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Have you ever thought you discovered the perfect productivity tool for yourself or your team — only to find that it didn’t really make a difference after all?

A new productivity tool isn't a magical solution, productivity expert Maura Nevel Thomas says.

Choosing a productivity tool that works requires understanding your needs.

In my latest article for Harvard Business Review, I explain why this happens. And I give some tips for choosing a productivity tool that you won’t abandon once the newness wears off.

If you’ve ever abandoned a productivity tool, or seen one fail to catch on with your team, you might have thought the problem was with the tool itself. But I’ve found that most of the time there’s a larger issue at play: The tool didn’t work because you or your team didn’t have a workflow management system already in place. A productivity tool can help you apply your workflow management system. But it’s not a substitute for it. As I write in the HBR article:

A workflow management process keeps the focus on the big picture while offering a structure in which to organize and manage the details.

The Right Way to Choose a Productivity Tool

That’s why I always ask about the existing workflow management system first whenever someone seeks my advice about choosing new productivity software or another tool. If you understood how you (or your team) are handling your workflow now, you have a better understanding of what you need from a productivity tool. You may find that when you improve your methodology you don’t need a new tool after all.

But if you still want to move forward with a new productivity tool, be sure that you know what problems you need it to solve and how it will support your workflow methodology.

Think of productivity improvement in terms of golf (or any other sport you like that requires the right equipment). You can buy the same clubs that Jordan Speith uses, but that doesn’t mean you’ll play like him. Similarly, you can buy the same productivity tool that a person or company you admire uses, but you won’t get the same results unless you hone all aspects of your productivity “game.”

Check out the whole article on HBR: Until You Have Productivity Skills, Productivity Tools are Useless.