Wanted: solutions looking for problems

While planning, researching and writing this blog, the following tools were used:

-Slack to receive countless reminder messages to write this thing already…(Cough Lizzie)

Trello to add a card to remind myself when it was due

Google doc to write it

Trello again to gather research

Oh sh#t, I put some of those links in Slack too

Damn it where did I save those screenshots?

There they are, in the Google Drive

Ok done, the Google Doc is shared in the drive

What? Ok I will Slack it to you too

Wait now you want me to post it to Trello because you can’t find it in Slack?

Talk about more than one way to skin a pig…

If this sounds like a familiar scenario, then you are not alone. While the boom of productivity tools continues to surge, the market is becoming saturated with an overwhelming variety of options to in theory, help streamline your day. In reality, the glut of “solutions” has created a vast ecosystem of tools that, while often integrated with each other, lack a central home base to help the user make sense of it all. A One app to rule them all, one may say. We’ve stumbled into a situation where the solution for streamlined processes and increased productivity is more processes and tools than we can effectively manage. Isn’t that Ironic? Don’t ya think?

So which tools are the best? Does Trello save your documents and tasks in the most efficient way? Is Asana the PM’iest tool out there? Should I Slack? I always hate Slack’s delay on mobile, should I have one chat for interoffice and another for mobile? Obviously we have Google Mail, should we use Google Drive too for document storage? Dropbox has such a clean ux, and is awesome, especially for design work. Maybe we can use Dropbox for images/visuals, and Google Drive for everything else…

Rather than bore you all to death with my 2.5 cents regarding all of the options out there, I want to discuss something else. With the level of sophistication required to simply get to market, the incremental improvement between option A and option B is negligible. Instead, I want to talk about how to get the most out of their tools, whatever they may be, because a true craftsman should never blame their tools…who doesn’t like a good cliche`.

The first step is to assess what your current needs are, as well as what your needs will be in the future. What is good enough to get the job done now may not be able to support you 6 months down the road, and the switching costs from platform A to platform B are tangible. Additionally, it’s tough to find the solution when the problem is not clear. At the same time, begin collecting information as to the options available, and what each is capable of. With virtually every platform employing some variation of the Freemium model, it’s easy to simply ignore the paid options. Don’t! Assess each option independent of their cost. Remember, freedom isn’t free…

Once you have a clear idea as to your needs and the options out there, ask around for some insight from others in your industry, as well as have a discussion with your team to solicit their feedback. Getting their buy-in is critical, but it’s also important to not get stuck trying to make everyone happy. Since everyone will have their own preferences, and these will rarely align perfectly, an objective viewpoint is necessary to ensure the best decisions for the group are made.

After you’ve talked things over with the team, its decision making time. It’s important that you don’t compromise your solution by prioritizing free over useful. As we discussed earlier, most platforms have some basic free option, and many companies can get by cobbling together a Frankenstein of 6 free tools. However this simply creates more friction and drastically reduces the overall potential impact on productivity. Most paid options are still reasonably priced to say the least, so choosing the best set of tools will pay for itself in time saved.

Once you have made your decision, the most challenging part will be not only getting the team to buy in, but also getting the team to commit to consciously using the tools. There are many different ways to manage the transition from the old to the new, but the most important thing is that you develop and plan and stick to it. Depending on your team’s tendencies, the bandaid approach, where you clean house and roll out everything over a short period of time may work best. Gradually transitioning project by project to new tools until your entire current workload is connected is another option. Regardless, consistent effort is key.

If the team does not commit for the long haul, then nothing will seem to work, and your team will begin to look for different tools because the current ones suck. To convey the effort necessary, it’s important to provide specific timelines to help manage expectations. In this article by Jason Selk for Forbes, he talks about the myth of habit formation in 21 days and the real challenges needed to create good habits. He references business coach Tom Bartow’s model of the 3 phases of habit formation:

Phase 1: The Honeymoon

Fairly self explanatory. You start using your new tool and everything’s great. This is so easy! I am CRUSHING it this week. I may as well stay home Thursday and Friday because i’m going to do 5 days worth of work in 3 at this rate…

Phase 2: The Fight Thru

You start to encounter situations where you default to your old habits, rather than the new process or whatever it may be. You are pressed for time, and know that you’d save time if you just went back to what you are used to. Winning 2–3 “fight thru’s”, where you encounter these moments and are able to stick to the new script is essential for these new habits to take root.

Phase 3: Second Nature

After battling through phase 2, you typically settle into a new routine and feel good, and are on your way to a better life. To ensure you stay on track, they go on to describe 3 common speedbumps that can knock you off course, The discouragement monster(we all know him), Disruptions(my throat hurts and the only thing that seems to help is this whole gallon of ice cream), and the seduction of success(see I was able to sustain it for 4 weeks, I can basically turn it on and off, no need to do this all the time).

Managing change is always a challenge. These challenges only get harder when it entails simultaneously changing multiple habits, and the success is dependant on the everyone buying in. Nobody said it would be easy! But like any challenge, people can change. All it takes is time, patience, and maybe a small miracle or two.

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