Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Why Simple Tools Matter

I talk a lot about simple in this space. Part of the reason that drove the creation of this blog was to share my ideas about simplicity. In all aspects of life.

And as you can guess from the title of this post, I believe that simple tools matter. Not just to techies, not just to productivity geeks. But to everyone.

Why? I’m a strong believer in the 80/20 rule, that 80% of people really only need 20% of the features and functions of just about any tool they use. An argument can be made that the ratio is 90/10.

Tools for the Masses

Think about it for a moment. Unless you’re a specialist, you don’t need expert-level tools. You need tools that are small, fast, and lean. Tools that pack the features you use regularly, if not daily. Tools that aren’t cluttered with functions and menus and toolbars that you’ll rarely, if ever, use.

Take, for example, image editing. While I have The GIMP installed on my main laptop, I rarely use it. When I need to edit images — and that includes resizing them, straightening them, adjusting their colour, and cropping them — then I use either PicMonkey (a web-based image editor) or Pixlr Touch Up (an offline image editor for the Chrome web browser).

Why? They do what I need, and just a little bit more. Not too much more, though.

That goes for a majority of the tools that I use. They let me do my work, quickly and efficiently. I’m not burdened with what I don’t need.

Running Into Arguments

As I wrote those last few paragraphs, I could hear the plaintive cries But I need …, I can’t do without …, and What if I need …

With the former, there are people who actually do need more advanced and complex features. But they’re not the majority. Not even close. It’s easy for them to fall into what I call the power user fallacy: everyone uses a tool or technology in the way that you do. That’s not the case. Everyone has different needs, everyone has different goals.

As for not being able to do without feature x or function y, how do you know that you can’t? You never know until you try.

Finally, it’s easy to fall into the contingency mindset. Again, you need to ask yourself a question: when was the last time I used that feature or tool? If you can’t remember, or it was months ago, chance are you won’t miss it.

Final Thoughts

I’m not arrogant or deluded enough to believe that simple tools are right for all people or all situations. They aren’t. I run into a few of those situations every now and then, and have to turn to more complex tools to help me get a job done.

Simple tools are just that: simple. They’re light, fast, and surprisingly flexible. There’s little no overhead. I can work quickly, efficiently, and with little or no fuss.

Isn’t that what a tool is supposed to help you do?

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