A tool without a plan is worse than no tool at all

The plethora of productivity tools in the marketplace, from small single-user solutions up to enterprise wide platforms, creates an environment of confusion when it comes to implementation. Do these sound familiar:

  • What does this tool do?
  • How can I use it?
  • Does it have the features I need?
  • What features DO I need?
  • Who is going to use it?
  • How am I going to learn to use it?
  • Do I have time to learn?

Before you get started with putting a productivity tool to use, you need a plan. There’s three things that need to be part of any plan, regardless of the tools involved: what are your objectives, what are your measures, and how do you change direction?

What are your objectives?

Putting a new tool into use isn’t a productivity objective. It’s a justification for an expenditure. “We paid for it, now we’re going to use it.” Terrible reasoning no matter how high on the corporate ladder you are. Think about it this way: we paid for the bicycle so this is what we’re going to use to cross the English Channel. Doesn’t make a bit of sense does it. If you know from the beginning you’re going to want to cross the English Channel, then deciding on a tool that has the possibility of accomplishing that feat is much more shrewd than just using what’s on hand.

Think about where you want to get to and then go back and look at your tools to see if they can get you there. Yes, I know in many cases you won’t know until you try (hence the future discussion on iterative solutions) but you need to start with an understanding of your objectives. This dovetails with the second part: what are your measures? If you don’t know your objectives you won’t have a clue as what to measure and how to apply those measures.

What are your measures?

Metrics. The favorite plaything of almost every middle manager. “What are the metrics for such and such?” or even worse, “what metrics can you provide me?” Basing decisions on available metrics without determining if they truly influence the chances of success on reaching your objectives means you’re just undermining yourself. For example, let’s take articles on an intranet and the measures of views vs. unique viewers.

In today’s social media powered society views are king. “My Instagram post got 10,000 views!” is grounds for celebration in many circles. But does it really impact the objectives you’ve set. In an intranet, it’s not how many times something is seen but rather how many people see that thing.

Let’s say you wrote a post about an event that just happened within your company. In looking at the metrics, you see your company (of 1,000 people) viewed the post over 700 times. Normally you’d think that wouldn’t be bad until you did a little math. That 700 view count means that at the worst case 300 people never even saw the post. A more realistic estimate is that 50-60% of the people saw the post and unless your metrics tools are smart enough to filter out when someone views a post more than once, even fewer people read what you wrote. Why does this matter when it comes your productivity plan?

If you’re measuring success based on the number of things done, does it include that they’re right things to be done? If you’re measuring success based on the items accomplished, are you getting enough done to keep things flowing? Do your metrics give you enough time and information to react when you’re missing the mark and make adjustments? Knowing what you’re measuring, why you’re measuring it, and what you’re going to do with that information is where the value comes from metrics.

How do you change direction?

Change is the only constant in life.


No matter how carefully you plan, you will at some point need to make adjustments. Whether it’s for good reasons (things are going more smoothly than anticipated) or for bad (things have gone off the rails again) the flexibility to change is what makes a successful plan. When evaluating a tool or a system, does it give you the ability to change when needed or are you locked into a rigid structure with no chance to adapt?

In discussing this with a colleague she raised the example, “A hammer is a hammer. You can’t change it. You can only change how you use it.” A valid point indeed and all the more reason to make sure you should be using a hammer in the first place. Taking time as part of your plan to determine what you need your tools to do, how you know if they’re doing those things well, and can those tools be used in other ways when your needs change is time well spent.

Planning ahead

I love it when a plan comes together.

John “Hannibal” Smith, the A-Team

Here’s five tips for putting a plan in place to be more productive:

  1. If you have a favorite tool, take time to know what it can and what it can’t do in advance.
  2. Write down your “success measures.” How will you know when you’re being successful and when you aren’t?
  3. If you understand your need, you may not need a special feature to meet it. If you’re keeping track of lists you may not need a fancy data part if a simple table will do.
  4. Don’t waste time jumping from tool to tool.
  5. If you want to try a new tool, try it with something that worked in the old tool rather than something that didn’t. This is the only way to know what will work without blaming the tool for something you can’t do anyway.