A Tool Is Only As Valuable As Its User

I looked in the mirror today and didn’t like the face that I saw looking back at me. He looks haggard, worn and weathered. The light in his eyes looked a little bit dimmer than normal and the hairline was a mess. “This is why you have broad shoulders. It is time to man up and get it done,” I said.

And then I watched as my reflection recited those very same words right back at me. For a moment I could hear the echoes ricocheting off of the walls inside the large empty space between my ears. I am over extended and my stress level is at DefCon 3. There are too many things going on right now and I can’t afford to do a half-assed job on any of them. But life doesn’t ask you if you have the resources you need to complete your tasks. I suppose that I could make some analogy about conveyor belts or put a link to that factory scene in I Love Lucy but you get my point.

When I walked out of the bathroom I headed straight to the microwave to grab a bowl of oatmeal that I had heated up and then bowl in hand waltzed over to my laptop. In between bites of food I made two business calls, checked my email and reviewed my calendar. These items are part of my mobile productivity tool kit. They are part of my system to manage my time and make myself more efficient.

At least they are supposed to make me more efficient. They are supposed to help me increase my productivity by providing more flexibility so that I can work wherever and whenever. Lately they feel less like useful tools and more like shackles and fetters that bind and restrict my movement.

The Right Tool For The Job

When I was about seven my parents decided to remodel our house. They hired a general contractor to do the work but it wasn’t uncommon for my father to come home from work, eat dinner and then go work on the addition. One of the many reasons I remember it so vividly was because of the hammer he used or should I say that it was the one that I wanted to use. I would have done so without question but it was too heavy for me to use it properly. I couldn’t hold it in one hand and swing it.

It used to make me crazy to see dad use it so easily. He didn’t need two hands. He didn’t worry about smashing his fingers. He just picked it up and made it sing for him. For that matter he did that with most tools.  Most of the time he included me on these repairs/maintenance jobs around the house and if we weren’t short on time he would let me help him with the work. Except for that hammer. I didn’t get to use the hammer because he said that I couldn’t use it properly. He was right. At that time I simply wasn’t strong enough to use it the way it was designed to be used.

As a father I have been trying hard to pass those same lessons onto my children. There are some important life lessons in those moments, not to mention moments of Deja Vu. Every now and then I have to tell the kids that they can watch but not help. I don’t like doing that, but time constraints make it hard. And every time that happens I have flashbacks to working with my dad.

Reality Check

I don’t wear a watch anymore. I can’t tell you the exact date that I stopped but it must be close to ten years or more since I did it. I stopped because I was tired of the tyranny of time. I didn’t like the pressure it brought along with it so I got rid of it. It might sound silly to say that, especially in light of the clock on my ever present cellphone, but it was a relief not to wear it.

But some of that relief has been chewed up by that mobile productivity kit. Some of that relief vanished when I gained the ability to become more productive and instead found myself working seven days a week. The rules of the blog dictate brutal honesty so I have share that I do that because I can’t afford not to. This fabulous economy is kicking my ass and I am doing what I can to give it as good as it gives me. But I don’t have to like it.

I don’t have to like what I see in the mirror or the feeling that this electronic yoke around my neck is always tugging on me. I don’t have to like any of it but I don’t have the right to complain unless I am willing to fix it. So that is what I am trying to do- fix it. That is why I remind myself that it is worth learning how to use tools more effectively. That is why I try to set aside some time to figure out if they have more functionality than I am using and whether it will be useful for me.

That hammer I am swinging might not the right tool for this job. I can beat the machine the same way that John Henry did but without the same consequence he suffered. All I need to do is find the right tool for the job.


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  1. TheJackB July 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    @Hajra I like watches, but I got tired of always feeling like I was watching the clock. And I do so many physical things it felt like it was always getting bumped or scraped.

    Can’t disagree with your position on tools- makes sense to me.

    My latest conversation: http://www.thejackb.com/2011/07/21/do-you-still-beat-your-wife/

  2. Hajra July 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Oh, I love wearing watches and still do! Have many of them in fact but I don’t look into them as much as I hoped I would 😉

    Our tools are in our head… you are as much a slave to them, as much you allow them to over power you!

  3. SxNSingleDad July 21, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Dude, what do you do in my situation? I AM the tool. Or a tool. Either one would work.

  4. TheJackB July 20, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    @bdorman264 I am a creature of habit but in most things I find it easy to change- provided that see the upside. First step is always the hardest.

  5. TheJackB July 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    @marianne.worley I don’t think that it sounds crazy at all. I moved to a BlackBerry for work purposes years ago and earlier this year transitioned to the DroidX.

    Most of the time I am happy with my choices but there are moments where I think that I have done nothing but create an electronic leash.

  6. TheJackB July 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    @weforgotyounot Balance- it is all about balance and just where that is supposed to be is subjective. Sometimes I love my tools- but there are moments where I hate them because I have created a beast that is never satiated.

  7. weforgotyounot July 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I’m feeling torn. Until a year ago, less than a year actually, I only used the computer for research. Then I started searching for homes to move to in NH, I started a blog and other social media to stay connected to old friends, which led me to new friends, new tools, an expanding audience, the desire to market and sell stuff, which led to the need for more tools, a larger audience AND THE NEVER-ENDIING-CYCLE of craziness! It all works. But a year ago my life was working fine. My friends were my neighbors. My customers were my friends and their friends. I’m torn between two worlds and two worlds. One that’s familiar and works. And the other that’s alluring and exciting and refreshing. And all the while my children are growing older. Great post that got me thinking! Thanks.

  8. marianne.worley July 20, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I have an amazing tool that shields me from being sucked into the abyss of over-communication: a regular, pre-paid cell phone. Sounds crazy, but it works. I can’t send tweets from the grocery store or check my email while I’m having lunch with a friend. When I’m away from my laptop, I’m offline. And that’s the way I like it. My dinosaur cell phone is the right tool for the job I want to do.

  9. bdorman264 July 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    ‘That is why I try to set aside some time to figure out if they have more functionality than I am using and whether it will be useful for me’. This is what I need to do as I feel I’m somewhat a prisoner to my habits. I know I can do some of this more efficiently but that means taking a step back and taking the time to learn it. I too quit wearing a watch about 10 years ago, so if you can do that maybe I can do this.

    Let me know how that works out for you……….

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