The Tools of Productivity

By Chris Zammit

I’m a tinkerer. I like to build things, modify them, take them apart, and see what makes them tick. I’ve never been afraid to jump in and get my hands dirty. I’ve worked as a general laborer, a car stereo installer, a mechanic, a farm hand, and a butcher (baker and candlestick maker didn’t make the cut, though). Here at Onspring, I can be found pulling cable through the ceilings of the office, assembling desks and chairs, hanging access points, racking servers, designing networks, and writing code. I’m sure that isn’t all I do, but it’s enough to make my long-winded point. If it can be vaguely related to IT and engineering, well, needless to say, I almost certainly have my hand in it or will soon.

Armed with my tools, experience, and imagination, there isn’t much I can’t fix. If I’m being honest, I’ve also developed a sort of reputation for being thrifty. Now I’m not the kind who is watering down ketchup at the end of a bottle or stealing paper towels from the bathroom at work, but I do lament most spending. So, what is an avid tool user, and generally frugal kind of guy to do? It used to be that when I needed a tool, I’d run down to the generic import tool store (you know the one) armed with my coupon and I’d buy the pot metal, reverse half-engineered, look-alike tool that compared closest to the one needed to get the job done. I’d leave, whistling my happy tune. I bought the doohickey I needed for half price.

What a deal!

The right tools for a job can make all the difference between failure and success.

OK, time for the re-check, because this is the part in the story where the narrator would say, “But it wasn’t a good deal…,” and the scene would cut to a dimly lit workshop. In the background, you’d hear wind blowing and a sharp crack of thunder. The camera would pan around and you would see half-broken, low-quality tools lining the walls. Then, sitting in the center of the room, perched atop a two-and-a-half legged chair (purchased at the same discount tool store, no doubt) would be me. Holding my newly purchased bargain doohickey loosely in my dirty, blood-stained hands, head hanging, full of defeat, and frustration.

A real picture of buyer’s remorse.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure this out, but I think I’m finally getting there. When I buy a cheap tool, I’m happy to not have spent much money, but the happiness ends there. I end up with an ill-performing tool that doesn’t meet my expectations and it takes me longer to produce poor results, and inevitably, a terrible case of buyer’s remorse envelopes me.

The bad spending experience always compounds on itself. Spending that money for a lesser item felt bad because I didn’t feel like I got any value in the exchange. So, the next time I have a big purchase to make, I am once again drawn to spend the least amount possible because spending money feels bad. The real kicker is that as bad as spending the money feels, not producing good work or having problems getting the work done properly feels horrible.

As hard as it has been for me, I now try to take the lessons learned from my knock-off tool purchasing stints and put them to practical use. Here’s a quick review of the steps I take to select the right tool:

  1. Research what I need. Buying the wrong tool can be worse than buying a poor tool.
  2. Figure out how long the job will take with a variety of options—the right tools or optional tools.
  3. Budget considerations. Will it cost more NOT to spend the money on the best tool? I make sure I know consequences of my purchase.
  4. Finally, I trust my gut. If I’ve done the work more than once, I usually know if I’m getting the right type of tools to do a good job.

I now make the hard decisions (and believe me, they’re hard) to make a conscious effort to buy good-quality tools that are going to work for me to get a job done correctly, even if they cost more. The result has been more efficient work with better results—and surprisingly, significantly less buyer’s remorse. The best thing about this process is that you can apply it to almost anything—try it.

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