Okay no surprise here but I love technology, cool and otherwise. But technology is only useful to the extent it gets something done for you.
So I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. There is just way too much information to get interested in everything that comes your way. So after listening to the Mac Power Users Podcast, I went on a little Data diet – sort of.
Before I get to what happen, I’ll lay out the punchline first – not the best standup strategy, buy what the hey. You collect applications and services that do things for you and you start trying to use them to THEIR potential rather than YOUR potential. Many would question why have more than one web browser (I have 4), more than one RSS reader (I have 5), and more than one word processor (lost count).
The trick is you have different tools for different purposes. A while ago I coined the term “the Problem of the 3/8″ wrench” the fact that many of us buy 101 piece tool sets but typically only use a few pieces on a regular basis. For example I have at least 8 tools that can turn a 3/8″ nut or bolt. Never thought that was excessive. They are different styles of tools for different applications.
So with software, you have multiple tools for different types of work. And that’s a good thing. I am constantly amazed how people try to jam all their needs into Word or Excel. That is what they have – forget a database or some other word processor. Even within a software category there are times when you need MS Word for your Master’s thesis and there are times you need TypePad for a blog posting. No shame in that.
I think the reluctance is ‘learning’ more software and I understand that. Here’s the problem, when you try to use Tool A for something more easily done by Tool B you will likely spend more time figuring out obscure commands in your current Tool than it would take to get up to speed with a new tool that is a better fit for your task.
Take something simple like a web browser. With the expansion of online services where you login once and go many places I have different browsers for different identities. I have a browser for my personal surfing, my Google and Flickr accounts and associated blogging. The bookmarks there point to the places I go personally. Then I have another browser for my hobby blogging where I’m working with community and non-profits. It has separate bookmarks that point to that community and logs into its own blogs, google accounts, and online services. It solves the problem of constantly logging out and into different personas – and the embarrassment of posting a personal comment to a community blog. My RSS feeds have been pruned down to the ones that apply to the different personas and each with there own version of Google reader.
Now that is a simple data management problem. Not really different than having two local accounts on your computer. The simplicity of the example masks the power of the method. Going back to word processing, a high end word processor with rulers, styles, footnotes, tables of contents and so on is only really useful when you are creating for print or some other complex document. You can make simpler documents in complex software but why would you? If you are writing a blog post you only need to type plus maybe bold and underline, and be able to save the result – likely as a plain text document. Well you can get through the first part and if the distractions of 147 buttons and toggles don’t bother you every time you look at the top of the window, maybe that’s okay. But then when you hit save, the complexity is right in your face, Export or Save as, find the appropriate drop down. No big deal but why bother?
Disambiguating your work is becoming a bigger and bigger part of my workflow. On the computer and on the web there are a massive number of tools many of them are free. The concept of standardization and single choice “best of breed” is something that evolved around supported corporate environments. When you are your own support environment there is no economy of scale.