We often talk about how amazing it is to have apps that solve specific problems and help boost productivity. Many companies and individuals want the best tools technology has to offer to achieve these goals.
But when it comes time to choose which tool is the right tool for the job, you find yourself paralyzed to take action toward any of them because there are so many choices.
A simple online search for the best apps and tools for businesses quickly brings results like The Top 40+ Business Tools, The 75 Best Apps for Businesses, or The 21 Online Tools You Should be Using. With list upon list of “the best” apps, SaaS solutions, online tools, and programs, the problem quickly moves from which tool to use to how to sift through all the information.
Besides too many choices, we also have to consider the complexity of combining tools with each other. What if two tools are needed, but they have functions that overlap? And if you add 3, 4, or 5 tools to that mix? What then?
This is a problem more and more people face as the field of digital tools grows larger. While an expert SaaS salesperson may convince you that the product they represent is the answer, what you usually end up with is a tool you don’t know how to integrate into your existing workflow without causing chaos and confusion.
Contrary to what we may have been led to believe, more is not always better. Instead of arming you to conquer every workflow challenge and optimize operations, having too many apps and options to choose from will hold you back from getting things done.
The paradox of choice
Perhaps you recognize the title of this seminal book. In the book, The Paradox of Choice, Dr. Barry Schwartz presents studies that show the number of choices we have is increasing; and the more choices we have, the more difficult it is to make a choice and to be happy with that choice.
The more time we spend comparing the similarities and differences of a product, weighing back and forth which are the best, the more frustrated we feel. It becomes difficult to simply make a choice and move on without wondering if the choice we made was wrong. In fact, when faced with this type of situation, many people would rather not make a choice at all.
Choosing from thousands of apps
There are hundreds of thousands of apps available that offer some sort of function to help organize your workflow and boost productivity. Trying to analyze your company’s needs and goals, and then choosing apps to create a smooth system that will effectively manage those needs can leave your head spinning.
People have a tendency to give in to “shiny object syndrome” every time a new app with a must-have feature is released. This can lead to problems for companies who buy the next best thing in-app solutions, without knowing how to actually implement it into the current company infrastructure. Maybe it doesn’t fit into their company conventions, or it’s not compatible with existing systems. Or maybe it’s just a bad tool to use
Many companies find themselves stuck with a tool that isn’t a natural fit into their existing systems and they have to change their conventions and workflows around this tool just to make it work.
Don’t be afraid to change conventions
I can hear you saying, “Hey Tom, I thought you just said not to buy a tool that doesn’t fit with company conventions.” Now, for the most part, trying to add a random tool into a system that’s already working can cause confusion and a drop in productivity.
But sometimes conventions need to be changed. There are certain situations where the way things are running are so outdated or just aren’t functioning well, that redefining conventions and reinventing workflows and systems would help the company to stay relevant and competitive.
For instance, consider the digital transformation of companies. In a previous blog post, The advantages of being digital, especially in times like these, we talked about how those companies who didn’t at least begin the process of digital transformation suffered when stay-at-home and business closure orders started happening around the world, leaving many with no way to do business and ultimately causing them to fold.
An outdated way of operating left these companies vulnerable to the changing times. And the digital transformation wasn’t a new topic among business owners. Many knew it was needed, but they put it on the back burner due to other pressures and areas of focus.
Make sure to take the time to openly evaluate your company’s conventions and honestly decide if they are inefficient or becoming outmoded before you invest in an app or tool that will only add to the confusion.
Only disrupt conventions if necessary
This doesn’t mean you should jump in and uproot established systems for the sake of adding the next new tool to your team’s workflow. Disruption of that kind is usually only reserved for those situations where the survival of the company is on the line or long-overdue changes are needed.
Most of the time, you can keep your company relevant by staying up-to-date with the latest tools and wisely implementing them into what’s already working, while eliminating small parts of your systems that need updating. This way you stay current with what’s going on in business without the pain and confusion of a major upheaval.
Ideally, a business would add digital tools to their work systems to accentuate and optimize what’s already working, not disrupt it.
Do a workflow audit
A company or team leader needs to first identify their workflows and then define the conventions around them. This can be as simple as going through each department and writing down their key functions, operations, and systems.
To start, you could focus on one area of your business that is struggling or has an obvious need. Or you could choose to focus on the 4 main departments that drive business in a company: sales, marketing, administration, and delivery. However you choose to break it down, this step is essential if you want to find a tool that will truly make your current system even better.
You can also easily use mind mapping software to perform this step. Mind mapping software can provide a visual way to get all of the information down and make it easy to rearrange and organize. The information gathered in the mind map can be pulled into graphs on spreadsheets, color-coded, or even searched. Learn more about my top pick in mind mapping apps, Miro, and how you can use it in this blog post.
After this step is done you can start to look for the right tools to fill key needs that will integrate well across many departments and users.
Skip sifting through thousands of apps, programs, and digital tools
Earlier, I stated that there are hundreds of thousands of apps, programs, and tools available to businesses and individuals who want to optimize their workflows. Take a quick trip to the App store. According to Apple.com, the App Store has over 235,000 apps for people at work. 235,000.
With that many choices, how can any person expect to make the right decision?
This is where Strategic Coach Founder Dan Sullivan’s famous phrase “WhoNotHow” comes in handy. As Dan says, “Instead of asking, ‘How do I do this?’ ask, ‘Who can do this?’”
That is the question you need to ask. Instead of spinning your wheels trying to understand every tool on the market, find someone who already knows the ins-and-outs of apps, programs, Saas products, and online tools.
No one knows your company or team like you do. That’s why it’s essential that you analyze and breakdown the workflows and needs of your teams, and then turn it over to an expert who knows all the tools available and can compare those for you to find the best tool suitable for your company’s needs.
One of the reasons this article exists is because I spend my time testing and reviewing apps so I can share what I learn with the Paperless Movement community. Finding, using, and even creating great productivity apps is a part of my everyday life.
Several years ago, in my day job, I was faced with the challenge of staying organized and coordinating with my team on multiple projects that covered complex topics. I decided to create a task-tool for the team to try to improve our communication and productivity. The results were amazing! That tool solved our communication problems and increased our productivity by 60%.
Since that day, I have created videos, articles, ebooks, and even digital journals to help people learn how to apply digital tools to their workflows to optimize their time. You’ll find resources available on my website from free articles and YouTube videos, to paid memberships with 1-on-1 time with me to help solve specific issues and answer questions.
Now that you know how to get past the paralysis of having too many choices when it comes to which apps to use to optimize your company’s workflow systems, you can put a review system into place to stay on top of the changes that will naturally come over time.
If you ignore the changes and ignore your review system, the same trouble of having an ineffective work system will creep back in before you realize it has happened.
If regularly running a system review isn’t something you’ll stick to, make it part of an employee’s or team member’s job description who thrives on creating and maintaining systems.
Putting it into action
Here are a few points to get you started creating a review system for your apps. Over time, you’ll naturally adjust and adapt your review process to meet your company’s and your team’s specific processes and needs.
1- Regularly analyze your team’s workflow.
Take some time once a year to look at your company’s systems and workflow. What are some of the things that are done repeatedly that could be made into a system? What tasks are performed regularly that could be done quicker with an app? What insights can you glean from colleagues?
2- Create flowcharts.
Create flowcharts that outline your system and summarize your processes. (You can use that mind mapping software we talked about earlier for this.) Include the app solutions you’re currently using, and outline which problems that app solves for easy evaluation as time passes. These flowcharts should give you an easy overview of your systems, what you’re currently using, what new needs are arising, what’s currently working well, and what could use an overhaul.
3- Select apps that cover the essential operations in your workflow.
You don’t need an app for everything. Try to keep the apps to the most crucial parts of your workflow where they will actually help the most. If you need a specific app for a specialized job or department, choose one that does the exact job you need. Try not to get carried away with a tool that claims to do “everything” in this situation. You’ll end up with features that are used by some and ignored by others, making collaboration inefficient and frustrating.
4- Select a collaborative “main task” tool the entire company can use and collaborate with.
If you’re looking for apps the entire company can use, go for a more general task-tool with collaborative and integrative features. Apps like Evernote, Slack, Trello, and Asana can be used by everyone in the company to communicate, collaborate, plan and manage tasks. They also integrate with your calendar, so scheduling meetings and staying organized is almost effortless.
5- Link your apps together with an integration automation tool.
Apps like Zapier can set up a system for your favorite apps to communicate with each other. This automatic information-sharing between apps will eliminate redundant data entry into individual apps. This means when you update one app, the change will automatically register in another app.
6- Schedule a “clean up” time.
Based on all of the information you gathered from the previous 5 points, evaluate the apps that are currently being used and the jobs those apps were recruited for. Is the app still solving the problem you first bought it to solve? Is it still being used? Is there a better option available? Just like cleaning out your files, cleaning out and updating your digital tools should be done regularly, a bit at a time to keep your company up-to-date and to make updating tools smooth and seamless instead of jarring.
The chance to work smarter
As we’ve seen, having too many apps and digital tools to choose from can leave you app paralyzed, resulting in less productivity instead of more.
Digital tools have an increasingly important role to play in businesses. These tools will become smarter and more customized over time. The person or company that stays informed and up-to-date on these apps will have the advantage over their competitors and will be more productive in their day-to-day jobs.
A savvy business person can delegate the task of locating and maintaining an optimal bank of apps and workflow systems to keep the company conventions at the forefront of business, instead of running to catch up, or falling behind.
If you have any thoughts, experiences, or questions about being app paralyzed, be sure to leave a comment, or join the conversation in the community forums inside the Paperless Movement Inner Circle.