Why Choosing a Bad Tool Can Help Your Productivity

Are you on the quest for the best single device for all your pursuits? What can answer email, handle books, play a few games, and take decent photos?

There are lots of devices that can fit all those categories but it's highly likely that you shouldn't choose any of them. They may look good on paper since they fill many holes in your workflow, but in most cases they yield much less benefit than you expect.

In fact the assumption that just because they provide some benefit they are a good choice is likely harming your productivity.

More than some benefit

In Deep Work, Cal Newport talks about the any benefit thinking used so often in business. This thinking goes that if a new tool has any benefit at all then it's a good choice. The drawbacks of the tool are never brought in to the equation.

This is most obvious in things like social networks. Yes, Facebook and Twitter provide some benefit, but how much does the constant checking cost most of us during the day? How much productivity is lost as we jump from distraction to distraction? How have our brains been trained by smart devices? Do we pull them out anytime we are slightly bored?

Deep Work shows us that the cost of many of these tools is way higher than we anticipate and quite often outweigh any benefit they bring to our lives.

What's your goal

The first thing to decide with any device is what your real goals are. While an iPad can email and many other things is using the device for these things a good use of your time? Is this the best device to accomplish your goals?

While and iPad can handle reading, it's also a portal into so many distractions that despite your best efforts to stay on task and read the book you often end up checking social media or your web analytics or doing anything but read the book you wanted to read.

The Kindle Paperwhite is objectively a poor device. It can't email. You can't check RSS feeds or read Instapaper or read any social sites. It's slow sometimes even at its core functionality of reading a book. At times page turns won't register and you'll need to press a second or third time and still wait for a few seconds for the page to turn.

Even at its secondary function of allowing purchases of books on Amazon it's not a great device. Each page takes a while to load and it may or may not recognize when you try to purchase a book or add it to your wishlist until you've pressed buttons 3 times.

But this lack of function is what makes the device so good at getting down to the task of reading your book. It offers no options to distract you so all you can do effectively is read and take some notes on the books you're reading. It causes you to focus on the goal you want to achieve and thus you read more books.

Paper or Digital

This tool choice extends to paper versus digital note taking in your learning. What is the goal of learning? Is it to take copious notes or to retain the information so you can apply it to your life or business? It should be the second option.

So why do you take notes with a computer?
Writing things down by hand has been shown to help with that retention. Instead of just writing down what's said verbatim, you are forced to think about what's being said and filter it for the most useful information.

Objectively taking fewer notes means you have less total knowledge written down. But in reality, you learn more because of that filtering. You synthesize the information presented into something that's more useful and with your 'less effective' tool you are actually more effective at accomplishing your goal of taking that knowledge and retaining it so that you can use it later.

When looking at the myriad options out there that let you accomplish tasks, don't go with the ones that can fill the largest amount of holes in your workflow. Choose what the most important goal is of the new tool and make sure you fill that hole. Doing this will let you be more productive as you cut out the distractions available to you.

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