It's Not About the Tool, It's About the Workflow

Sometimes that great new tool is best left unadopted.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #493

an image of tools symbolizing how workflow is better than the tool

Today’s topic is why you shouldn’t jump on the latest and greatest productivity tool, even if it’s better than what you’re using now.

Melvin was excited! As the Vice President of Inventory Management and Operational Systems Optimization of the Green Growing Things plant stores (he loves that title, even though there are only five employees total), he just purchased a magical headset that will let him use augmented reality to see inventory counts that look like they float above boxes of plant food. Melvin is in seventh heaven. No, I mean literally. The AR headset also lets him superimpose angels and clouds on everything he looks at. He may never return to the real world again.

Tools have an important place in our endless quest to work less and do more. Yet, you’ll notice that I rarely mention tools in the podcast. Because adopting a new tool might lead to increased productivity, followed by the complete collapse of your life, business, hopes, and dreams for the future. Instead of living a life of luxury with 24-carat gold toilets, you’ll end up in a gutter swigging down rat grot—not even rotgut, just rat grot.

That’s because what matters isn’t the tools you use; it’s how your overall workflow produces results. 

Have you ever listened closely to how people discuss their choice of smartphone? “Mine has more pixels than yours. Mine can last longer. Mine is bigger.” Yeah? Well, size doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do with it.

Workflow Matters

I use an iPhone. Do I believe the iPhone is the be-all-and-end-all? Nope. In fact, it has a lot of problems, and for the last few years, Apple has moved from being a visionary company to a company that’s coasting on brand, but isn’t actually doing anything particularly visionary or useful, unless you count the ability to have a poop emoji mimic your facial expressions. Oh, joy.

But almost all my business apps run on the Mac, the Macbook, and the iPhone. Work flows from machine to machine seamlessly. The purchase decision has shifted. It’s not about comparing an iPhone with other phones; it’s about my whole ecosystem. And right now, my ecosystem is super-productive. The iPhone may lag behind other phones, but the iPhone + Mac + MacBook combination far outstrips what I could accomplish with another phone.

When you’re trying a new tool, make sure it optimizes your overall workflow, and isn’t just a gadget that’s marginally better than some other gadget.

Changing Tools is Expensive

Melvin is so enamored with his new augmented reality inventory device that he decides to start using it for everything. Immediately. Of course, that means importing all of his inventory records from the old system to the new one. But never fear, he’s sure it’s worth the day or two it will take to do the transfer. Seven weeks later, he’s gotten 80% of the data transferred. Sure, it’s taken a wee bit longer than expected, but it’s worth it. I mean, c’mon—we’re talking Augmented Friggin Reality. Woo hoo!

But Melvin’s experience demonstrates what we rarely think about: changing tools is expensive. You need to learn the new tool, move your data from the old tool, and integrate the new tool into your habits. In many cases, switching is a big enough hassle that in the long run, it overwhelms the savings you would get from the switch.


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.