I need to make a confession. I like tools. I’m always resisting the urge to slip an extra screwdriver or socket wrench into the cart. I can’t walk down the aisles of a Home Depot without seeing a tool I’d like to have. Even if I don’t need the tool now, I can always imagine how it will come in handy…someday.
But it doesn’t end there. I have the same love affair with productivity and organizational tools as I do with hammers, drills, and mitre saws. I am always on the lookout for the next great piece of software (for my phone or laptop) that will take my productivity to the next level.
When I stopped to add up all I had collected, I realized I was bordering on some type of software schizophrenia. My iPhone held five different to-do list apps, four calendar apps, five quick-capture memo apps, and a few reminder apps. I told myself I was simply comparing each program to see which one was the best. What I wouldn’t admit was how much time I spent duplicating my processes. I ended up inputting the same data into multiple apps. Crazy, right?
At this point, I feel like it’s my turn in the circle…”Hi, my name is Tim (…hi Tim…) and I’m a organizational app-aholic.”
But there’s hope. I have begun to understand my addiction (the first step is to admit you have a problem). I’m hooked on trying the latest and greatest. I think the app will make me better. But the truth is, doing the work that needs to get done is the thing that makes me better. The goal is productivity. Constantly switching apps or software actually works against that goal. And the biggest barrier to achieving my goal…is me.
Perhaps you suffer from the same thing. If so, I’d like to share the strategy I’m using. It’s amazing how much more time you have to do work that matters when you spend less time trying to find and learn a new tool (that you don’t really need).
1. Find the tool that works for you.
There are a lot of options available. Do some research. Find recommendations. Then choose. Choose one tool for each type of organization (calender, to-do list, notes, etc). With all of the free options, you may find a couple of apps you’d like to compare. That’s okay. Your goal at this initial stage is to select the ONE tool you will use.
My problem was that I got stuck on this stage. I was continuously looking for a new tool. Once you’ve made your selection, it’s time to move to the next stage.
2. Learn how the tool works.
Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with all of the features available in this program. Hopefully, you chose one that will have the features you need. Spend time on the front end learning how to use the tool to its fullest potential. The best way is learn to teach. Learn to use the tool well enough that you could comfortably show someone else how it works.
I tended to move on to a new tool because I never fully learned what the tool I had was capable of doing.
3. Practice using the tool.
Now that you know what the tool does it’s time to make the tool work for you. Productivity and organizational tools are created to assist you in getting things done in a timely and effective manner. Use it everyday. Yes…everyday. One of the biggest problems I encounter is that I’ll input all of my important data into a tool and then not use it. What’s the advantage of creating a to-do list that you never look at when you are wondering what to do next?
The more you familiarize yourself with the tool, you’ll create a system that will begin to feel natural to you. The less time you have to actually think about your system, the more time you’ll have to do what really needs to be done.
4. Use the tool religiously.
Please don’t start praying to your tool. That’s not what I mean. By religiously I want you to focus on two things. First, I’m encouraging you to use this tool consistently. Like I mentioned above, the frequency of use should be in the range of everyday. While that may seem like a lot, please realize we’re trying to develop a habit here. How many of us can actually say we take a couple minutes everyday to look at our organizational tools? For some of us, this is the hardest (yet most necessary) part of staying organized.
Second, I want you to develop a loyalty to this tool. If you aren’t careful, you’ll succumb to the temptation of the next great tool that comes along. It may have a more colorful user interface or more options. Don’t give up on what you are using at the drop of a well-written Lifehacker post. You have already done the hard work of Step 3. If you keep switching tools, you’ll spend more of your valuable time learning software instead of getting stuff done.
5. Evaluate the effectiveness of the tool.
Once three or four months goes by you’ll want to take a look at how well your organizational system is working. At this point, you should be a master of your carefully selected tools. If you want to make a switch to something else, you must seriously weigh the effort of learning a new tool versus the speed and comfort you have with your current system.
New or latest doesn’t always mean better. No matter how fancy the hammer, you just need something to pound a nail. Some people are addicted to the idea of being organized or productive. They believe the next best tool might actually do the work for them.
Getting a new organizational tool is not the same as being organized. Downloading the latest productivity software is not the same as being productive. When it comes to these tools, stick with what works and then do the work.
Question: What type of relationship do you have with the tools you use?