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.
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.
Here are seven of my favourite low-tech gadgets.
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!
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.