Ditching the Crutch: Improve Productivity by Avoiding the Lure of the New


crutchAs web workers we often like to think of ourselves as being on the cutting edge of technology. Our clients often depend on us to be just that.

But it’s easy to get so caught up in keeping current that we forget to keep the focus on productivity, where it should rightly remain. We can have all the tools and gadgets under the sun, but that won’t necessarily make us effective resources for our clients.

The problem really came home to me recently when I realized I was eagerly awaiting my new Eee PC so that I could get out and explore some co-working with friends. It struck me as painfully similar to the time when I was eagerly awaiting my new Wacom Cintiq 12WX so that I could begin doing freelance illustration in earnest. And that was similar to the time that I was eagerly awaiting the release of Adobe CS4, so that I could finally purchase the Classroom in a Book series and begin supplementing my self-taught proficiency.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was clearly waiting and anticipating much more than I was doing and producing. A quest for the best tools had become an excuse to indulge that most dangerous of professional vices: procrastination. Drastic measures were in order. Hence the following rules:

Rule 1: If you have what you need to do something, regardless of whether or not you might be able to do it better with something new or upcoming, do it.

I call this the Robinson Crusoe rule. The key is to stop thinking of your goals as inextricably tied to software and hardware beyond your reach. Freelancers, and freelance web workers, are valued most for their innovative solutions, not for their ability to rack up huge amounts of additional IT spend. Do what you can with what’s on the island; don’t sit back and wait for rescue.

Rule 2: Every once in a while, take a “Paper Day”

A Paper Day is sort of like a personal day, except you’re still working, you’re just working differently. When I take one of these days, I am not allowed to touch a computer for professional purposes unless absolutely necessary. I often take a Paper Day on the weekend, to avoid spot requests from clients. Writing longhand flexes different muscles, and helps me escape the boxed-in thinking repetitious digital work lends itself to. Plus, there are activities like brainstorming that I still find much more productive and enjoyable on paper.

Rule 3: Set up an IT refresh schedule, like those employed by private companies and corporations.

To prevent a passion for staying ahead of the curve from becoming a daily distraction, I’ve found it helpful to establish a schedule for reviewing, purchasing, and implementing new hardware and software into my workflow. I borrowed the tactic from the small consulting firm I used to work for full-time. They would review and make changes to their IT spend twice yearly, at regularly scheduled intervals. For my own purposes, a quarterly review seems to work best. And, of course, you always have to allow for unexpected purchases (to replace broken hardware, perhaps) and upgrades, as long as they’re actually necessary.

The temptation of shiny new things is a hard one to resist, especially for those of us so steeped in the tech world. Nor should we resist it all of the time, since really, it often represents our bread and butter. Yet we do need to establish boundaries, in order to make sure that the tech we use serves to bolster, not interfere with, our productivity.

How do you ensure the lure of new tech doesn’t impact on your productivity?


Dmitri Eroshenko, Relenta

A Paper Day is a great idea. A Paper Hour works wonders too! I love to grab a book and hide with pen and paper in the cafe for an hour or two. The productivity gains from that are incredible.

Jeff Newman

I really like what you say about having an IT refresh day. I definitely agree that you can spend tons of time evaluating new products that you can use for your business. This can definitely be a distraction from your core business activities. I also employ this strategy from Webomatica to wait a while before jumping in.


Good post – one strategy I employ is: let others take the first step. Lots of “early adopters” will jump at the chance to test out a new tool immediately, and I really haven’t felt any loss by holding back and waiting a few months to let them kick the tires and waste their time with bugs and frustration. The cream floats to the top and you reap the benefits of other people’s experiences.

The most obvious example: I waited until the 3G model to get the iPhone.

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