On the Seventh Day of Christmas, the Waffle Brings to Me...Automation of My Work 

December 17, 2023
7 min read

It’s the seventh day of Christmas. Forget swans and their swimming because we’re diving into the tech side of things now. So, grab your notepads, people, 'cause we're about to automate our way through this festive season.  

Oh, honey, let me tell you, Power Automate is like having your own personal assistant without the attitude. It's all about saving time and headaches by automating those mind-numbing tasks that nobody wants to deal with. Need to shuffle data between apps? Done. Want emails to magically organize themselves? Piece of cake. This little gem lets you set up workflows that run smoother than the office coffee machine on a Monday morning. Trust me, when you're knee-deep in spreadsheets and drowning in emails, Power Automate is the superhero you never knew you needed. 

First things first, I need to address the oversized snowman in the room. You might see the term “flow,” you might see the term “workflow,” or you might see “automate” or “automation.” They’re all the same thing. I’m going to say this in my outside voice, peeps. Microsoft LOVES to rename their tools periodically just to keep us on our toes (or just in a constant state of confusion). When Power Automate was rolled several years ago, it was called “Flow.” Then the masterminds at Microsoft decided they wanted to roll everything together and make everything POWERful. They renamed everything, created new shiny logos and wrapped it all together in a big red bow called Power Platform. Power Automate, Power BI, Power Apps, etc., and now there’s Power Pages. Yep, you have ALL the Power! As someone who’s passionate about empowerment (#emPOWERd), I kinda like this. It’s kind of on brand for me. The one thing they forgot was our little orange-headed stepchild, PowerPoint, who started it all. 

Where does one dig up this magical Power Automate, you wonder? Let’s wander back to that waffle button in the top-left corner (number 1 in Figure 1) and select it from the options. Not spotting it? Click on "Explore all your Apps" (number 2) and rummage through the apps.  

Screenshot of the Waffle menu with step indicators for the App Launcher (1) and Explore all your Apps (2). Other options include Outlook, Word, OneDrive, and Teams.
Figure 1: Explore Your Apps Using the App Launcher (Waffle button). View Full Size

Pro Tip: If you don’t see Power Automate, click the Productivity tab in the Explore by category section. 

Click that bad boy (as shown in Figure 2 at number 3) and let’s get going.  

Screenshot of the Power Automate card with the number three indicated. The subtitle says “Sync files and more to simplify your work.”
Figure 2: Find the Power Automate application in the Productivity category View Full Size

Boom! You land in the winter wonderland of automation! Don’t get too attached to how this looks, folks, because they LOVE to change this screen up.  

Not sure where to start? Let’s start with the building blocks of Flows: 

  • Flows: Think of ‘em like your digital choreographer. Power Automate crafts these routines, automating tasks, linking apps, and basically making your digital life a heck of a lot smoother. 
  • Triggers: These are like the switch that lights up your Christmas tree. Think of it as the “when this happens, do that” magic. Set triggers up and watch the digital world dance to your tune. 
  • Actions: This is where the real magic happens. Power Automate rolls up its sleeves and gets to work sending emails, updating spreadsheets, and doing all the digital grunt work that you dread. 

Depending on your screen size, you may be missing all that magic, so click the hamburger menu (4) in the upper left corner (as shown in Figure 3). 

Screenshot of the Power Automate Home page with the hamburger menu indicated by number four. Text on the screen says, “Let’s automate something. What should it do?” Then it labels a simple equation “The building blocks of automation” and shows “Trigger (the event that starts your flow) plus Actions (the response to your trigger) equals Flow (your tasks complete automatically.” Then there’s a space to describe how the automation should work and a “Generate” button to begin the action.
Figure 3: Click the Accordion (Hamburger) menu to view the Navigation pane View Full Size

With the new AI features of Microsoft 365, you can use natural language to describe what you’re looking for and have Power Automate create it for you (indicated by the number 5 in Figure 4), but before we get all crazy and re-invent Santa’s flying sleigh, let’s see what all those brilliant people out there have already created for us. (Look, Ma—no code!) Click the Templates link (shown in Figure 4 as number 6) in the navigation pane.  

Screenshot of the Power Automate, the navigation pane expanded with the Generative AI field indicated by the number five and the Templates link indicated by the number six. The right-hand (majority) of the screen is what you saw in Figure 3. The left-hand pane itemizes the choices, including Create, Templates, Learn, My flows, Approvals, Solutions, Process mining, AI models, Desktop flow activity, More, and Power Platform.
Figure 4: Use the Generative AI features or click the Templates link to see existing Flows you can use. View Full Size

Don’t want to start from scratch? Power Automate’s got your back with ready-made templates, as shown in Figure 5 (number 7). When I ask people what the most painful part of their day is, the most common response is email. Let’s use the Search Templates (8) option to find what Power Automate can do about that. 

Screenshot of the Templates page with the flow template options indicated by the number 7 and the search templates field indicated by the number 8. The list of options includes saving email attachments to specified places, getting reminders and notifications, creating tasks, and sending files as attachments to emails.
Figure 5: Use the Search field to find Flows for specific products or tasks. View Full Size

Just pick one, tweak it to your liking, and boom! You’ve got an automated workflow in the bag. These are seamlessly integrated across the tools in Microsoft 365.  

But WAIT! There’s more! Did I mention that Power Automate plays well with others? Yes, they are called Connections. If you don’t see the option in the navigation pane (as in Figure 6), click the More link (9) and use the pin (10) to add it. 

Screenshot of the navigation pane with the More link indicated by the number 9 in the left pane and list of options, and the pin for the Connections link indicated by the number 10 in the resulting list of options.
Figure 6: Click the More link to view additional features of Power Automate. View Full Size

Power Automate’s not a loner; it’s a team player, just like Santa’s elves. Connect it to all your favorite apps, from Office 365 (as shown in Figure 7) to other platforms like Salesforce (11), and watch the magic unfold across your digital playground. There are hundreds to choose from, including Premium options (12). 

Screenshot of the Connections page with links to SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, Dynamics 365, OneDrive, and SQL Server. In this image, the link for Salesforce is indicated by the number 11 and the Premium label by the number 12.
Figure 7: There are hundreds of Connectors including third-party tools, but some may require subscriptions. View Full Size

Pro Tip: Just a word of caution about bringing other players to the party. Third-party tools require an account, sometimes a subscription AND, if you see a Premium label on an option (12), Microsoft might charge you extra, too! 

Power Automate is the gift that keeps on giving. Forget the tedium of manual tasks; Power Automate is here to sprinkle some automation magic. Me? I've got my workflows doing the robot dance, saving me time and headaches. 

Curious to learn more about Flows? Join me on January 17, 2024 for the “Automating Your Processes with Power Automate” session of our Kick Start 2024 emPOWER!Hour series. https://poweruplearning.com/2024-kickoff/  

Stay tuned for the next tip in our 12 days of Christmas. Until next time, I’m Shortcut Shari and it’s my job to make your job easier.

Shari Oswald

Shari Oswald

Shari is known as Shortcut Shari because she believes we should all work smarter, not harder, and she loves to share keyboard shortcuts. Shari has been using SharePoint since before it was called SharePoint and is excited to share her knowledge and expertise with those who are as excited about technology as she is. Shari's focus is the “People Side of Change.” As a Microsoft 365 Solutions Architect and Consultant that grew up right along with SharePoint, her practical knowledge of the Microsoft Productivity stack coupled with her passion for empowerment via learning makes Shari an excellent resource as a consultant and evangelist for Microsoft 365. Her philosophies for information architecture and SharePoint design are centered on solving business challenges with technology and ensuring usability and adoption for the organization. Shari is a Microsoft Certified Trainer, a Microsoft Certified Specialist Master, consultant, presenter, author, and evangelist. When she is not architecting SharePoint magic as a consultant, Shari is in the classroom or creating online learning for LinkedIn Learning, ClipTraining.com, and Pluralsight.