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.

Prepare first

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.

[Tweet “Don’t invest time in new tools unless your current tools are no longer working for you.”]

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.

photo credit: clement127 cc

5 responses to “Focus, Purpose and the Tools You Use”

  1. Mark Brinker Avatar

    Great post, Curtis. I especially like your phrase “fuel your procrastination”. So many people are focused on the tools … which are definitely important. But the real magic happens when you get your message/offer right and you’re projecting it to the right audience. Easier said than done, though.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Yeah finding the audience and your voice is the hard part. That’s probably another reason that people hunt for tools. It’s the easy job and makes them feel productive.

  2. Ginger Coolidge Avatar

    I totally agree, I call it busy work and I could be a full time busy-work-er-er if I let myself 🙂 Different profession, but when I was going through real estate training to get my license, they called this “nesting”. Easy to sit at the house or realty office and play with the huge amount of tech tools they throw at you, organize your office, work on a logo, website, etc all the while not doing anything to bring in LEADS or listings. I started writing my blog posts in a text editor since I get so distracted with formatting , this alone has helped with creating new posts which take me a while. On the code editor side, I messed around with this for a while then settled on one and I’m NOT MOVING unless it causes pain. There are more but that’s those were the biggies.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      How do you maintain the discipline required to NOT check out all the new tools?

      1. Ginger Coolidge Avatar

        I guess from doing it for so long, I mean being the one that was constantly checking out new tools or hardware. Going to some conferences and talking to people who actually MADE things or had a lot of CLIENT work (I’m shouting to myself ) and I felt like a big L, I haven’t actually done anything. So, I have no desire to spend those hours on tools unless something breaks 🙂