks rice to perfection without boiling over.
  • Some models have delay timers that you can set up ahead of time.
  • Non-stick cooking pans go into the dishwasher.
  • Whole meals can be made in the rice cooker.


  • You have to select a model that can handle brown rice if you wish to cook it.
  • Some rice gets crunchy with the lower-end models

I use my rice cooker at least once a week, and even take it camping. The meals I can make in the rice cooker are tasty and light, and perfect for the outdoors.


I am not a morning person, and coffee is necessary for me to get moving. Many coffee makers have fancy timers on them, but I actually use a simply Mr. Coffee and an appliance timer. I had a machine with a timer on it, but had trouble. The Mr. Coffee with the single on/off switch has all the features I need without any extras that can break.

I set up the coffee maker the night before, turn the machine on, and the appliance timer provides the electricity. The result is fresh hot coffee that is ready when I get up.

  • Coffee is ready when I wake up.
  • The simple Mr. Coffee takes a lot of abuse (unlike my fancy Krups that broke 1 month after warranty expiration).


  • If I forget to turn the switch off and refill the coffee, the next morning I have hot coffee that was reheated from the day before.

I would never go back to making coffee in the morning. It is too nice to have it ready when I am ready to drink it.


One of the difficulties in not being home all day is that the house is heated and cooled while we are not home. When I was growing up, my parents would also lower the heating temperature at night, saving a bundle on heating bills, but it required daily intervention.

Adding programmable thermostats to the home takes care of these manual interventions and saves plenty of money on heating and cooling.

  • Temperature is adjusted automatically
  • Some thermostats will let you set separate temperatures for weekends and weekdays


  • It requires a new thermostat, which requires installation (but most people have the skills to do this)
  • Variations in schedule need manual overrides – being home sick during the winter can have you waking midday to a very cool house.
  • Times on the thermostats have to be adjusted for Daylight Savings Time

My programmable thermostats have held us well for 10 years so far. They maintain different settings in memory for heating and cooling, so I don’t have to reset between seasons.

Although not all my machines save me the same amount of time, they all impact my life by freeing up my brain power. Do you automate around the house using other devices? Share below.

Photo by Nufkin