Do you sometimes get frustrated by your devices because they aren’t working the way you want? Have you ever had productivity gaps due to your tools not working well, or even… not working at all?
If so, it may be time to upgrade your tools!
Top Skills + Top Tools = Top Output
Similarly, it’s important to have the best (and by “best”, I mean “right”) tools that help us to achieve our best results.
When we have broken or inadequate tools, we need to spend an extraordinary amount of time to offset our tools’ limitations and to achieve a certain output, even if we have the best skills for the job. Michelangelo, one of the most talented artists the world has ever seen, took four years (1508 – 1512) to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling (a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art), which comprised of some three hundred figures. Had he had modern-day tools to assist him, I can imagine that he would have taken much lesser time with his skills and talents.
On the other hand, when we equip ourselves with the best tools, we dramatically cut down the time taken to achieve a certain outcome, thereby putting this time to better use — be it to accomplish more results, to work on other goals, to spend time with loved ones, or for personal me-time.
In simple equation terms,
( Skills + Tools ) x Time spent = Output
( Bad Skills + Bad Tools ) x Time spent = Lousy Output
( Top Skills + Top Tools ) x Time spent = Top Output
Your Tools Depend on the Work You Do
While the tools of today are typically technological devices, “tools” really refers to any device/object that we use in our work/life. It can be a software, a tech device, or a non-tech item. For many of us, our tools are probably the laptop, mobile phone, and perhaps tablet and e-reader, with other tools being specific to our job nature. Take for example
- Video producer: Video camera, lighting equipment, audio equipment, laptop, video editing software, audio editing software
- Baker: Oven, measuring tools, parchment paper, whisk, mixers, molds, rolling pins, and other baking tools
- Illustrator: Drawing software, illustration tablet, laptop, drawing supplies
- Carpenter: Hammer, tape measure, cutting tools, screwdriver, screws and nails, marking tools
- Business owner: Laptop, mobile phone, accounting software, CRM software, project management tools, document editing tools, email
For each of these jobs, not having the right tool will negatively affect the person’s productivity. For example, a video editor will find difficulty executing advanced ideas if he/she is using a basic editor and his/her computer has insufficient RAM for video editing work. A baker can’t bake a lot of cakes quickly if he/she only has one small oven; he/she also can’t bake large cakes due to oven-size limitations! An illustrator will find it hard to draw if he/she has a tiny tablet with poor sensitivity. A carpenter certainly can’t do woodwork easily if he/she has a small and blunt saw! A business owner will be very unproductive if his/her laptop, mobile phone, and software consistently act up and crash on him, preventing him/her from getting any work done.
You know it’s time to upgrade a tool when…
- … You spend more time fixing issues related to it than working. From device breakdowns to device malfunctions, do you often deal with problems related to your tools? If you are constantly fixing issues related to your tools than actually doing work, then that’s a big sign to upgrade.
- … You’re more often frustrated with your tool than not. Your tools are meant to improve your work and life, not add anguish. I’ve lost count of the number of times when I pulled my hair out at my old Toshiba laptop before I finally switched two months ago; it is probably the worst laptop investment I’ve ever made. For example, I could be all excited to write an article or edit a video, only to spend two good hours troubleshooting some unexpected computer problem, which would then make me incredibly drained and not in the right mental state to do high-level work. More in my case study example later.
- … Your tool doesn’t help you to be effective/efficient. Your tools are meant to help you to be productive, not take time away. Consider the amount of time you’re spending on your tools each day: how many of these hours are spent doing actual work, and how many hours are spent combating issues caused by your tools? For the latter, that’s time you’re spending to compensate for their shortcomings, which means that your tools aren’t helping you as much as you think they are. Ideally you should be spending 100% of your time working; if you’re spending more than 10% of your time combating the tools themselves, then that’s another big sign.
- … Your tool negatively affects the quality of your work. Your tools should help you to deliver top-quality work, not diminish the quality. For example, my old set of two LED lights which I bought three years ago. These lights cost me $200 USD and I bought them to provide extra lighting when recording videos. Rather than help me, I realized that these lights create flickering bars in my footage at certain brightness levels, and I had to discard videos before because of that! Instead of improving my video quality, my tools had negatively affected it, causing rework in the end. This is obviously not good! I have since purchased another LED light, which works the way it should and will be handy in my future recordings.
- … The costs of sticking to the current tool outweigh the costs of buying a new one. Every tool upgrade requires money; however, not switching also has its costs. These costs are typically invisible and include (1) Time and energy wasted dealing with your tool’s shortcomings / incompatibilities with your needs, (2) Lower quality of work produced, and (3) Negative impact on your well-being. Ask yourself: How much is my time and energy worth? How important is this tool to me? And how much is my well-being worth?The answers can be subjective, but if you ask me, the answers to questions #1 and #3 should always be “priceless” (because our time, energy, and well-being are invaluable!). For question #2, it depends on how how frequently you use this tool and how important it is for your goal. This leads us to…
- … This is a tool that you use often. If this is a tool you use often, perhaps weekly or even daily, it’ll be worthwhile investing in a high-quality one. If you use it once every six months, then it probably doesn’t matter that much. For example, I’m currently using a very high-quality webcam and headset as these are tools that I use often in my work. My webcam is used for my coaching several times a week; my headset is used during my coaching and weekly courses, as well as general daily usage. With such frequent usage, the cost per use instantly makes it worthwhile.
- … This particular tool plays (will play) an important role in your work/life. If it’s not an important tool in your work/life, then it won’t add much extra value to your life even if you get a new one. However, if it plays an important function, then you should most certainly consider upgrading it.I’m currently procrastinating on upgrading my phone even though it has become incredibly slow. That’s because I don’t use it much; I work from home and my work communication is usually done over email. This is different for my headset though: after a friend introduced me to professional headsets with top-quality audio input, I immediately bought one online! That’s because I do course video edits regularly and audio quality is an important component of the videos, and having such a better device can significantly cut down my time spent on my edits–as many as four hours per edit–which is a lot of time saved in the long run!
Example: How One Upgrade is Saving Me >10 Hours/Week, EVERY Week
As someone who is huge on productivity, I’m recently learning the importance of having the right tools… the hard way.
Struggling with a Bad Laptop
What do I mean? My Toshiba Stallite L745, a laptop which I bought in 2011, is a tool that I had been struggling with for the past year. While it has decent specs (Intel Core i5, 8 Gb RAM, and dedicated graphics card), its hardware degenerated very rapidly in my second and third year of use, causing it to perform horribly.
Firstly, it kept crashing on me, sometimes more than five times a day, causing me to lose unsaved work. This would cause me a lot of distress, especially when I was working to meet a presentation deadline, and it would create a lot of rework.
Secondly, its processor would constantly overheat and turn the keyboard scorching hot, so typing would turn into a flaming experience. Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating, leading me to tear my hair out and shout to Ken, My laptop is on fire–AGAIN!!!
Last but not least, it had impossible loading times, even when doing the simplest of tasks. Every click would take as long as half a minute to respond–I kid you not–while every webpage would take as long as half a minute to connect, which meant simple tasks that should take no more than a few minutes could take 15 minutes or more! Sometimes I would feel like I had entered the twilight zone while waiting for my laptop to load… and load… and load.
All these were really because my laptop’s hardware issues. Firstly, I believe there’s some problem with its hardware — unlike what the salesperson told me about Toshiba laptops being more durable than others, I didn’t find it to be so with this one. I’ve owned five laptops before — a Compaq, two HP, one Dell, and a Toshiba — and I haven’t had a laptop degenerate as badly as this one. Its wireless adapter broke down in my second year of use, while its keyboard stopped functioning in my third year. Secondly, I constantly use my laptop for very high-resource work, from heavy video editing, to graphic editing, to editing huge powerpoint files, to sometimes all these at one go. Even with its Intel Core i5 and 8 Gb RAM, these simply weren’t enough for my usage needs.
The problem though, was the cost of getting a new laptop. As we all know, a good laptop costs at least a grand, and that’s not chump change by any means. My dad has always taught me the importance of being thrifty, so it has made me very hesitant when buying things in general, especially tech devices since they tend to be more expensive. Besides, since I had only owned my Toshiba for 1.5 years when it showed its first signs of trouble, I felt the need to push it to the three-year mark before switching, since that was how long my previous laptops lasted me.
As a result, for the past year, I have spent an extraordinary amount of time dealing with computer hiccups, computer crashes, and impossibly slow performance speeds.
What finally made me bite the bullet and buy a new laptop was when my Toshiba showed signs of its end-of-life–more sudden shutdowns, device malfunctions, and software crashes. At this point, I had only owned it for 2.5 years but I knew that I needed to get a new laptop ASAP as this one might go kaput any moment. And if it did… it could get ugly very quickly, since I conduct courses and coaching sessions weekly and I didn’t want to risk jeopardizing these sessions; also, I didn’t want to waste time recovering data if it could be avoided.
Finally Switching… and Seeing the Difference
So I quickly got my new laptop (a HP ENVY 15-q008TX) a few months ago, and realized how silly I had been.
Because my new laptop is lightning fast. So fast and powerful, that
- I can now render videos five times faster, which is huge given that I edit videos almost every week.
- Every click and command takes no more than a split-second to execute, a huge change from my depressingly slow Toshiba.
- I can now create powerpoint presentations in half the time it used to take me.
- I no longer have to deal with frequent software crashes and computer shutdowns.
- I no longer have wireless connectivity issues, as my previous laptop had a faulty wireless adapter that caused frequent disconnects.
- I can easily run multiple high-resource programs (thanks to its Intel Core i7, 16 GB Ram, and 2GB DDR3 dedicated graphics card) and multi-task without slowness.
- I no longer have to type on a scorching hot keyboard (very important!).
All in all, saving me a good 10 hours per week, and as many as 20 hours if I’m working on powerpoints and video edits that week. No kidding. At this moment I’ve been using this laptop for two months, and except for its pre-installed Windows 8 which I didn’t like at first (but am growing to like), I’m LOVING every bit of it.
As much as this purchase set me back by $1.3k USD monetarily (with $300 savings thanks to Ken‘s HP employee discount), the benefits I’ve gained has far outweighed this cost.
Firstly, simply saving 10 hours a week has helped me to gain $3,000 USD of value (based on my one-to-one coaching rate, and that’s more if you consider my course training rates). These 10 hours are invaluable time that I can then use to do other things–improve my site, create new content, update current content, create/conduct new courses, connect with loved ones, build my business, and pursue other goals. Again, that’s 10 hours saved in one week only. Imagine its value over weeks and months — this laptop has paid for itself many times over, with dividends to boot!
Don’t even get me started on my improved well-being too. For the first time in months, I’m not screaming in horror due to some untimely software/computer crash while working on an urgent document. For the first time in months, I’m not wasting hours troubleshooting computer issues and compensating for my laptop’s slowness. For the first time in months, I can concentrate on doing actual work without being held back or distracted by my computer’s issues.
I’ve gained a huge amount of time savings and improved well-being with this simple device upgrade. And to me, these things are more than money can buy. To me, these things are priceless.
In the words of the Mastercard ads…
Laptop… $1,519.20 USD
Extra charger… $55.64 USD
Husband’s employee savings… ($258.67 USD)
Final amount paid… $1,316.17 USD
Time saved, increased productivity, and improved well-being… Priceless.
Are You Limited By Your Tools?
I usually cringe at MLM-esque/preview-seminar sales pitches about how you need to think about the purchase (of their overly fluffed up products/seminars) as an investment, and subsequently quoting some sky-high, severely marked-up fee that costs a kidney. But where upgrading (and buying products/services that better your life, including choice information products) is concerned, I truly think that the investment analogy is true. Even if some tools may seem costly, think about them in terms of the long-term benefits you’ll get, such as time savings, improved emotional well-being, improved quality of work, and more. Suddenly, it’s apparent that this isn’t really an expenditure as much as it’s an investment for a better us, for better quality-work, and for a better life.
Of course, that’s assuming that one spends prudently, does his/her research, properly weighs out costs vs. benefits, and determines that something is a match for his/her needs before making the purchase. This brings me to five situations where upgrading isn’t the way to go:
- You shouldn’t upgrade just because the developer has released version #837486 of their product. We can do with a little less materialism and a little more conscious purchasing in our highly materialistic world today. Just because a company releases something new doesn’t mean you need to buy it. Buy based on your needs, not based on what’s the shiniest or sleekest. Read: Materialism Breeds Unhappiness
- You shouldn’t upgrade without doing due research on what you’re buying. Just because something is new doesn’t mean that it’ll be better. Do your research. Google, Amazon reviews, CNET, and online review sites should be your go-to buddies.
- You shouldn’t upgrade without first identifying what your needs are and confirming that the tool will meet your needs. Again, it’s about conscious purchasing. Buy something random hoping that it’ll fix your problem isn’t going to help if the tool turns out to be a bad match–you’ll end up wasting money and having the same problem. Identify your needs and ensure that this tool will meet your needs first. There are always customer helplines and sales staff you can turn to.
- You shouldn’t upgrade just to look hip and cool. I.e., purchasing for vanity reasons. That’s cool if imagery is important to you, but there are better ways to spend money than that IMO. Ideally you should buy something because it matches your functionality needs, and not just because of branding and self-imagery reasons. Again, the article Materialism Breeds Unhappiness talks about this.
- You shouldn’t upgrade when it’s not in your financial means AND the cost doesn’t match up to the benefits. This purchase shouldn’t add to your problems; you shouldn’t buy something if you can’t afford it and you’re going to pay more than what you get. This should be a worthwhile investment that’ll pay itself back over time, as opposed to a money drainer that you need to struggle to pay for!
Speaking of which, one of my clients recently got an iPhone 6, and it has improved his workflow significantly. It’s not anything particular to iPhone 6 (though I’m sure it’s an amazing phone) as much as his old phone (an iPhone 3) was getting clunky and inefficient, and it was lacking functions for his work needs too. This is a deliberate investment for we had previously identified his old phone to be one of his productivity blocks. He’s a business owner with a web development business, and he’s often running around, meeting potential clients, following up on leads, and emailing on the go, so his phone is a critical tool in his productivity. By getting a better phone, it has now created positive ripple effects in his productivity, his well-being, his work performance, and his life.
How about you? Are you currently held back by certain tools you’re using? Is an upgrade in order?
Here are four questions to ponder over:
- What are 10 tools you use most frequently in your work/life?
- Which of these tools (in Q1) have the most critical impact on your work/life?
- Which of these tools (in Q2) have been giving you troubles or are limiting you in your performance?
- Is it time to upgrade the tools (in Q3)? If yes, what tools should you upgrade them to, such that you can achieve maximum output in your work/life?
While you equip yourself with the best tools, be sure to equip yourself with the best skills too! Read my skills development series.