But here’s something you’ll discover: your system is only as good as your willingness to use and maintain it. Over the years, I’ve created many of systems that died of natural causes — like laziness, forgetfulness, & resistance to change.
But I have discovered a trick that helps me get over that barrier more often: Using tools.
Benefits of using tools to maintain your systems:
1. The right tool can make it flow.
I tried to maintain a to-do list for years. I tried paper. But I would lose the paper, or not have a pen. I tried a Daytimer. I wouldn’t have it with me at the right moment. I tried to use a Palm (remember those?!) back in the day. It became too time-consuming and awkward. When I got a smartphone, this all began to change. It was the tool I’d been looking for, and a to-do list became not just a tool for when I was overwhelmed and HAD to make a list… It became integrated into my life.
2. The right tool can make it emotionally easier to get started.
It’s that new-car feeling. When you get one, you want to take it for a drive. It’s just a fact of life. I think you should use it to your advantage. My filing system was horrible until I got a labeler. Now it’s not bad, and I’m more likely to use it. If that emotional bump from a new “toy” – an app, a device, etc. — can help you get over the hump of starting a new system, I’m all for it.
3. The right place for your tool can make it more likely that you’ll use it.
This one was surprising to me. If your tool is away from you, or in an awkward place, you’ll be less likely to use it because of your own internal resistance — even on a subconscious level.
Conversely, If you keep it in the right place, you’ll be more likely to use. My filing system used to be across the office from my desk. I read Julie Morgenstern’s book “Organizing from the Inside Out” and took her advice to move it to where you use it. (See Julie’s chapter on the “kindergarten method” of organizing.) Now, I can just turn my office chair and file something.
For my phone, I would never go without my hip holster. I have broken several and immediately replaced them. Why? It keeps it where it’s always at hand.
Tools raise the chances that you will use your system by removing the subconscious barriers between you and using it.
How to Find a good tool for your system:
1. Ask “What is my current tool?”
Maybe you don’t have a tool. Or maybe you have one, but it isn’t working.
Maybe you need a notebook, or an app or a piece of equipment.
Two weeks ago, I realized I have no real way of tracking my activity and fitness. There’s no tool for me, it’s just anecdotal “I really should be more active.” That’s not very measurable or fixable — or motivating. So, I started a search, read reviews, and bought a tracker from Pivotal Living last night. (Maybe I’ll review that in the future and let you know how that goes.)
2. Ask “Is my current tool motivating or demotivating me?”
I didn’t realize this was important. Then I discovered that I wasn’t using some systems I had created, because I didn’t want to use the tool I was using. It was cumbersome, awkward, and a pain to use. It created a barrier between me and the system I really wanted.
It’s already hard enough to make lasting changes, new habits, working systems. It takes work and good thinking, and self-discipline. Tools should remove barriers, not add them.
3. Ask, “What do I need my tool to do?”
Do you need it always available? Do you need it in a particular place? Do you need it to be solid and unchanging — or flexible and adaptable from week to week? Do you need it to be a checklist? Do you need it to have automatic reminders?
4. Ask “Are there tools out there which will do this? How are other people managing this?”
Google is my go-to here. How are other people managing their life & work?
Michael Hyatt’s blog is a great resource. I can’t afford many of his tools, but he made me think in a tool-oriented way, and pointed the way to many great tools
5. Ask, “Does this tool fit the way I think and work?”
Some tools are right for you, and some will honestly not work. Not because something’s wrong with you, or the tool — just because the tool doesn’t fit you.
6. Ask, “What is it worth to me to make this system work?”
Sometimes, you have to spend money on a tool. The productivity I gain from my Todoist app subscription is worth the cost — because I don’t do well with the frustration of paper and pen. It’s worth that to me. Some other tools are not worth it because the price is too high. That’s a decision you have to make.
A FINAL WORD: Sure, you can overdo this. You can spend hours reading on “life hacks” and not actually accomplish anything. I don’t want you to do that. But if you will take initiative to invest in your life, home, family, work and priorities with the right tools, I think you’ll find that they raise the likelihood of your success in those areas that matter most.
In my next post, I will talk about the systems that are working for me right now, and what tools I’m using to facilitate them.
Exit question: What tools are you using? Which ones have helped or hindered you the most? Share in the comments, or on my Facebook.