Your Search for Productivity Tools Is Killing Your Productivity
There are tools for just about everything these days: apps for meditation, for making sure you’re drinking enough water, even apps whose primary purpose is to keep you off your phone. The app store is littered with millions of tools and software that claim to make us better, at work, and at life.
If you Google “Pomodoro technique,” you’ll see a minimum of twelve apps recommended for you to try. We have choices, which at face value sounds like a great thing. So many options mean there must be the perfect tool for us— we just have to find it.
Pomodoro means tomato in Italian. But, it is also a unit of time. The technique was named “Pomodoro” because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Francesco Cirillou used at university to track his working and resting intervals, the idea being that this schedule would make him more productive.
When thinking about tools, I like looking at the Pomodoro technique because its origins are analog. The technique predates personal computers and cellphones, using the bare minimum of technology.
Now, if you decide to employ the Pomodoro technique, you have a lot of tools to choose from, from the original hand-cranked timer to a Slack plug-in. They’re all different implementations of the same idea: 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, five minutes of rest, with a longer break every four Pomodoros.
But, with so many options, how do you know which tool is best for you?
There’s an app for that.
In 2018, the business productivity software market was $98.7 billion worldwide and is expected to grow to approximately $106.8 billion by 2021. The sheer amount of choice can be debilitating. It’s easy to lose an hour clicking between different tools, each one garnished with upbeat marketing language and bursting with possibility.
The New York Times calls the endless search for the “best” thing the fear of better options. According to researchers, maximizers, or people who are always on the hunt for the best, are less satisfied with their choices and have higher levels of regret that satisficers, or people who are happy to settle with a good enough option.
By always trying to find the best tool, we waste time and reduce productivity, and are less happy with the results. To get out of the maximization spiral, set parameters around what you need the tool to achieve. If it is successful against those metrics, stick with it. By being specific about what you need to accomplish with the tool, you are focusing on having a tool that works, which is more important than having the best.
Tools can’t do all the work.
Tools are there to help. They cannot fix you. Just like a great knife won’t make you a great chef, a tool isn’t a substitute for skill. A financial optimization app can give you data to help you make better decisions, but it can’t knock the $6 latte out of your hand.
Conversely, a bad tool won’t ruin your business, but it can slow you down and negatively affect your finished product. A bad knife in the hands of a great chef could still be used to make a good meal, but the cooking process would be slower, less precise, and more frustrating.
You need the right tools and the right skillset. But, the skills need to come first.
The search for the right tools can help pinpoint skill or organizational gaps in your company. For example, maybe you’re looking for a tool to help manage projects. The first question should be, what are we doing now to track tasks, deliverables, and timelines? If the answer isn’t crystal clear, maybe it’s worth looking at the framework first. Working outside of a framework might seem like you’re still working efficiently, but often, we mistake activity for productivity. Examining how we do things, what’s working and what’s not can help us be more effective and integrate the right tool the right way.
Establishing this greater framework is also essential in employee training and buy-in. Your employees need to learn not only how to use the software but how it fits within the ecosystem of the workflow and the organization at large. Most training sessions only serve as technical overviews. Without the greater context of the framework, the tool sits within, the tool often won’t be used to its greatest effect, if it’s used at all.
The best productivity tool is the one that works for you.
Productivity tools have been around since far before the invention of the iPhone. They took the form of timers, paper calendars, and written to-do lists. Similarly, our fascination with the day-to-days of productive people is not new. Benjamin Franklin published his daily schedule in his autobiography in 1791 (bad news: he also got up early).
Productivity is a highly personal endeavor. What works for someone else might not work for you. At a larger scale, what worked for one company might not be right for yours. In order to find the right tools and system for your most productive self or business, you have to reflect on where you are today and how you can set yourself up for success tomorrow.
This requires knowing yourself and your team. If you know you have a tendency to let big deadlines creep up on you, what tools can you leverage to better manage your time? If you get distracted by alerts on your phone, maybe it is better to try a kitchen timer over a phone app.
We’d all like to say that today is the day we become ideal versions of ourselves, people who finish projects ahead of schedule and never make careless mistakes and don’t press the “snooze” button, but a tool that doesn’t meet you where you are is useless. The best tool is the one you’ll actually use.