I read a great book a while back called The Systems Bible. It basically pounds into your head that systems are almost always bad, and should be avoided at all costs.
It does make a caveat that if you ABSOLUTELY need to create a system, make sure to start with a simple system and build any necessary complexity on top. If you create a complex system first the system will ultimately fail.
That’s kind of abstract, so what do I mean in real life…
Solving Problems that Don’t Yet Exist
E.g. Shopping for a new SaaS tool. It’s really fun to try out new SaaS products, but do you really need another one right now? What problem are you trying to solve?
Solving problems that don’t yet exist is tempting because it feels productive. But it’s not a good use of your time.
Because picking a tool to solve a problem is an optimization problem, not a building problem. It takes something you’re already doing and makes it better. It doesn’t build anything new in and of itself.1
And when you’re early and time is precious, you gotta be in Build Mode as much as possible.
It gets worse though: not only does it waste time today that could be used solving a problem that actually exists (i.e. building) but when the problem you’re trying to anticipate finally arrives the complex system you designed won’t actually solve it.
Because you didn’t fully understand the problem when you designed the system. So you’ll have to start from scratch on designing a new system anyway.
My rule of thumb now with any new problem is to first solve it using Excel:
- List of people I need to contact? Forget a CRM, I’m doing it in Excel.
- Tracking my investments? There are a million financial tools online… Excel works fine, thanks.
- Tracking a list of royalties to be paid to a partner? Excel.
- Personal and family goals? Excel.
- Friends I need to get in touch with? Another list in Excel.
Excel is my personal tool of choice, but you can do this in lots of other tools: in a text editor, the Notes app, whatever.
Once you’re actually dropping the ball on stuff, bam… that’s when you can look for a tool. Experiencing the pain will tell you exactly what you’re looking for when you go shop for a tool.
Shopping is fun but in the end their real purpose to solve business problems. If you don’t yet have a problem, don’t go shopping.
There are few exceptions for categories that you can’t do at all without a tool, like payment processing, but then you should just pick the one that everyone already uses (Stripe) and be done with it.↩