Wireless business devices, tiny palm-of-the-hand technology, super-organising software, downloadable time management apps – it seems there’s a new product out every minute and each one promising to make you and your business more efficient, more streamlined and more profitable. It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them, too. When a network contact turns up with the latest smartphone, or your favourite business magazine features the new open source improvement on MSOutlook, it’s hard not to feel that you need that gadget just to feel like a professional; after all, you can’t be left behind, can you? But that’s just advertising. It’s what marketing people do. The real questions that you might want to ask yourself are:
Am I addicted to buying new efficiency ‘toys’?
Do I even know how to make the most of what I’ve already got?
Who’s in charge here – the gadgets or me?
The problem is that we’re encouraged to feel inadequate if we don’t run our business with the newest and shiniest accessories. But successful businesses were being run before the invention of Twitter or the Blackberry, and even (whisper it quietly) before mobile phones or laptops.
Of course, times change and these days email and mobile computing are the basic tools of most trades. But there’s a word right there: “tool”. All this stuff is meant to help us. Technology is a good servant but a poor master, and increasing numbers of us are getting caught up in the desperate and never-ending race to update, upgrade and improve. To be blunt: that race is not good for us. Here are five ways in which being a ‘gadget addict’ can be bad for business.
1. There’s nowhere to hide– between the PC in your office, the laptop in your bag and the phone in your pocket, you’re too accessible. If you don’t have some space, some time to focus on what’s important then the stress starts to build. You need a moment’s peace to work in.
2. That ‘left behind’ feeling– as technology zooms ahead, the danger is that you start to believe that you have to keep pace with it. The trouble is, it moves so fast that you’re setting yourself up to fail, and that can undermine your confidence. You don’t need the latest technology, you just need the right technology for your business – there’s often a big difference between the two.
3. The triumph of urgency– with all those messages and reminders clamouring for your attention, it can be difficult to focus on what’s important. The result is that you’re constantly pulled in several different directions and whatever task shouts loudest wins – that’s not productive or efficient. You need to prioritise and then stick to your plan. (easier scheduled then done!)
4. Running to stand still– the never ending parade of newer and fancier gadgets to buy is not only expensive but it’s also de-skilling (more on this below).
5. Planning becomes a thing of the past– however carefully you schedule your time, your helpful gadgets and gizmos are always there to distract and interrupt you. You need to put them in their proper place.
The biggest problem with all these time-saving devices is actually the time it takes to learn to use them. Each purchase de-skills you by putting you in a position of ignorance that you have to then overcome by learning how to use it properly. Expecting to be more efficient just because you’ve bought the latest efficiency software is like expecting to be thin because you’ve bought a diet book, or expecting to be a musician because you’ve bought a piano. It’s not that these gadgets, apps and upgrades can’t help your efficiency, it’s that you have to take the time to learn what they can do for you and how to make them do it. And you’ll probably have to significantly change the way you work in order to do it. Who has time for that? What usually happens is that we buy the gadget, learn just enough so that we can make it do what the old gadget did and then get on with our day-to-day business. But that’s just the old way of working using a newer accessory – a lot of effort for no extra return.
So what to do?
Whenever you’re tempted by a new time-saving, efficiency-improving object or application, ask yourself these questions:
How exactly will this help me be more efficient?
What specific measurable improvement do I expect; and by when?
How long will it take me to learn how to use it? Is it worth the investment of my time? (and money!)
What else about my current system of working will I have to change in order to fully leverage this new thing.
When you’ve answered all these questions, ask yourself whether it’s really worth it. If the answer is “YES” then by all means reach for your credit card.
Take a step back and look at what you’ve already got. Have you really exhausted its capabilities? Do you really need to replace it? Here’s a real example, someone recently told me that she was switching from MSOutlook to Gmail because of a particular function that Gmail offers. Fair enough, except that Outlook has that very same function, she just didn’t know about it. Once I’d pointed that out, she changed her mind and saved herself from switching her business and her people over to a new system that they didn’t need.
I find this happens all the time – nine times out of ten, we already have all the tools we need to be more efficient, to make better use of our time, but we just don’t use them. And sometimes we don’t even know what we’ve got.
Of course, there will be times when your system will need a complete overhaul, or maybe even replacing. But certainly not every month, and probably not every year.