Productivity isn’t about having the right tools; it’s about having the right mindset.
Before you purchase any equipment, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will I use this everyday?
A tool that is never used is simply clutter. This is why I don’t own specialized kitchen supplies like egg-beaters, blenders, butter knives, or electric kettles. These are niche products that I don’t use very often.
- Is there a simpler way to get things done?
Simple problems don’t need complicated solutions; life is complicated enough. Last year, I replaced my $60 GPS with a free map. Although the map didn’t offer turn-by-turn directions, it took up less space and didn’t require batteries, recharging, or clumsy interfaces. The map can be recycled, whereas the GPS will generate e-waste.
- Do I absolutely need it right now?
Postpone purchases for as long as possible. Many products—-electronics especially—-are designed to be obsolete within a few years. Last year, I was learning iOS software development. Instead of buying an older model, I opted for the newest Mac Mini and iPod Touch. But by the time I began actual programming, Apple had already released newer versions of both, along with the iPad. If I had merely postponed my purchase, I would have had better equipment at the same price.
- How much will it cost?
Calculate the cost in terms of your hourly wage, and see if it’s worth your time. Depending on your salary, cars may not save you time compared to bicycling. If you spend $10,000/yr. on cars (include loans, insurance, gasoline, and parking), and you only earn $20/hr, then you’ll waste 3 months each year working just to pay for your car. That’s 1/4th of your life!
- How much research will I need to do?
Time wasted on research is time not spent on work. Factor in the time you spend comparison shopping, assembling equipment, configuring devices, and reading manuals. My parents once bought me a bookshelf that required our family-of-four 3 hours to assemble. That’s 12 hours worth of labor wasted to beautify the living room.
Being productive is about finding the most effective solution available, and what you already have is usually enough. Don’t fantasize about the latest and greatest equipment. Not only does it contribute to landfill, but it’s expensive and bad for your productivity. Find something that does just enough, and settle for that instead. Save your money, protect the environment, get work done, and move on with your life.
What one item do you most regret purchasing?
Getting Real, by 37signals, has been a huge inspiration for this post. I’ve been applying their techniques of quick, practical software development to daily life. Read the book for free online, and pay special attention to It’s a Problem When It’s a Problem and Less Mass.
Paul Graham’s essay on stuff is also worth reading.