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Confessions of a Late Adopter

Confessions of a Late Adopter
Confessions of a Late Adopter

    I love gadgets, I really do. But unlike your typical fanboy or -girl who can be found standing in line at Best Buy or the Apple Store days before a new product’s release, I’m more likely to be found trolling the aisles of the local thrift store, surfing eBay, or scrounging through the clearance bins at Office Max looking for my gadget fix. I’d like to say it’s merely economic, and that’s part of it, but the reality is this (cue dramatic music):

    I’m a late adopter.

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    Like I said, I love gadgets. I’m the go-to guy for any tech-related questions in my family, and carry a few pounds of silicon-and-LED goodness on my person at all times. The thing is, the shiny new gadget I’m oohing and aahing over is liable to be a year out two out of date.

    Why is that, I hear you ask? There are a few of good reasons I can think of to refrain from buying the latest thing, and even to buy one or more generations removed from a company’s current line-up.

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    • Cost: The most obvious reason to “buy old” is cost. Once an item has been replaced by a more up-to-date product, its price drops significantly. If I can get it used (which in the case of gadgets often means “kept in a drawer for three years and forgotten about”) I can save even more. I can’t usually justify the price of new gizmos to fulfill my gadget-lust, but I can usually spare the eBay price a year or two later.
    • Bugs: New products, especially when they break new ground, are often riddled with problems; waiting to buy lets the manufacturers and the forums and the howto sites catch up with fixes, patches, and workarounds.
    • Hacks: Users often find ways to add new functions to gadgets that the manufacturers never dreamed of. But new software, new uses for old software, sometimes entirely new operating systems take time to be developed. For example, there’s a version of Linux you can install on an iPod, but it has to be an older-generation iPod. (In fact, it seems that every gadget gets its own version of Linux after about 2 years. Call it Dustin’s Law.)

    Let me offer a couple of examples. The best laptop I ever had was a Compaq Armada 4200 I bought for my ex. (She wasn’t my ex at the time.) I bought it about 3 or 4 years old for around $200, with a trackball mouse (I hate trackpads), 32 MB memory and a 6 gig hard drive, running Windows 95. More than enough juice for the word processing and Internet surfing she did. Plus it was less than a foot wide and about an inch thick, and the battery doubled as a carrying handle. I liked playing with hers so much I bought another one for myself. Then I bought another one for her friend, and another for her parents.

    Here’s another example: I’m writing this post on an AlphaSmart 3000 I picked up in a thrift store over the summer for $20.00. The AlphaSmart is essentially a stand-alone keyboard with a 4-line, black-on-grey LCD screen and a little memory. You type stuff in, connect it to a PC with a USB cable, hit “send” and it literally types your document into whatever program you’ve opened on the computer. Intended for use in elementary schools, the AlphaSmart is small, light, tough as heck, ultra-simple, and it runs forever on 3 AA batteries. It’s the ultimate “monotasker”; it does one thing and one thing only, and because of that, it’s a favorite tool of writers who want the ability to write anywhere without the distractions and power demands of a laptop.

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    On the other hand, I bought my Treo 680 the week it was released. I’ve always been a late adopter with my Palms, from my first Palm IIIe bought as a closeout in 2000 to my Handspring Visor bought on eBay to my Treo 180 (also bought on eBay). I did buy a Zire 72 when they were still on the market, breaking the late-adoption pattern and setting a bad precedent — I had few problems with the Zire and thought Palm could pull it off again with the Treo 680.

    I was wrong. The 680 has been plagued with problems — poor battery life, weird phone behavior, coming on by itself at apparently random times, and so on. Some of these problems have been addressed, though nothing has made it live up to the promise that made me a Palm user in 2000. If I’d waited, I would have seen the forum postings and the blog articles that panned the unit — even as it was getting positive reviews from the standard tech sites. I’d have seen the near-total silence on Palm’s part as its users grew more and more vocally outraged about the faults that made using the Treo 680 so unpleasant. In short, I’d have bought something else and saved the $200.

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    Bill Maher recently joked that the iPhone’s early adopters, the folks who paid through the nose for their phones only to see the price dropped 2 months later, had paid a “nerd tax” for the privilege of showing off their shiny new gadgets before anyone else could get their hands on one. I’m not a nerd tax kind of guy, I guess — I don’t really care if my gadget belt makes others green with envy, so long as my tools do the job I need them to do. My feeling is that whatever gadget I’m looking at worked well enough a year or two ago, so unless the newest version is a revolutionary advance that offers me a must-have function that nobody else is offering, why not go with the older version?

    Look at iPods — a few years ago, folks were crazy over their iPods with photo capability. The devices themselves haven’t changed just because newer ones came out that play video or have wifi — they do the same job just as well today as they did then. If I want a quality device that plays music and maybe shows a picture or two, why wouldn’t I go with the old one?

    In the end, I suppose I’m advocating that we look away from the promises marketers make and think more deeply about what we need our gadgets to do. The folks who make this stuff have a lot invested in coaxing a new purchase out of us every year or so, but my needs — and probably yours — don’t actually change that much, that quickly. This isn’t to say I never buy anything new, but I think carefully about whether I can fill the same need with an older, cheaper device. It’s not settling — I don’t accept less than what I need. But I decide what those needs are, not a manufacturer or marketer who’s made a place for me in their fiscal planning.

    And that’s the point — know your needs and meet them as efficiently as possible. A lot of gadgets seem to be designed as an end in themselves — you don’t use them, they use you. Knowing what your needs are — whether as a professional in your field of work or as an individual desiring some form of entertainment or whatever your case may be — well enough to select the right tools might well lead you to be first in line at a launch-day event, but that’s a considered choice. Which is a world of difference from being there just because it’s new, and new must be good, right? Often, older isn’t only good enough, it’s better.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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