The other day, I was playing in the park with my three year old son. He had collected what appeared to be some random sticks, and was digging in the dirt with them. When I asked him what he was doing, he turned to me and said,
“Mama, I’m catching bugs. What size bug do you want: small, medium or large?”
When I replied that I wanted a large bug, he said “Great. I’ll use my large stick to catch him.”
Upon closer examination, I could see that he had gathered three sticks, one small, one medium and one large. His logic was that he would select the most appropriate stick for the end goal: catching that particularly-sized bug.
The wisdom of this little scene stayed with me for several days. I kept going back to it, wondering why it had struck me as so valuable.
Then, I realized it. This tiny human, largely unaware and unsocialized, innately understood something that many of us intelligent adults fail to remember: the importance of stating the desired end result before choosing the tool we need.
Particularly when it comes to productivity and tech tools, we are motivated by external factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with the goal. We often make our purchasing decisions based on factors like trend, price, looks, social pressure or impulse-buying. We love that little dopamine hit that we get when we buy something new, especially when it promises the achievement of some goal: being on time, more professional, or more efficient. Purchasing these kinds of products can also be a form of putting off initiating a task.
But the reality is, if we don’t clarify what we want, how likely are we to get it?
A Bullet Journal Fail
I’ll give an example here, from a client who agreed to let me share her story. Let’s call her Jenny.
Jenny decided recently that she wanted to buy a new planner system. She thought that it would be great to try bullet journaling, because her friend does it and is always posting amazing Instagram pics of the pages of her bullet journal. So she spent time researching how to do it, bought the journal, tried it for two weeks, and realized that it wasn’t a fit for her.
That’s because Jenny was focused on factors totally unrelated to her end goal: her friend’s influential pictures, and the desire to try a new system.
When I asked her about her actual goal, she said: well, I need a calendar that will let me schedule phone calls and client appointments (she works from home). The bullet journal didn’t work for her because it didn’t provide enough structure for her to do this. Also, it required a certain amount of dedicated time each day, which she doesn’t really have. Had she spent the time thinking about her goals, she would have quickly realized that she needed a plain old Franklin Covey planner.
Jenny knew what she wanted to have happen, but her purchasing goals were directed by unrelated factors.
This Extends to Home Organization Products, Too
This concept extends to organizational systems. So often when people begin to organize a space or purchase products, they forget to look ahead to the final goal. Inevitably, that goal is to “get organized,” but it is so helpful to drill down even further before you begin.
For example, you might decide to create a quick sort file for sorting mail in the front hallway. That is an awesome organizing goal, and is more specific (and therefore measurable) than “organize the entryway.” Before purchasing products, do the work of decluttering and examining the pattern of people and mail coming into the house. Once you have selected the location and needs for the mail sorting area, then you can go ahead and buy organizing products.
Don’t get me wrong, I love purchasing fun tools to help my productivity and organization. But at the end of the day, getting things done is about doing work. So do the work first. Outline the goal. Plan the end result. Then, and only then, are you ready to think about what tools you’ll need to get the job done.
Have you ever spent money on an organization or productivity tool that didn’t work for you? We’d love to hear about what went wrong, and how you made it right.