On a June day, I was on a construction site talking to the boss when a truck pulled up. It was a new employee reporting for work. New hire walks up to us. Boss says, “You’re fired.” Both newbie and I are startled, but the boss didn’t display any challengeable doubt. The now-former employee turned without another word, and drove away.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“He’s supposed to be a finish carpenter. He had a roofing hammer on his belt.”
At this moment, I have 23 hammers.
The bromide, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail”, originally used to describe lazy thinking is now, more often, a lazy put down of someone with specialized knowledge.
Out of those 23 hammers, only six are used on nails, and bless your heart if you pick up the roofing hammer to drive finish nails. Out of the other 17, a rubber mallet designed for automotive work is called the chocolate hammer we use in our family for preparing confections.
Finding the right tool, even to drive something as simple as a nail, involves specialized knowledge.
I asked my colleague, Meg Edwards, “How many productivity tools do our clients use?”
“Around 80,” she said.
Alexandra Samuel identifies 272 task managers and 777 project management apps.
What are the best? First, what’s the job? My fired almost-coworker may have had the world’s best roofing hammer.
Here’s the starting formula: what has your attention, fit within the 24-hour wall, equals productivity.
Most of us have an incomplete grasp of what has our attention. No judgment. Just the human condition.
David Allen gives us a checklist for taking the inventory.
Now, log 24 hours. Capture everything that takes your time: sleeping, eating, dressing, cleaning yourself and your surroundings, breaks of all sorts, commutes, exercise, appointments. Anything left? Capture that.
Give yourself a complete and realistic look at how you spend 24 hours.
Now look at your inventory of what has your attention.
Nearly all of us—before we should even think about our tools—have to deal with the existential threat that reveals itself in the intersection of the time we have, and what has our attention.
Your first and most important tool is your mind. Use it to understand the job, then start to assemble your other tools.
Which is what I hope my almost co-worker learned before walking on to his next job.