How to Evaluate a Productivity Tool for Your Business

A productivity tool can be a handy and useful resource for any entrepreneur.

But with such a choice, how do you choose a suitable productivity tool for your needs?

Choosing a tool at random can be fraught with potential pitfalls, while spending an inordinate amount of time pondering facts and figures can be foolish.

In many cases, the best course of action is to take a middle approach.

Here are five guidelines to follow when evaluating a productivity tool for your business.

Identify the problem you want to solve

Productivity tools are designed to solve problems. It is important to remember that not every tool can solve every problem and not every problem can be solved with every tool.

That’s why it’s crucial that you clearly articulate the problem you want to solve in your business. You will be more successful when you find a tool that suits your needs.

State your problem clearly in a statement such as, “I don’t have a reliable way to create, organize, and store to-do lists.” Your solution will, of course, be the opposite of your problem.

Once you’ve identified your problem and solution, you can start thinking about features you’d like in the tool. If you’re feeling really creative, you can break down favorite features into must-have, nice-to-have, and bonus lists.

Consider room for growth

A good tool not only meets your current needs but also your future needs. A tool shouldn’t be so restrictive that you’ll need to update or replace it in a few months.

Look for a tool that positively allows for growth and expansion in your workspace. Common points to consider include data storage, reporting, information sorting, device sharing, and number of users.

You should also check if the tool has any planned feature updates, software patches, customer service and technical support upgrades in the coming weeks and months.

Research integrations with existing tools

Verify that a tool successfully integrates with or works with existing tools, programs, and applications in your organization.

Find out if integrations are internal, require a third-party application, or are heavily considered for future updates and releases.

If you’re using a trial or free version of a tool, you should do your own integration testing. Hands-on experience is a great way to verify functionality and limitations of features.

Sometimes a seemingly simple task can be more complicated to implement and vice versa.

Reveal details of the user interface

No matter how flashy or well-designed a tool might be, you’re less likely to use it if the interface is distracting, inconvenient, or otherwise confusing to you. A tool you don’t like will be a tool you won’t use!

Similarly, determine the ability of the tool to sort, update, search, retrieve, run reports and archive information on desktop, tablet and smartphone versions.

Keep a close eye on potential tools

It’s a smart idea to keep a written record of your productivity tool research. This allows you to objectively review your notes now and in the future as your business grows.

Any tracking method will do. You can enter details in a spreadsheet or handwrite notes in a notebook. Track potential tools and their unique features, facts, figures and considerations.

If you’re using a trial or free version of a tool, write down every aspect of your interactions, from tool features you love or hate, to the user interface, to your customer service experience.

You can then use this information to finalize your decision on choosing a productivity tool.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own and not those of Inc.com.

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