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

Constraints and Creativity

A pair of hands, handcuffed

A lot of people confuse amassing tools with progress.

Tim Ferriss talking with Joel Stein

I know, and know of, more than a few people who think that if they have the latest and greatest tools and apps they’d be more creative, more productive, more effective.

No, they wouldn’t.

Tools and apps don’t make you more effective. They don’t make you more creative. They definitely don’t make you more productive. They can help, but those tools and apps don’t do the work. You do.

Take writer George R.R. Martin, for example. You’d think he uses cutting edge writing applications like Word or Scrivener. Well, you’re wrong. Martin uses WordStar, an old DOS word processor. On top of that, he doesn’t use social media and reportedly doesn’t know how to use email.

Think about that for a second. This best-selling author, who’s most popular book series was turned into a successful TV series, uses what’s considered antiquated software. He doesn’t do much digital, either. And yet Martin’s written millions of words that have been devoured by millions of readers.

The supposed constraints of WordStar haven’t blunted Martin’s creativity. You could make the argument that they’ve enhanced his creativity. For Martin, WordStar and DOS are familiar. They allow him to focus his attention and his creative energy. They just work for him.

There’s a lesson there: constraints aren’t a hindrance. They can spur you to become more creative.

Do you need something like Todoist to track your tasks, or will Simpletask or a text file do the trick? Do you need to write that blog post in a word processor, or will a text editor do the job just as well?

Embrace constraints. Don’t worry about what a tool or app can’t do. Focus on what it can do. Focus on what it can do to help you achieve your goal or complete a task.

Eliminating the frills lets you home in like a laser on what you need to do. Eliminating the frills lets you focus on your work, not worrying about those frills and what they might be able to do to you. Eliminating the frills lets you be more creative, be more effective, be more productive.

Obviously, this won’t work for everything under the sun. But do take a long, hard look at what you do. Ask yourself whether you need a Swiss Army Knife or just a knife to do the job. The answer might just surprise you.

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