Productivity / Business Productivity

7 low-tech gadgets every business owner needs

We business owners are usually found glued to our computers, tablets and phones, but some low-tech gadgets are just as valuable. Here are seven I can’t get by without.

28 December 2016 by

One of my favourite things about the start of the year is putting up my shiny new wall calendar and mapping out the year ahead. This year, as I did, I realised that it’s not only one of the most useful and best loved gadgets in my office, but also one of the most low-tech gadgets.

After a little more contemplation, I came to the conclusion that aside from my phone and my computer, most of the items that keep my business running smoothly are very low-tech indeed.

Source: Work your way Flying Solo’s step-by-step course. View more.

Here are seven of my favourite low-tech gadgets.

"All it takes is a change of scenery to help trigger a change of perspective."

1. A year-at-a-glance wall calendar

The electronic calendar that syncs across my PC, phone and tablet is fantastic (especially on the odd occasion when it actually works). However, I don’t find it helpful at all when I need to get a bird’s-eye view of the major things that will be going on at a particular time of the year.

In contrast, my year-at-a-glance wall calendar gives me exactly the info I need in a matter of seconds and makes planning easy.

If I were a pragmatist, I’d get a dry erase calendar that I could change constantly, but my personal philosophy is that if there’s going to be something that big on my office wall, it has to be attractive. I get a decorative paper one instead, and have lots of fun each January choosing the new piece of art that will grace my office for the coming year.

2. Textas, A3 paper and sticky notes

Need to brainstorm? Move away from your computer and get out your textas – the more colours the better. Team them with the biggest piece of paper you can fit on your desk (in my case A3) and an army of sticky notes in all shapes and sizes and you have everything you need for a productive burst of creativity or strategising. These are my go to tools when I want to create big picture plans or experiment with different ways to simplify complex concepts.

The fact that I feel like I’m playing instead of working as soon as I get the textas out and start drawing has nothing to do with why I use them so frequently. Honest.

3. A window

In my old corporate life, a window was something to be fought for and guarded jealously once won. Now that I’m my own boss, one of the perks is that I get the window seat all day everyday.

I truly think it’s a sanity saver, and will never tire of seeing the plants outside move through the cycles of the year or waving to my neighbours as they walk up and down the street, often with their dogs and/or children.

Just as importantly, whenever I hit a stumbling block with my work letting my eyes drift to the outside world usually brings thing into focus in a matter of moments.

As an added bonus, my windows give me both fresh air and natural light, two commodities that were very rare indeed when I inhabited a cubicle!

4. Paperweights

Sitting by an open window to work soon loses its charm when what you’re working on starts blowing around the room! There’s no way I’m closing those windows unless I have to though, so I’ve become quite the paperweight aficionado, and at current count there are five on my desk.

Aside from their functional aspects, I love their colours and shapes and how tactile they are. In fact, it’s only now that I’m writing about them that I’ve realised that how often I reach out and pick one up to fidget with when I’m thinking something through.

TIP: When investing in paperweights, choose at least a few that aren’t glass domes; when the sun hits those babies at the wrong angle, you’ll have a headache before you know it!

5. Re-chargeable batteries

If your keyboard and mouse run on batteries, then you already know that they are scientifically programmed to run out of charge the moment they detect any sense of urgency in the air.

Once upon a time, the ‘low battery warning’ sign flashing up on my monitor was enough to send me scrounging around swiping batteries out of other devices, or even jumping in the car to run to the shops.

But I’ve since realised that none of those activities is helpful when I’m cutting it close on a deadline. So I now keep waaaaaaaay more batteries than I need on hand, ready to change them over at a moment’s notice. They’ve saved my bacon more times than I care to count.

TIP: Get into the habit of recharging your batteries the moment you take them out of a device. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that no matter how emphatically I tell myself that I’ll remember which batteries on my desk are fresh and which are depleted, I never ever will. Now they’re either in a device being used, in the drawer fully charged ready to go or in their charger being replenished. There is no in between, and woe betide you if you happen to get in the way of my system.

6. Walking shoes

Have you ever noticed that you have some of your best ideas when you’re not at your desk? For me, all it takes is a change of scenery to help trigger a change of perspective.

Many of my most innovative solutions to problems and creative approaches to marketing occur to me when I’m tramping in the bush or wandering about my local neighbourhood – so much so that I now know that if I’ve hit a mental block the best solution is to take a walk around the block. Try it next time you’re stuck, and I think you’ll quickly become a convert.

7. A tray

Obviously, as a soloist, it’s essential that I drink a lot of tea. I also have a water glass on my desk most of the time. You’re probably the same. So let me share a lesson that I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.

Eventually, you’re going to knock one or both of those items over.

When you do, the ensuing deluge of liquid is going to gravitate towards your phone, computer, keyboard and mouse as though magnetically attracted to them.

At the same time, your heart will be in your mouth as you frantically run around trying to find paper towels to sop up the mess and prevent it getting into your precious high-tech equipment.

A saucer simply isn’t big enough to contain a full cup of tea or a full glass of water, but a tray with a lip an inch or so high is. I like these ones from Ikea; they’re cheap, cheerful and have a small enough footprint that I can always fit one on my desk. Seriously, do it… $4.99 to protect my PC and avoid the need to freak out every time I spill something is one of the best business investments I’ve ever made, and has paid for itself many, many times over.

Are you a fan of old-school tools too? Please share your favourite low-tech gadgets with us in the comments.

Jayne Tancred

is a copywriter and marketing coach who works with natural health businesses and soul-centred soloists.


  • A tray is a great idea. I spent a 48 hour period last year with my laptop upside down waiting for the circuitry to dry out in the hope that I could save it after spilling a glass of water over the keyboard (it did recover, and I’m using it to type this comment).

    For me, walking shoes are important enough to top the list. Going for a walk is great for idea generation, clear thinking, problem solving and general wellbeing.

    • Haha – I’ve lost a couple of laptops to spilling white wine!! Last time, I spread bi-card soda all over the keyboard to soak up the puddle. I vacuumed the soda up the following morning – and guess what – my computer hasn’t missed a beat. And no, I wasn’t drinking during the day 😉

    • Yes, I’ve had experiences like that too! Tea, wine, water… I’ve spilt it all. That’s why I love my tray so much: since I got it, I’ve still knocked lots of stuff over, but my PC and keyboard haven’t been impacted in the slightest. I’m a bit of an evangelist now!

    • Tracey, most computers will survive most spillages if you are patient. Turn them off immediately, and make sure it is completely dry before you turn it back on.

      • Thanks Darryl. I did – but it was 2 days before it would function again!

    • Steve

      One of the best laptop savers I invested in this year is a Vesa mount laptop stand attached to a gas lift dual display stand. It keeps my laptop and display off the desk and also allows me to lift both higher so I can stand during the long conference calls. I also use a squishy rubber kneeling pad to stand on.
      Having a raisable Laptop and Monitor has also allowed my to reclaim back some valuable desk space.

  • Great article. I love the low-tech gadgets

  • They’re not really gadgets, and they don’t *always* help, but I do find my cats and dogs are really wonderful to have around the office. Particularly for those stressful moments when whatever it is, isn’t going how it’s supposed to! Stepping away from the computer, grabbing a cup of tea, and petting a purring cat for five minutes can all slow down the frantic frustrated signals enough to re-approach.

    I love coloured highlighters that I use with my textas, too. 🙂

    • Pauline, you’re right… there are many soloists around here who think having their pets around is a huge asset to both their businesses and their lifestyle. I don’t have any myself, but currently have a meeting of magpies going on outside my window, and I’m loving their chatter 🙂

  • Jayne, good article and comments. I am in IT so tech is my life – I have enough equipment that at night all the status lights are bright enough to function as a night light. However one of my most important tools is a notebook. It never runs out of batteries and can’t be hacked by some on-line marauder.


    • Yes, absolutely true Darryl. Mine are packed to the brim with notes that would be unintelligible to anyone else, and I’d be lost without them!

  • Good Morning Jane, I love the idea of a year at a glance planner but where on earth do you find decorative paper ones. I have only found one type and it’s very very basic yet has pride of place in my home office – boring! I’d love to dress up the one wall it is on as it is very uninspiring. Could you list a supplier perhaps?

  • Nice list Jayne. I leave running gear near the door should inspiration strike for a trot around the block – I definitely agree with you that it refreshes the mind. My favourite low-tech gadget is the paper to-do list. Despite trying lots of digital task managers I still find the act of writing a new list at the end of the day therapeutic and effective for focusing. Plus you get to cross things off with satisfaction!

    • +1 for the paper to-do list!

    • I’m with you Peter – I’ve got a digital to do app that hasn’t been opened in months, but when it comes to my paper list I NEVER fail to add something to or cross something off!

  • Walking shoes and a window are the greatest things ever aren’t they? They just make the biggest difference to my life

    • Absolutely Kel. I don’t know how I’d cope without them!

  • Great article. Re-chargeable batteries are an excellent idea. They save money and the environment.

    • Thanks Paul – I’m glad you liked it. Yes, the environmental aspect was why I went down that route in the first place – it was only later that I realised they were more convenient too. 🙂

  • Great list Jayne and I have all but the tray (which will be added today). My mouse and keyboard are both rechargeable. I swim when feeling uninspired and have to keep a pad and pen by the pool as i usually get some great ideas, although the paper ends up a bit soggy.

    • Maybe we need to invent you a waterproof notepad She’s Got You Sorted! I’m sure I saw something about a showerproof notepad around here a few years ago. I’ll see if I can hunt it down for you.

  • Great article Jayne! After seeing this video my new favourite is the bulldog clip!

  • Having the desk at the window is the best thing ever – looking out at trees, birds and the weather gives me inspiration. Thank you for sharing

  • add

    ‘Tramping in the bush’ makes you sound so much like a kiwi!

  • Thanks for the article Jayne. My office low tech necessities are in trays, out trays, to do trays, to file trays, and any other tray that will stop the paper work forming piles in the most inconvenient of places.

106,175 people use Flying Solo to help them create a business with life. Do you?

Connect with Flying Solo

Explore the benefits of membership