We signed our 15 month old daughter up for swimming lessons at the city pool. Arriving early, I read the pool rules for the regular swim periods. I hadn’t been to the pool in about 14 years and was suprised to see that they didn’t allow any type of flotation devices. No rafts, life jackets or arm “floaties”.
I asked one of the lifeguards why, and discovered that the city pool puts some real thought into their policies–much more than the local library. The lifeguard explained that when people have a flotation device, they tend to rely on it instead of their swimming skills. A child with a life raft is more likely to get into water that is too deep than one without. Worse still, parents don’t watch their children as carefully when they have the “floaties” on their arms. They decided it was safer to ban flotation devices entirely because it made people more responsible.
I realized that this is the same problem I have with many of the devices and systems that are supposed to increase your productivity. Palm Pilots, Smart Phones, and organization software are all useful, but many people think that having a good tool will somehow do the work for them. I’ve seen unproductive people buy software package after software package just trying to find the perfect tool. Their tool set isn’t the problem. The problem is that they aren’t taking responsibility for getting the work done on their own.
If you don’t learn to swim and spend all of your effort on finding the perfect flotation device, you will eventually get yourself into trouble. If you don’t learn to actually execute and spend all of your time trying to find the perfect way of listing your tasks, you aren’t going to be effective.
Most execution problems are not technology issues, they are simply a lack of self-discipline. Technology can help you keep track of things, but if it ever becomes a distraction from work, you are in trouble.
I will leave you with a few thoughts about how to implement technology effectively.
- Think in terms of return on investment – If you invest 40 hours in finding and implementing a new tool, how long will it take to “pay you back”? 40 hours in finding a tool that saves you 15 minutes each week is probably not worth it.
- Discipline first – If you are having trouble accomplishing things, start off assuming it is a problem with your self discipline. Technology may help, but work on the discipline part first. If you are not disciplined, technology is not going to help you, anyway.
- Be slow to change – If you have a process that works, don’t be quick to change to something else–especially if it involves buying a new gadget. Just because an iPhone comes with a great task management application, doesn’t mean it is any more effective than your 3×5 cards that you’ve been using for the past three years.
- Technology for collaboration – As a general rule, technology for managing what you need to do is much more useful in a collaborative environment. No matter how special, it is hard to make an application that works better than paper at keeping track of the five items you need to do today. This does not mean you should avoid any type of digital to-do list. You just need to be aware of what types of things technology is good at and what types of things will only result in marginal improvements.
Whatever gadgets or tools you use to organize your life, make sure they are actually helping you and not just giving you a false sense of accomplishment.
@Stephen Productivity in Context says
Mark, this is so very true – “If you are having trouble accomplishing things, start off assuming it is a problem with your self discipline.”
I tell the people that I coach this very thing, they do not like it, but it trends much more toward the truth than anything else. Thanks for sharing.