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How To Know When To Stick With Or Change Tools?

“Tools” are a very personal subject. Some people get very defensive over their choice of tool and personalise them. It’s not unusual for people to give nicknames for their most valued and favourite tools. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that people spend such large amounts of time discussing the pros and cons of different tools and engage in the perpetual search for the best tool out there. Heck, this site at times is a contributor to that search and we do so for what I believe are good reasons. However, this search for tools can have negative effects as well as positive. So Today we’re looking at when it’s a good idea to change or stick with your tools.

Why Change tools?

There is that classic saying “A bad workman blames his tools” and it’s true. A good workman can use average tools and still make something great. A good artist can use a standard HB pencil and make a masterpiece. However, A good artist can also use other tools to create different effects, some of which would not be possible without these tools.

So good tools don’t make you better or worse at what you do but they can aid, guide, frame your thoughts and assist certain function. I like the quote from Aaron Mahnke on shawnblanc.net

“Creativity is all about reducing the distance from inspiration to retention. I might not be able to react to a moment of inspiration right away, but if I can capture it properly (via screenshot, dragging into Yojimbo, or typing the idea out) I can come back to it when I’m ready. This isn’t multitasking, though. This is all about knowing your tools and having a solid system.”

Find better tools can help reduce friction, get more done (quicker) and in some cases let you do things that other tools couldn’t let you do. Changing tools also can help us look at something from a different perspective or mindset. Sometimes writing something down on paper makes it more physical and “real” than typing it out on some keys. Having to add a tag or save an item in a folder can make you really evaluate the reason for the item.

All in all, pretty compelling reasons to keep switching and searching for the best tool. Right?

Why stick with your tools?

If switching tools is so good then why on earth should you both to stick with your tools? Have you ever met a person who constantly has the “new thing” or something different? They never seem to stick with what they had before and no matter how amazing this thing was a week ago. Now it’s old hat and rubbish compared to this other tool.

I know that this is an extreme example but maybe this is more true of you than you realise? Maybe you see the shiny new thing with the new “revolutionary” feature and you have to have it…but do you really?

As Patrick Rhone points out [here], sometimes when we add in something good, we also add extras that we really don’t need. By changing tool or “upgrading” we have to re learn how to do simple things. We can never achieve automation of certain procedures because we have to relearn habits, resulting in a loss of productivity.

How to know whether you should stick or switch tools?

At this point a productivity guru will probably tell you that one or the other is right, but really it depends on you and your personality. If you change tools regularly and love exploring the latest ideas and tools then you should push against that. Set yourself a minimum amount of time before you can switch (I recommend 6 months to start) and write down the tools which you aren sticking with. Then in 6 months time when you want to change, write down your complaints, write down what you like and then see if there is a tools which solves those complaints without compromising the positives.

If you never change your tools and will not even look at the alternative options out there because they may “break your workflow” then do the same process. Set a review point, consider the advantages and disadvantages of your tools and look for an option that solves those problem.

So that’s

  • Set a point to review your tools
  • list your grievances and delights
  • list the alternatives (and the differences between the tools)
  • make a decision and stick to it.
  • [if in doubt, go against your natural habits]

However, the more important and complicated the tool, the less frequently you should look to replace it. Something as simple as a clock face can be changed with little impact. But something like the word-process you use to write on, the spreadsheet program for your accounts, the design tool for your graphics, the video editor for your works videos or whatever vital tool you have for earning your income, make sure you spend a long time weighing up the options before changing.

Do you switch between tools too often or too rarely? What makes you jump to a new tool?
[Photo Credit: r.heald via Compfight cc]

About Chris Wilson

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