Better Tools Is Better Organizing

From Michael Schrage:

Instead of better tools for better organizing, people want their organization done for them. Organizing is wasteful; getting its benefits is productivity. […]

The essential takeaway is that the new economics of personal productivity mean that the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become. We’ll likely get more done better if we give less time and thought to organization and greater reflection and care to desired outcomes. Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs. It’s not that we’re becoming too dependent on our technologies to organize us; it’s that we haven’t become dependent enough.

This post from the Harvard Business Review is one of worst conclusions drawn from one of the best ideas that I’ve read in a long time. There is little doubt that Schrage’s thoughts on leveraging technology are spot on, but the “takeaway” that “the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become” is only true if you’re doing productivity rather than being productive1.

Persistent organizing will lead you astray; constantly seeking new ways to avoid procrastination becomes a sort of procrastination itself2. But Schrage either overlooks or ignores the benefits of time spent choosing the right tools upfront (or as I call it, organizing) and occasionally (OCCASIONALLY) taking a step back to see how we can improve our system.

Schrage suggests above that, “Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs.” But as I said to Ben Brooks in response to this quote3, “Isn’t finding the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs the definition of organizing ourselves better?”

The very reason we haven’t become “dependent enough” on the right technologies is that most people don’t ever really bother to consider what they use. They take what they are given and go, no matter how misaligned the tools might be with their tasks or even their lifestyle. They forgo organizing themselves with the naive hope that any tool will do the trick.

The takeaway should have been, “Define your desired outcomes, find the technologies that empower you to achieve them faster and more efficiently. Quit fiddling and go about actually doing your work”4. I spent years counting on technology and it got me nowhere. It wasn’t until I took an essential step back and got organized that I was able to discover and leverage the right technology.


  1. I’m probably stealing this from Merlin  

  2. I’m almost positive I’m stealing this from him as well.  

  3. And thanks to Ben for pointing out this post in the first place.  

  4. Only better worded…  

6 Responses to Better Tools Is Better Organizing

  1. I have very similar experiences. I spend hours, more likely days and lot of money trying to find the ultimate technology to make me more productive. Result. Failure! Only after giving up on all this fiddling and stepping away for I moment, I was able to realize that all I need was already available to me. Also in majority of cases it’s not the tool that’s its at fault but rather the user. With poor habits and behaviors not tool will help.

    On the side note, people accept provided technology simply because they have no interest in making it work better nor in mastering it. Which is strange considering that modern computer is equal to middle age era hammer. In those days people spend years mastering use of hammer to make the best and most beautiful swords, armor etc. Mastering tools is also a way to be productive.

    • I think it was a bit more of a mix for me, especially at the start. I didn’t have the right tools nor the right processes, so I had to really find the right balance of both. I found myself doing a lot of both at the beginning, searching for the tools and the tactics, but as time moves on and my toolbox gets more robust, you’re dead on… it’s the user :)

      As for mastering, I couldn’t agree more. True productivity isn’t in the discovery, but in the understanding and mastery of our tools.

  2. “They take what they are given and go, no matter how misaligned the tools might be with their tasks or even their lifestyle.”

    That one sentence was 10 times more valuable than the confusing Harvard prose at the beginning my man, and it  in many ways describes my relationship with technology.

    Bottom line: I don’t know what I don’t know.

    • Thanks bud, but I think you’re selling yourself short. Just look how you changed your business and your world when you really let yourself learn a tool inside and out. Hell you’re living proof of the importance of the right tool.

      We don’t know what we don’t know, but if we know that, we can find out :)

  3. Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

Leave a reply