How to create your first automation in Zapier

8 years ago, Lisa and I said “I do.”

The original plan was to take my last name, but two years into our union she had a change of heart.

Not about me. Thank god.

But about the name change.


But there was a little issue. In 2014 she had received a gift certificate that would help expedite the name change process.

Which is when she committed the cardinal sin… of productivity.

She kept a task as a starred message in Gmail.

For 6 years. Yes. Six. Long. Years.

The mere thought of seeing the same starred email for 2,190 consecutive days gives me pulsating waves of anxiety.

But hey, tomato and to-maahhh-to. Opposites do attract after all.

I want you to repeat after me. Tasks should never live in your email inbox (or calendar – but we’ll save that for a later essay).

Here’s the danger of conflating your email inbox and your task manager. Other people dictate your priorities.

Let’s use a simple example.

We all have our passions.

There are foodies who have lists of the best “hole-in-the-wall” Mexican restaurants; wanderlusters with itineraries for spending a month in Bali; and tastemakers who know which Netflix series you need to be watching.

I often get a version of this email:

Hey Khe,

I just took a sabbatical and am going to spend a month in Copenhagen.

I recall you spent some time there. Have any tips for me?

Restaurants, things to see and hotels would be dope.

Stay rad,


Here’s the dangerous asymmetry of email. It took Jim 15 seconds to send that note. And it will take me 25 minutes to respond to him.

And while Jim’s request may feel important to him, it’s not that important to me. I’ve got a young family, wife, and business to run. I don’t need to respond to this for a while. (In my mind, a fair expectation would be a week, which I’d communicate with him.)

But if you leave this message in your inbox (or worse, star it) you pay a cognitive tax every time you open your inbox. Not only is that unfair but considering we spend 4 hours a day in our inboxes, it’s an unnecessary source of low-grade anxiety.

I know many RadReaders fall into this trap. (Or even worse, they override their own priorities by responding right away.)

So I want to use this as a teachable moment. I want to introduce you to a stealthy set of skills that – can easily solve this problem – while opening up an engine of productivity and automation unknown to many knowledge workers.

Meet Zapier, the ultimate automation tool

We can solve the starred email problem with a simple Zap. Think of Zaps as “the glue” that connects two apps, in our case email (Gmail) and task management (Trello). Together we’ll spend 5 minutes creating an elegant and simple solution to this problem. But more importantly, it will give you a taste of a new skill set that is valued by the market and can provide massive leverage to teams, creators and entrepreneurs.

Here’s a Twitter exchange (emphasis mine) showcasing the consulting rates of $50 -$200 per hour for experienced Zappers (technically they are called Zapier consultants). And no, this skill isn’t taught on college campuses. Instead, you can learn about it for free on blogs, YouTube videos and Twitter.


And while there is some “downward” pressure as these skills become more commoditized –  I can confirm that some of our Notion course alums have been getting side gigs at comparable rates.

Your Zapier tutorial begins here

I passionately believe that building Zaps has comparable value to being very proficient in Excel. Over at RadReads, we have heavily invested in Zaps that save us 20+ hours per month across our marketing, accounting, payment processing, customer service, and operations processes.  The value of our Zaps easily exceeds $10,000 – in both saved labor and avoided mistakes.

So I’m thrilled for you to leave this post fully equipped to create your own Zaps.

Step 1: Create your free Zapier account

Head over to where you can set up a free account. You’ll then have the option to connect over 2,000 apps that you use each day for work, productivity and communications.

Step 2: Create your first Zap

Your first Zap will be very simple. We’ll call it the Lisa Zap which will do the following:

When you star a message in Gmail, it will add it as a new card in Trello.

So we’ll first connect our Gmail account:

Step 3: Choose your trigger

The trigger is the event that kicks off the chain of actions in the Lisa Zap. In this case, the trigger is the Gmail star, but there are tens of thousands of triggers including:

  • Adding a row to a spreadsheet
  • Posting a Slack message to a channel
  • Creating a Facebook add
  • Updating a CRM entry

Step 4: Grab the data from your first app

Now that we’ve identified our trigger, we now have an email (i.e. the starred one) to work with. Think about the components of an email, which include:

  • Sender
  • Subject line
  • Body
  • Date and time
  • Attachments (if any)
  • Labels

Our Lisa zap can grab any of those variables to pass it into our second app.

Step 5: Connect your second app

Next we’ll connect our “receiving” app, Trello (a Kanban-style task manager). For purposes of our demo, I purposely hadn’t “connected” Trello to Zapier. Thankfully it’s easy to search for the app and connect it.

Next we’ll connect Trello (by entering our login credentials):

Step 6: Create your second event

Our event consists of creating a new card in Trello with the contents of the starred email:

We can pop over to Trello just to see where this card will be created, noting the “receiving” variables of the Board Name and List Name.

We’ll use these two variables to tell Zapier where we should create our new card. And since these apps are so tightly integrated into Zapier, you don’t need to ever type anything in – they’re dynamically updated:

Once again, we’ll “map” our variables into Trello. Here are the instructions arising from this step:

  • Set the Card name the Subject Line
  • Set the Card description to the body of the email

Step 7: And voila!

Once that step is complete, we activate the Zap and here’s where the magic happens. If you head over to Trello, you’ll see that a new card was created according to our precise specifications:

Be wary of $100 work

I’ve seen six and seven figure businesses built off of a back-end of Zaps.

But I’ve also seen lots of high-leverage but low skilled ($100) work.

Zapier can be a tempting sinkhole of very cool but not particularly useful productivity automations.

I truly hope that you all start experimenting with this powerful tool. But always remember to ask the most important question: What’s this for?

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