It's important to distinguish the difference between your method of getting things done and the technology that you use to support your work. These separate elements must work together in order to be productive.
This weekend, David Allen blogged about things that get in the way of productivity. Last night, he asked his seatmate on the plane what got in the way of his productivity:
... I asked him what he thought was the main thing that got in the way of his productivity. He didn't have to think very long before he said, "organizational processes." Too many forms, too many boxes on the forms, too many rules and regulations for filling out the forms.This comment reminded me of a conversation David and I had over 10 years ago. At the time, I was using a custom Notes-based action management system, patterned after a system I had designed for the Navy. As I had learned about new methodologies of project/action management, I simply "built" what I had learned into my system. This was great, but it added a measure of complexity to my system. I remember I once showed some new features to David. He smiled; I think he even said something like "check back with me in two months from now and let me know if you are still using it."
Two months later, I wasn't using my own system … at least not fully.
You see, my system had gotten in the way of my process. Rather than allowing my system to be just a support tool, It had morphed into a do-all system with lots of features, including the proverbial "kitchen sink." While it allowed me to do many things well, it did not always make it easier to do them.
Many years ago, I scrapped all of my systems and started over. I decided to separate the methodology from the technology. That was a good move. The result was my eProductivity Template for Lotus Notes. Now, my system complements the way that I work. I even incorporated a key concept of the GTD methodology: organizing actions by context. This small change had a tremendous impact for me. I've been using this template ever since, and I’ve provided the template to several clients who are using it to manage their actions and projects with excellent results.
Make no mistake. The system does not do the work – it’s only a tool. I still have to "work" my system ... and some days I do this better than others.
As I consult with clients about how they use technology, I make sure that they clearly understand the difference between the methodology and technology they use to do their work. If I don't believe they have a sound methodology for managing their actions and projects, I give them a copy of David's first book, Getting Things Done. (I always keep a few of these books and tapes on hand for this purpose.) While I can deploy the latest and greatest in technology, I know that without a method for its effective use, its potential benefit will be limited.
When I work with my clients, I usually create an ICA flow diagram of their work. The ICA approach considers three aspects of the workplace: Information, Communications, and Actions, and the diagram allows us to see what they do and how they do it. Once we are clear on the workflow, I show my clients various technologies that they can use to support them in their work.
More than once a client has remarked, “if only I had the system you use [i.e. Lotus Notes, eProductivity Template, a Palm, whatever.] then I would be more productive.” Not true. As I explained earlier, without a sound methodology, the benefits of technology are limited. Begin with the methodology first. If a client does not have a clear grasp of this important concept and a well-defined way of thinking about their work, I refer them back to Getting Things Done.
Methodology + Technology = Productivity
I've continued to refine my systems over the years; I suppose I always will. Now, however, I’m careful when adding new “features.” I don't want technology to interfere with my work. If, after a few weeks, I find that I’m not using a new feature, I remove it.
Remind yourself that while your systems should support you in your work, they should not restrict or otherwise limit it.
Do you make a clear distinction between the methodology and the technology that you use? If so, I'd like to hear about it.