Computers the size of rooms helped win a war. A simple astrolabe helped explorers discovery new worlds. Countless classics were penned with ink on paper. Are we chasing the latest technology to the detriment of our own personal growth and the success of our business?
Lee Matthew Jackson
In this episode I share how going back to old tech has helped me to improve my work life balance, regain my focus and improved my business.
We will discover:
- What old tech I’ve been using
- How limitations and inconvenience help me focus
- Selecting unique tools for specific jobs
- How I outwork this into my life and business
- Surprisingly positive impacts in my companies
- The real world benefits a digital minimalist approach
Get your quills at the ready and let’s jump in!
Welcome to the Agency Trailblazer Podcast, this is your host Lee. Today, I want to share with you how old-fashioned technology can help you grow your digital agency, and, hey, let’s throw in a little bit of improvement into your work-life balance as well. But before we continue, let’s thank our amazing sponsors Cloudways. You can find them on trailblazer.fm/cloudways. And also be sure to check out the show notes on trailblazer.fm, because they are launching an exciting new agency partnership programme which is only open for a few folks to join us, with some excellent content and perks. So, I’m going to be all mysterious and encourage you to go and check that link out separately.
Now, without further ado, let’s kind of do a history lesson and remind ourselves that many years ago computers the size of rooms helped win World War II. An astro blade, I think that was invented a thousand years ago or more by the Greeks, or maybe even earlier, helped explorers discover completely new worlds. In fact, it helped people navigate the oceans and allow countries to trade at a global level. You know what? Countless classics that we’ve read and enjoyed the movies of were penned with just ink and paper. And I want to throw a question at you right now, are we chasing the latest technology to the detriment of our personal growth and the success of our business? That is a mouthful. Let me say that again. Are we chasing the latest tech to the detriment of our own personal growth and the success of our business?
Let me put that into context, are we chasing after too many WordPress plugins or AppSumo lifetime deals, or the latest iPhone or the latest social media trend? Hello Clubhouse, are you a waste of time? I don’t know. So in this episode, I want to share with you my experiences of something I’ve only just realised is called digital minimalism. Very fancy word. I guess the idea is to minimise the amount of technology that we use in our day to day. I was trying to think of a title for this episode, and one of them was the convenience of inconvenience, but I figured that that would be far too vague. However, it does help to drive home that point that those tools that are marketed at me as hyper connected and hyper productive are in fact tools that hold me back. I actually don’t have the capacity to process so much information to connect with so many people and to do so many things, no matter how clever the technology is.
For every AppSumo deal, for every WordPress plugin I’ve invested in for my agency, there’s always been a point where I can’t take it any further. It’s hard for me to work out how to utilise this in my business. I get distracted by the limitations of that tool, and I get attracted by the shiny, new objects that are available elsewhere. I am absolutely guilty of using multiple plugins to solve the exact same problem because I hit a wall or I hit a limitation or I was attracted by the messaging of an alternate solution. I imagine many of you listening will have experienced this. Head on over to trailblazer.fm and check out episode number 307. Let me know in the comments, have you experienced this scenario? I just want to know I’m not alone, but also it’d be a great place to have a conversation.
Being in the web industry, we assume that in order to be productive, in order to get the job done, that we need to lean on technology, and we so often forget the things we were taught as children. I am actually way more creative with a piece of paper and a pen than I could possibly ever be with an empty Word document. With a piece of paper and a pen, I have the creativity to do anything I want on that sheet of paper or to add other sheets of paper to that. With a Word document I am limited by the features that it has. Therefore, if I’m going to brainstorm on a collaborative Google sheets with other people, I actually think I’m held back than if I can go over to a whiteboard in a team meeting. I am personally guilty of assuming that I need to use my PC because I am a web developer, because I offer services that are online.
And yet, by purchasing a fountain pen and enjoying really good quality paper, I’ve actually found this amazing expression of creativity where I’ve been able to plan loads of content for this podcast. I’ve been able to write out scripts. I’ve been able to think of new business ideas. I’ve been able to design new products for event engine that we’re working on right now, and that I believe are going to change the world, and I’m not even exaggerating. Using a pen and paper has been such a liberating experience. Being able to lean on that old-fashioned technology, especially going for a fountain pen within inks, et cetera, has been an amazing experience. There are no apps available to me on a tablet or web apps available to me in a browser that can replicate that freedom that I have when I pick up a pen.
And it’s the same in so many spaces. We lean on technology because we believe the technology is going to help us be better in some capacity. And yet we forget that we’re actually really quite cool and the technology is just a tool. It doesn’t really matter what tool we use as long as we are able to express what is going on inside of us. If you find it easier to write a blog with a pen and paper, I say write a blog with a pen and paper and get someone else to type that thing up. If you find it easier to create a blog by recording your voice and having somebody else transcribe that for you, I say go ahead and do that. In fact, that’s a way I have written so many blog posts in the past.
Over the last six months, I’ve discovered the joy of using old technology. And it’s still technology, I’m not saying that we should go back to using abacuses. But there are tools out there that we can lean on that exist already that have existed for an awfully long time and that do the job amazingly well. But we keep chasing the new, we keep chasing the learning curve. I want to share with you just some of the old technology that I’ve been using that is absolutely transforming our business. I’ve already shared one, that’s a pen and paper. Another would be some of the older tools that are available on my machine. I’ve switched to an email client using Thunderbird, which was first developed in 2003 and is no longer even supported by the Mozilla Foundation. This is in fact, something that is supported by the community. Email has transferred from an email client into the browser, and yet I found the browser really distracting. I found what Gmail has created to be highly addictive and not actually the best environment for me to go in, access email, deal with it, then close out.
Using an old-fashioned email client for me is still considered old tech, but also does the job that I need. And it creates that space. It gives me the ability to log in, do what I need to do, and then close out. I can mentally disconnect myself from that activity, and I’m no longer being notified as to what is going on in the world, and I can focus on other things. I share some of that journey in episode 306. I’ve also taken to getting magazines. I’m no longer utilising newsletters. I’ve removed all of those from my inbox. And now I subscribe to some key magazines where I can receive those in print. I can write all over them, I can circle what jumps out at me, I can rip pages out and stick them on my wall for inspiration. There is something so wonderful about the smell of the paper, the tactile feel of those pages, the sound of turning those pages and enjoying the content of that magazine.
I’m a massive believer, of course, in recycling and looking after our planet. So I will make good use of that magazine, and I will recycle in whatever way I can. I’m luckily enough to have children who need to use it for projects at school, et cetera. But by utilising that older technology, I’m being very careful with regards to what magazines I subscribe to or what content I am consuming. It’s actually making me think about the things that I do. It’s making me be more purposeful. I actually think the worth of digital content is greatly diminished because it is so accessible. I can, through my Kindle, access some amazing books for £1 each or free using Kindle Unlimited. Therefore, the value of those books perceivably drops. I now have way too many books on my Kindle than I could possibly ever read. And that’s not a good thing.
It’s great technology, it’s great for when I’m away on holiday and I can take some books with me in a small space, and I absolutely am an advocate of that. But actually using those in the sense of my business, that’s not actually the best use case for me of that sort of technology. The best technology for me is to spend £7 on a book that I know I want to read, and I want to write in, and I want to learn from and action. As I look at the digital footprint of our agency, I recognise that we have so much data. In fact, it’s insane how much information we are storing that’s pictures, it’s designs, it’s documents. We hold terabytes of information that we probably no longer need. Therefore, one of the biggest changes we’ve been making is moving to an offline solution, bringing our content off the cloud and onto physical hardware. So we can review what data we have, archive the information we have to keep for legal reasons, and then destroying the information we no longer need.
Therefore, we have a much smaller digital footprint in the cloud that we can control, and all of the other information that we do need can be archived safely in a couple of physical locations. Kind of reminds me of the old days in IT when we used to do those physical tape backups and take one home and lock the other one in the fireproof safe. These are just a few examples of where I and my agency have lent on older technology and recent months; the pen and paper, magazines, books, older software, and a reduction in our usage of the cloud.
These seem like limitations, but in fact, the limitations or the inconvenience of these older solutions have helped me and my colleagues to focus. I highlighted how by bringing our information down from the cloud it’s made us look at the data that we do hold, to remove that information we no longer need, and to file the information that we do need access to. It’s saved us money, but it’s also given us much better access to that information that is going to help us as a business to succeed. I challenge you right now, if you know you have got gigabytes of information on the internet and you’ve lost control of all of that, let me know in the comments, trailblazer.fm episode number 307. Again, I want to know that I’m not alone, but I also want to know if I’ve touched a nerve.
When writing with ye oldy pen and paper, I am focused on what I’m doing. Although I recognise I may have to re-key that information into a computer to use it, I still think, and in my experience, doing stuff on pen and paper then putting it online has still been far more efficient than me using an online tool, staring at a flashing cursor, being distracted by social media and other things on my machine. Instead of sitting at my computer, I instead can sit at a wooden writing desk that I purchased. It’s modelled on a really nice old Victorian writing table. I’ve literally taken this to the extreme folks, I’ve actually got ink pots and quills as well, just for fun. But I’ve really enjoyed it, sitting down with that pen and paper and writing those thoughts down, structuring it all, and then taking it to the technology when I’ve got everything squared away in my brain. I do feel it’s faster and more efficient by creating that perceived inconvenience.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognise that there are certainly times where using modern technology is absolutely the way to go. But look at your behaviour, look at your activities, and I’d encourage you to do what I’ve done, which is time yourself, how long does it take you to create content on the web via WordPress versus how long it might you on a typewriter? I’m kind of joking, but you know if you’ve got one, hell, why not? The point is there our unique tools we can utilise for specific jobs, and those tools should enable us to focus on the job in hand. When digging a hole in your back garden, do you need a spade or a JCB? I’m pretty sure for most of us it’s just a spade. That spade will allow us to be precise, to dig at the specific area of our garden that needs that attention, and for us to get the job done rather than investing or renting the latest in JCB technology. I don’t know how to operate one of those. I’m pretty sure the hole that I’m going to dig will not be precise and will be way too big for the potted plant that I’ve been asked to instal.
I get it, that is a really stupid example, but it is what I have done online and via the computer so many times. We want to select those unique tools for the specific jobs, therefore, let’s look at the outcomes that we require, let’s look at how we work, how we might be distracted or what might help us to focus, and then let’s selects those tools for those specific jobs. Just like I will tend to use voice, or I will use a pen and paper when writing the first draught of a blog or a podcast versus doing that on my computer and getting distracted by everything else that’s going on around me. Just like I would use a pen and paper to create drawings and diagrams rather than the limitations of a Word document. Just like I would use an ageing email client that only has community support to manage my inboxes rather than the cutting-edge interface of Gmail or Office 365.
Over the last few months, when I see a task that should only take a few moments of my life go on way beyond a reasonable time, then I consider what might be distracting me or what may be holding me back. I’ll then look at what alternative tools there are out there to enable me to do the job in a much more efficient manner, in a manner that I can be comfortable with and relaxed with. If it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it. There are some tools out there I use on a day-to-day basis which are phenomenal. They are the latest and greatest in tech and allow me to produce great quality work. And yet there are certainly those areas in my life where I need to improve how I create by taking a step back and finding the right tool.
Now, there’ve been some real surprisingly, positive impacts in my life and in the businesses by embracing older software and older technology. The main one for me at a personal level would be my mental health, because I can focus and I can produce more. The ongoing impact of that is the benefit to my businesses. I am a happier, more well-rounded, more grounded individual. I am way more focused on the future of my companies. Because I’ve taken that step back away from technology, I focused on what it is I want to learn and what it is that I want to create and what sort of future I want to build. I’ve used the right tools to help me roadmap that out. We are building exciting new technologies in the events industry. We are planning wonderful content for the Agency Trailblazer Podcast. In my personal life, I am learning brand new skills I would never have dreamed of, and I’m having a great time sharing that with my family. The amount of money I spend at a personal level and in the business has dramatically decreased because I’m no longer investing in cutting-edge technology, because frankly, the machines we have are perfectly fine.
I remember maybe three years ago spending £4,000 on just two laptops because I felt like I needed the latest and greatest technology, and yet, I still own the laptop I replaced. Simply installing a Bontu on that laptop, it can still do everything that that really expensive replacement could do. This is a valuable lesson that I’ve learnt in the businesses and in our home life. I’m using an old phone. It’s perfectly fine. It does the job. I’m using an ageing Dell computer with Linux, and it is rocking and rolling. I am using free and open source software, some of which is 20-plus years old, and I’m producing a podcast and running my businesses. As I use all of this, I’m getting the necessary jobs done for my business, I’m not being distracted, and I am seeing a massive benefit in my own personal wellbeing.
I feel so much more free, so much more productive, so much more focused on my personal life and on my business rather than distracted by what other people are doing on social media and rather than being distracted by all of those shiny, new objects out there. With marketing, you are going to be attracted as they outline the problems that you have and how they have the solution. And yeah, sure, in many cases perhaps they do. But as I pursue to digital minimalism, I recognise that I probably already have the tools I need to get the job done. What I really need is focus, and what I really need is the tool that will help facilitate that creativity and that focus. Therefore, I need to select the right tool for that specific job without any shame that it may be an ageing solution.
I hope you have been inspired to grab your ink well and your quill pen and some parchment paper and to get blogging. But in all seriousness, I hope you’re enjoying this new form of content. As I share what’s going on in my life, over the last few months there has been a seismic shift in my thinking and in my mental health and in what’s been important. I’m going to be continuing to share this on and off over the next few weeks and months. I’m really enjoying going back to basics rather than chasing the day to day. I’m really enjoying the slow lane rather than trying to keep up with everybody else. So if that’s you hang around, join me, trailblazer.fm, episode number 307. Go into those comments, let me know what you’re loving about this sort of content. Let me know what you agree with, what do you disagree with, what old-fashioned technology should we be checking out and why? Why does that old-fashioned tech help you in the task that you want to achieve?
A reminder, this episode was sponsored by Cloudways. You can find them over on trailblazer.fm/cloudways. One of the reasons I love them is their simple user interface across multiple providers. Keeps it simple, keeps it focused, no distractions. I can get the job done, trailblazer.fm/cloudways. Folks, I would love to see you in those comments on the website. If we don’t see you in the comments, then, hey, why don’t we see you in next week’s episode?