How Much Should You Spend on Productivity Tools?

Don't be penny-wise and dollar foolish when it comes to purchasing productivity tools that could save you a bundle in the long run.

Stever Robbins
2-minute read

A listener recently asked:

"If I want to be super productive, and my job involves processing a lot of email, what is the best free email client to use?"

My reaction? ARGH! He's asking the wrong question. As many of us do (including me at times), he's thinking of his issue the wrong way.

My friend's job depends on processing email. That means the more productive he can be in reading, replying, filing, or searching for email, the more productive he can be at work.

This is a very different question than, "What is the best email client to use?" If your job depends critically on handling email quickly, "free" shouldn't be anywhere on your list of concerns. If the right software will save you 5 minutes an hour, that's 40 minutes a day, which is about three and a half work weeks a year, as you know from my episode on the 30/3 rule of time saving.

It's not just time that a tool may save, but money as well. I was considering buying an Excel add-on to help me evaluate a possible business deal. The add-on is $150, which seems pretty steep for a software that I may only use once.

But consider this: Let's say the deal I'm looking at is a $15,000 investment. $150 is 1% of that price. Rather than thinking "$150 is really expensive for a piece of software," a better way of thinking is, "I'm paying $150 to reduce the uncertainty on a $15,000 investment. Is that worth it?" The answer depends on how much the software will help me in terms of understanding my investment. Since I'd probably pay a professional analyst $150 to look over a $15,000 deal for me, it seems like a reasonable price for software, even if I'll only use it once.

So don't go looking for free software for mission-critical functions. Look for the best software for mission-critical functions, and spend what it takes, if it gives you a good return in terms of dollars or time.

Inbox image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.