Be More Effective by Adapting Tools To Fit Your Needs

  1. To Be More Effective Embrace Your Quirks
  2. Be More Effective by Adapting Tools To Fit Your Needs
  3. Be More Effective By Treating Yourself Like A Child
  4. Be More Effective By Noticing Your Own Sneakiness

In a day and age where we buy pre-made everything, adapting and customizing off-the-shelf solutions isn’t necessarily the first tactic to spring to mind. But when things aren’t working for you, you have two options: change yourself, or change the situation.

Many a humble business owner has decided to change themselves first, bowing to the understood superiority of whoever designed the tool. But maybe we’d find a solution faster if we tried adapting the tools first, rather than ourselves.


Sometimes the Right Tool for the Job is Not Available Off-The-Shelf

This is the second of four tactics that I’m going to share with you in order to improve your chances of just getting stuff done. In the previous lesson, we focused on embracing your quirks, on the premise that the less time that you spend trying to do things “the way you’re supposed to” the more time and attention you will be able to divert to, say, accomplishing things. Cah-razy, right?

So today, we’re taking that crazy train concept one stop further and considering whether, just maybe, if your tools and systems aren’t super-effective for you, they could be adapted to suit you. Instead of you trying to work with them as-is. What delicious transgression, right? To actually change something you were handed to make it work better?

How Well a Tool Works Is Inversely Proportional To Its Sexiness

In Part One, I wanted you to get a handle on what works for you, without paying any attention to this system or that system. Without that sense of what works for you, it’s too easy to convince yourself that a particular productivity system (read: tool) is going to be the magic bullet for you.

Today, though, I do want to talk about systems. Specifically, I want to talk about how to figure out how systems work and how to make them work for you.

It’s easier to think of productivity systems as tools. Tools, as we all know, have different jobs that they’ve been designed for. So when you pick up a tool, unless you’re putting it to the task it was meant for, you’re going to have mixed results at best.

Tools are Designed for a Given Purpose

My favorite example of this is the famous Getting Things Done system by David Allen. For a lot of people, this is the gold standard of productivity systems. It’s the ideal. Every time I ask clients if they do a weekly review they tell me “I tried GTD, but it was too complicated for me to make it work.”

[Tweet “Unless you’re putting a tool to the task it was meant for, you’ll get mixed results at best.”]

But if you read between the lines, GTD was designed for people like David Allen: Busy executives who have a lot of meetings and very little free time. They need to make sure that they keep tabs on various projects, but they don’t actually do a lot to move those projects forward. A lot of their time is just spent overseeing.

So the GTD “next action” prompt, which breaks projects into the tiniest possible steps, works really well for executives, whose job is to basically ask “Who’s supposed to be moving on this?” But in general it works very badly for people who actually work on projects because it incentivizes progress (and not very meaningful progress at that) instead of completion — which is what really counts in our world.

But, although we have to do projects ourselves instead of handing them off to our peons, we are STILL business executives, and that means that we need to keep a high-level view of everything that’s going on in the business. And that’s why I advocate the weekly review process. It doesn’t have to be exactly like David Allen’s. But you do need to do a once-over of the projects and processes you have on the go– otherwise you can’t plan effectively. You see how planning and productivity dovetail again and again?

Standard advice isn’t wrong– just sometimes ill-suited.

You will see standard advice over and over. In fact, most of my client can quote the standard advice to me.

But here’s what I tell them: Standard advice is standard for a reason. While I know that we are all special snowflakes, we should also take the time to think about why standard advice got to be that way.

People are advised to go to college and get a degree in a desirable field because, until recently, it was the road to the idyllic lifestyle of a middle-class, white-collar professional. What do you mean, you don’t want to be a white-collar professional? Of course you do, don’t be silly.

People are advised to follow their passion because mostly people identify with their work and life sucks when you don’t enjoy your work. But if you don’t identify with your work, or your passion is to update fandom wikis, then maybe this advice doesn’t work so well.

When people say “Eat the biggest frog first” they’re trying to get around the tendency to procrastinate on the crappy stuff. But equally valid is the tendency to dread starting the work with that frog staring at you– maybe you want to sneak up on it first (which is what I do.) Trust me, I have TRIED eating frogs for breakfast. All that happens is I don’t work until 3pm.

In The Worksheet:

EVERYONE has a different, cobbled-together productivity system, often held together by bubblegum and baling wire. But what I often find is that they are Frankenstein’s Monsters of unadapted bits and pieces of pre-existing systems. I get such a kick out of the Bullet Journal community, because it was like, until Ryder Carroll came along to tell people that it was okay to mess with their daily planner pages, few people felt free to do so. (Although, to be fair, in the early ‘Aughts, the same thing happened with Merlin Mann’s Hipster PDA.)

So the worksheet is going to walk you through some of your most mission-critical systems and get you to spend some time thinking about what you could change about them to make them useful. I don’t know what your system looks like, but I’m pretty sure there’s things in it that you haven’t taken the time to customize for your needs.


Get the Worksheet!