How to Choose The Tools That Will Help You Achieve Your Goals Faster
The world is a noisy place. If you’re looking for new opportunities, conventional says you should be visible everywhere. Have a presence on every social platform, post frequently on each of them, and stay on top of everything.
Hence, people create accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, SnapChat, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Clubhouse, Mastodon, and every social platform they hear about. They join every platform that promises to monetize their skills. They hope they’ll get lucky and go viral on one platform and turn it into their meal ticket.
This is like getting treasure maps. Nobody knows whether they’re real. But everyone keeps rushing to each new destination, searching for the elusive treasure of virality and a windfall of money.
In his book Deep Work, author Cal Newport called this the Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection.
You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.
The Any-Benefit Approach reduces FOMO. It also lets people enjoy the attention they crave without putting effort in their work (think of the quality of discussions on Clubhouse.) But it ignores the negative aspects that outdo the positive ones. Here are three examples:
- People spread themselves thin and eventually burn out.
- Their quality of work is mediocre at best in an already crowded marketplace.
- They stay distracted and lose their ability to focus.
The third point, in particular, is crucial, because the conventional way to just be visible in order to get access to new opportunities no longer works. According to Newport, the people who’ll thrive in the knowledge era are the ones who have the abilities to:
- Master hard things, and,
- Produce at an elite level in terms of quality and speed.
To do both these, the ability to focus is essential. Such focus comes only you put thought into choosing your tools instead of using every tool you can possibly find.
Newport’s alternative? The Craftsman’ Approach to Tool Selection.
A Proven Approach to Tool Selection
As a knowledge worker, it’s important to select your tools with the same care as other skilled workers, such as farmers like Forrest Pritchard.
When Pritchard took over his farm Smith Meadows, they were following the traditional way of making their own hay to feed their animals during winter when grazing is impossible. But Pritchard decided to buy hay for his animals.
Haymaking requires a hay baler, a device attached to a tractor that compresses and binds dried grass into bales. Making hay in their own backyard saves money since farmers don’t have to buy feed for their animals. On the surface, this method seems perfectly sound. But when one scratches the surface, the trade-offs become visible.
The direct costs of making hay are fuel, repairs, the shed to keep the baler, and taxes. But the “opportunity costs” are where things get interesting.
If Pritchard spends all summer making hay, he can’t do anything else. But if he buys the hay, he can invest his time in raising boilers—chicken meant for eating— and sell them sell for cash. He can also use their manure to enhance the quality of his soil. Finally, by not using the baler, he avoids driving heavy machinery on his farm all summer.
These factors combine to generate more cash for him and make his field healthier. As a result, he let go of the baler and chose grass-finished meat even though it was a novel concept back then.
Such a decision-making model began with a clear baseline — the soil health which was crucial for Pritchard’s professional success. It built on that foundation to let him choose the tools that would maximize his result.
Newport calls this The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection:
Identify the core factors that determine success and happiness in your professional and personal life. Adopt a tool only if its positive impacts on these factors substantially outweigh its negative impact.
Such a model empowers you to:
- Identify the actions that will help you succeed.
- Improve the quality of your work: the more you repeat a task, the better you get at it.
- Improve your ability to focus, which cascades into other aspects of your life.
This is the opposite of the any-benefit approach. The latter is easier and might make you feel more “productive”. but it actually creates more problems than it solves, as have been mentioned earlier.
Applying the Craftsman Approach in Your Life
The craftsman approach doesn’t just apply to selecting network tools like choosing between Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube. It can be applied to any area of life where you want to improve.
If you want to become fitter, don’t try everything you see on YouTube or read in books. Identify your measure of success — losing weight, increasing strength or stamina, or building muscle. Choose the workouts, diets, and lifestyle that are optimal to achieve it, and commit to a consistent regime.
If you want to succeed as a content creator, don’t publish randomly on nine different platforms. Identify two platforms at most where your target audience hangs out. Post high-quality content consistently on them and build a loyal audience before shifting your attention to another one. (For me, the platforms apart from my website are Twitter and LinkedIn.)
If you want to become wealthy, don’t invest your money in stocks based on “tips”. Instead, follow Buffett’s 20-slot punchcard rule. Here’s how his business partner Charlie Munger explained it:
When Warren lectures at business schools, he says, “I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches—representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”
He says, “Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”
To me, it’s obvious that the winner has to bet very selectively… I don’t know why it’s not obvious to very many other people.
If you truly want to succeed at anything, you can’t “dip your toes in the water.” Nor can you get distracted by every new shiny object. You have to weigh each decision like you’re holding a 20-slot punchcard.
Define what success means to you, identify tools whose pros significantly outweigh the coins, and go all-in for a year or two.
Using any tool you can lay your hands on will make you run in circles. Using the right tools will help you clear the path to get to your goal.
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