It’s easy to buy the latest and greatest in technology, but that does not guarantee a boost in productivity. Without a method for its effective use, the potential benefit of a new technology will be limited. Technology might even get in the way.

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.

Discussion/Comments (5):

Methodology + Technology = Productivity


I have oh so been there, using things I developed that fell short of the mark, and also been in organizations that looked at the tools before they could describe what success looked like. Sometimes our success is limited by the availability of certain tools, but far too often I believe we design a took, then try to make it fit a solution, rather than the other way around.

Posted at 05/03/2005 17:57:09 by Nikolas Chapapas

Methodology + Technology = Productivity

Very thought provoking as I've been taking time to re-think my own strategies inbetween semesters of teaching. I've gone through two PDAs, a voice recorder, a day planner, and a Franklin Covey student seminar, and I still don't "feel" productive. Your post made it clear I've been looking for better tech., rather than considering my fundamental methodologies. Perhaps I'll check out David's book.

Posted at 05/03/2005 17:59:38 by Michael Willits

Poll in GTD Forum

I've posted a poll in the GTD Forum about technology and methdology for getting things done.

Stop by the GTD forum and click on the selection that best describes you.

{ Link }

Posted at 05/03/2005 23:47:29 by Eric Mack

Methodology + Technology = Productivity

I can relate to that. I just blogged on Monday about the KISS rule and habits being the effective basis for productivity. I see a lot of people hoping for a technological "quick fix" that will magically improve their lives. It's really the habits and methodology that makes for an effective "system"; the tools just become a part of that system. As I stated in my blog, I'm currently simplifying my own system, and getting back to the core tenets of the GTD system.

Direct link for the blog I referred to:

{ Link }

Have a great week, folks!


Posted at 05/04/2005 6:39:05 by Michael Brown

Methodology + Technology = Productivity

Spot on I have now abandoned (nearly) stuff that doesn't help me deliver what I want to do -often the simplest things work best - I have found great productivity uses for post it notes, highlighter labels, paper notebooks (OK I'm a sucker for moleskin journals) - blended with the inevitable technology

Posted at 05/08/2005 2:42:21 by Niall

Discussion for this entry is now closed.