The Worst Productivity Killer

Published on 14th February, 2007

The constant quest for improved productivity is the worst productivity killer I know. Maybe it’s just human nature, but most of us seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that somewhere out there, someone else has created the perfect solution to our Problem X, if we could only find it.

Problem X could be anything; book-keeping, bookmarking, invoicing, photo-management, time-management (oh the irony), you name it.

The seemingly endless release of new web applications is testament to the fact that plenty of people think they can build a better mousetrap, and even more people are willing to believe them (although I do wonder how much longer this can possibly continue).

The truck load of “productivity” literature currently crippling the bookshelves of a Waterstones near you bears witness to the fact that we’ve all become far too used to letting other people do our thinking for us.

We expect software to do exactly what we need it to do, dammit. When it doesn’t we condemn it as useless, instead of actively engaging our brains and looking for a simple workaround.

We bitch and moan about the lack of a particularly “essential” feature that we’re just too damn lazy to circumvent, and the software manufacturer dutifully complies, adding more and more bloat to the product with each new release, until eventually we complain that it’s too slow and bloated to be useful, dammit. And it still doesn’t do blah! What a piece of crap.

Every time a new high-profile web application gets released, the same “early adopters” waste an inordinate amount of time playing around with (sorry, evaluating) it, deciding it’s just what they’ve been looking for, and labouriously tranferring everything over to their new toy.

The problem is, the perfect solution to your (or my) problem doesn’t exist.

Close enough is good enough

Unless your current solution is hideously flawed, you’re much better off spending time learning more about your existing setup, than wasting days installing, tinkering-with, and uninstalling alternative software offerings, or reading up on the latest wonderful time-management methodology.

If you take the time to understand what your absolute must-haves are, you can more easily find a solution that meets those requirements, and won’t waste time sweating the little stuff.

Close enough is good enough.

If something has all of your must-haves, and 80% of your nice-to-haves, that’s just fine. After you’ve spent a bit of time learning what something can and can’t do, the chances are you’ll either find a workaround for those last few non-essentials, or will have forgotten what they were in the first place.

Find your own solutions

The boys over at 37Signals have proven that more features and complexity probably isn’t the answer to your problems.

I’d go further; more features will generally cause you more problems, because the more a product appears to do, the more you expect it to do for you. Most of us (myself included) just switch off and expect to be spoon-fed the solution to our problems.

Ditching your current solution in favour of the latest shiny new thing every time you encounter a minor limitation isn’t the best course of action.

So, the next time you find yourself frustrated by a piece of software, a web application, a product, or whatever, don’t immediately start the hunt for a replacement (or even assume it’s time to start rolling your own solution). Take a moment to actually think about a workaround, or maybe read up on that feature that you’ve never really used.

Chances are you’ll save a bundle of time, and will be a lot more productive as a result.