Habits, not gadgets

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” ~~ Bill Gates

Every piece of exercise equipment currently being used as a big clothes rack makes the point: improved results depend first on improved habits, not tools and gadgets.

Sometimes we behave as though we could purchase greater efficiency in the form of a special planner, new software, or the latest technology. The good news is that often we can just save our money. Improvement is available without buying a thing.

What we need first and foremost is to establish the habits that will allow us to take full advantage of whatever methods we choose to use.

Of course if you’ve already gotten rid of all the paper you don’t need and you still can’t finish your filing because you have four drawers worth of files and only a two-drawer filing cabinet, then by all means purchase the right tool to complete the job. But if my habit is to stack papers on my desk, guest chair and floor rather than put them away, then all the file cabinets in the world won’t help me. It’s a habit change that’s called for.

I’ve gone into some offices that have dozens of fancy boxes and containers, racks, sorters and memo boards of every description, but the owner of the office still feels (and is!) as disorganized as ever. In some cases, the containers themselves become another form of clutter. I’ve seen a similar pattern with “software collectors,” looking for a newer and better technology that will fix the problem.

Bill Gates probably understands the power and limits of technology as well as anyone alive today, and his succinct quote above should be printed on coffee mugs in break rooms everywhere: first establish the efficient operation, then apply the technology. (I leave it to you to decide how well his particular brand of software delivers on its promised improvements!) And what Gates says of technology, meaning electronic technology, also holds true for non-electronic technology, the box as well as the software.

Have you experienced technology (or tools) applied to an inefficient operation? What happened? How about the reverse: have you successfully shifted a good process into overdrive by applying an appropriate tool? Share your experience here.

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