I find it both sad and interesting that the most viewed posts on my site are the ones where I compare different software tools or do a detailed review of a software tool. It’s great because it helps me reach more people with my content but sad because this is a symptom of a bigger problem.
So many people believe that if they just find the right tool, success will follow. In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield would call this resistance since the search for a tool is often done in favour of actually producing content.
The writer doesn’t write. They try out 42 writing tools spending inordinate amounts of time trying each one out, only to reject them one by one, and keep searching. The programmer switches between code editors based on the recommendations of colleagues. So many office workers change between productivity systems for what seem like great reasons in the moment but simply amount to a delay tactic.
In the online world it seems so much easier to do this and to be applauded for trying out new tools and writing about it. I could easily increase my traffic if I focused on reviewing new software tools, but it wouldn’t help you run an awesome business. It would simply fuel your procrastination.
When I built houses we never searched around for just the right saw or hammer or tool belt. You got a hammer that had a weight you could handle then got to the work of building the damn house. If you purchased a tool belt you used it until it fell apart and then purchased a new one that would last longer.
In construction, you couldn’t fool yourself into productivity. Either boards got nailed together or they didn’t. Searching for the better tool to do the job wasn’t work and didn’t get houses built.
Yes a hammer is a simple tool, but that doesn’t change the fact that most of us waffle around with our tools in the name of finding something that will make us more productive. As if the change of a tool will suddenly increase our success. We’ll get more words written if we use the same word processor as some famous writer.
I bet if you cut out all the time you spent reading about new software and put it into writing, design, painting, coding you’d be much farther along in your career.
To keep you productive, I propose the following workflow for evaluating your tools.
The first thing you need to do is have a problem. Don’t try out new tools just because there are new tools. Only try out new software if you have a problem with your current tools.
In the past I’ve changed billing and proposal systems because the workflow between the two was terrible. It involved extra steps by me to build an invoice for a client once they had accepted a proposal. The client had to wait for me to do that instead of just accepting the proposal and then moving on with paying me for the work. With 17Hats I found a great tool that has a killer workflow for proposals through to getting paid.
When it comes time to look at new tools write down your top five pain points with the current option you’re using. Then only entertain new options that fix most of those problems without introducing new issues. This year I really didn’t change much because I didn’t have any problems. Sure there is new ‘sexy’ software out there people are talking about, but trying new options when I have no problems to solve would be a waste of my time.
Set a time limit to test things
Secondly, set a time limit. Dan Miller at 48 Days has a great way to push decisions. He gives himself two weeks to make any decision. If a decision takes any longer than two weeks, Dan contends you’re just delaying a decision to ‘gather more information’ which really translates to wasting more time.
Work always expands to fill the time available so when you’re trying out new billing software give yourself one hour to try out a new possibility. Don’t check social media during that hour, spend it evaluating the tool. Check back against your list and make sure that it solves the problems you’ve written down.
If it doesn’t, just scrap it. Don’t put more time into find workarounds, move on.
Live with your decision for a year
Adopt my rule of thumb: Only investigate changing tools when the year changes. Once a year give yourself three weeks to look at the new tools that are out there and then decide on two that may be good options to replace your current preferred writing (or coding, or billing or…) tool.
Use the time limits above to test them out and make a decision. Then don’t think about it again for a year.
Remember your job is not to evaluate different tools. It’s to write or code or design or…get stuff done. Stop pretending you’re ‘productive’ as you evaluate the latest and greatest tools that come along.
Just get things done.