In our fast-paced society it’s not suprising that there is a thing called speed-dating. Some people claim that it’s actually more efficient than regular dating. Who knows if it produces long-lasting results? It doesn’t seem to produce worse results than regular dating. So if it’s faster, that’s good.
In the world of technology, what’s the equivalent of speed-dating? It’s probably the temptation to download any new piece of software that’s got a free 30 day trial (and don’t they all have that now?). I’ve been a practitioner of this for many years, and I can say it’s not the most efficient way to find truly useful technology tools. But it is a great way to stay informed of what the latest hot tools are.
For those of you who actually want to get work done, that’s not useful.
There’s a better technique. It takes more time, and effort, but it is the one way I’ve found that has helped me find truly useful technology tools.
Here’s the better way: find a select group of well-informed tech folks who do the aforementioned experimenting, and who write about what truly impresses them. Finding these folks takes time, but once you’ve got a core group of, say, 5 or 6 people who are sensible, and who have exacting standards, you’re ready for the next phase (which is the easy part).
Wait and see if there is some new tech tool that these folks all agree is amazing (if one person in the core group doesn’t comment that’s okay; as long as they don’t shoot it down). Once you get a strong consensus from that group you start experimenting with that technology. Now, here comes the hard part again.
The kinds of technology that I’ve found most useful as a result of this method, almost always, is something that I have trouble understanding. And I often don’t “get it” until I’ve made several tries, or really spent time digging into how the program works. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that a core group of really well-informed and exacting technology observers are using the tool and all say it’s radically improved how they process information.
Here’s a list of some of those tools that I’ve found, and which have radically improved my processing of information. Most of these tools you will have either not heard of, or tried and not found useful (or comprehensible) the first time you tried it. But trust me, these tools are ones that my core group of tech gurus uniformly adopted and found incredibly helpful.
- Wi-Fi (yeah, we all get it now. But there was a time when few people thought this would be useful, or understood how to use it).
- Mindmaps – very few people who aren’t techies use them, but this is a poweful tool that I struggled to understand over a long time. Once I understood how to use mindmaps it changed my writing and brainstorming process in amazing ways. There are lots of mindmapping programs for Windows, Mac, and iOS devices. Pick one you like and stick with it. Which program you use doesn’t matter.
- Casemap – this is a case management tool for lawyers who try cases. There is no equivalent software, so it’s the only Windows program I still use. Most lawyers have an incredibly hard time understanding how to use this program, even after they grasp its usefulness.
- Scrivener – this is sort of like a word-processor, and sort of like a project manager for writing projects. I can’t explain Scrivener here so I won’t try. Suffice to say if you write sophisticated documents (e.g. if you’re a lawyer) then Scrivener can revolutionlize your life. Everyone who gets over the hump of figuring out how to use it finds it indispensible. I’ve tried to explain Scrivener to several intrepid tech-savvy lawyers and they’ve all dismissed it, and not learned to use it. Too bad. There are several lawyers out there who do use it (not because I convinced them) and they all rave about it too. Just saying…
- Text-expansion software – for Windows users this would be a program called Activewords; for Mac-users it would be TextExpander. You can try them for free and if you do you’ll might catch the lightning, but many won’t. Again, too bad. You’re wasting a lot of time and failing to leverage an incredibly useful piece of technology. Oh well, what’s time to a pig?
- Dual monitors – everyone who has them loves them. We’ve reached the point where it makes sense. Yes, you can buy a huge monitor (27″ or 30″) and accomplish the same effect, but for most people the solution is to have two separate defined workspaces for digital information.
- Omnifocus – a Mac-based task manager. It’s better than Outlook, but if you are a windows user you’re stuck with Outlook. Although, if you have an iPad you can probably just use the iPad version and do fine. Problem is you’ll have to actually make the commitment to use it regularly because unless that happens you won’t appreciate what it can do. Sort of a chicken & egg problem.
Most of those recommendations are software tools. Those tools either take a long time to learn how to use, or to just understand. The benefits come from building them into a regular habit. That’s the thing that prevents their power from being easily grasped.
The best tech tools are the ones that highly productive people have adopted and all agree are powerful. They’re not easily understood. But if you have a core group of tech-savvy and highly productive folks tell you they all agree a particular tool is amazing, why wouldn’t you make the extra effort to try it?
I guess you want me to list the folks that are my “core group.” I’m not going to because it doesn’t matter to you. If you trust me and understand what I’m saying maybe you’ll try some of those things listed above and make an extra effort to slog through the initial “I don’t get it” period. Or you won’t.
Doesn’t matter to me if you miss out on a powerful tool. And if you try it and find it powerful don’t thank me. You did all the work.
If you want to learn how to use technology in manageable bite-sized chunks, consider signing up for my free email newsletter at my PaperlessChase.com site.
P.S. If you want a better practice, start using the 80/20 Principle.
Hey Tom: I love Evernote, but it's not one of those things for me. I use Simplenote/Notational Velocity and that's the note-taking system that I've learned. I use Evernote for other things. I completely understand that, for many many people, it's one of those amazing tools. So I heartily endorse your mention of it!
Nice list, Ernie. But no Evernote?