6 Ways to Take the Headache Out of Learning New Tech

Today’s blog post is written by Katie Campbell, Data Migration Specialist, PatronManager. 

So the leaders of your arts organization have just announced that you’re going to be adopting a new calendar app, or testing out new mobile barcode scanners at the box office, or migrating all of your data to a new database! Exciting? Yes! Scary? I hear you! When it comes to new technology, the feeling of resistance is totally normal. Your current way of doing things might not be great or super efficient, but it’s comfortable. You know how to do your job with the tech you have, so the idea of change can be overwhelming.

Now, you may assume that there is a divide between the tech-loving and tech-averse, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: learning to use new technology gives this tech pro the heebie-jeebies as well. Even though I know my job depends on me adopting the new app/database/interface, I know that I have the capability to learn it, and I know the new technology will make my work life easier, I still dread it. Everything in my body tells me, “Stop! Halt! Retreat to the familiar!”

If this is my response, I can only imagine how overwhelming new technology can be for arts administrators who just want to get back to programming a season, promoting their productions, selling tickets, fundraising, etc… Well, I can’t offer a magic pill, but I have been in your shoes enough times to come up with some top tips:

Manage your expectations

Simply anticipating the mixed feelings and effort that come along with learning a new interface or system can have a big impact on your experience. Often, the tone of a new tech launch can create wildly inaccurate expectations. The entire staff is gathered together and told in an excited fever-pitch that your old system is being replaced by newer, more powerful technology! The meeting is staged as a pep rally, complete with candy-colored slides, slickly edited demo videos showing off the new features, and maybe even free swag. The possibilities are endless — this is going to be FUN!

The downside of the pep rally approach is getting back to your desk and opening up that new tech expecting that the movie will be even more fun than the preview! Inevitably, you are disappointed. You were promised an upgrade; a before-and-after with nothing in between. You can’t find that shiny new feature, and when you do find it, you can’t make it work. And then you try to do one of your daily tasks, but the new settings are confusing. Remind yourself that a lot of learning happens between the before and the after.

Treat learning new tech as a work project (because it is)

It’s easy to make the mistake of treating new technology as an obstacle to the “real” work you need to do. Actually, learning to use new technology is real work, and failing to complete this work has real consequences. With that in mind, treat the work of learning new technology as you would any other project. Set achievable goals and draw up plans to reach them; block out time on your calendar; check in with your team to troubleshoot snags.

Bring your brainpower

I mentioned blocking out time on your calendar above, but it’s worth zooming in on this. Not all time is created equal! Learning new tech is best done post-coffee, pre-lunch-coma, and definitely not after a grueling 3-hour meeting. You know, when you are most alert and focused. Reserve that time for a deep dive into your new tech. Additionally, if you work in a loud or open office setting where you might get easily distracted, consider working in a remote setting for these few hours so you can really focus (if it is an option available to you). Perhaps your home or even a quiet coffee shop will set the tone for a productive session.

Manage your resources

If you schedule your normal workload and pick up new features as they are needed, an inevitable panic will set in as your work takes you twice as long as usual. Don’t make learning new tech compete with programming your fall season. Pre-empt the panic by working with your team to make time to learn the new features before they halt daily functions. If there are less urgent projects on your plate, consider postponing them until after you complete your training. Later, you can approach the postponed projects using your powerful new tools and expertise!

Reach for a lifeline

Though it may feel like you are expected to know your way around this strange landscape without a compass, there are many places you can turn for help. First, be sure you are aware of any self-help troubleshooting resources available to you. Whoever dropped you off in this strange new land is the person to ask where to find these resources. Second, speak up (gently) when something isn’t working. The person who implemented the new system doesn’t know your daily procedures as intimately as you do. It is possible they can make a small change to improve the setup. If not, they may be able to point you to a new way to achieve those same ends! Stay focused on the end goal.

Celebrate progress

As you reach your training goals, celebrate the milestones along the way. You built a new annual giving report! Gold star! You figured out where the order fee settings were hiding! Go you! You successfully scanned all the tickets for the first show of your season! You’re a boss! Rather than focusing on closing the gap between the new system and the old system, focus on building your expertise, one feature at a time. Swap new tricks with colleagues to help each other along. Continue learning until you have reached parity with the old system, but don’t stop there! Explore new features that could make you even more effective.

Adopting new technology is not always an easy task, but at the end of the day it can open up greater possibilities for you and your arts organization! With these tips to guide you, you’re well on your way to a happier, more manageable learning process. If you have tips of your own, sound off in the comments below! I’m still on this journey with you, so please share. What did I miss? How do you take the headache out of learning new tech?

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