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

On Not Pushing Your Tools

Wrenches and a socket driver

In the early 1990s, I was heavily into desktop publishing (DTP). As I was learning that craft, I couldn’t afford heavy-duty DTP software like FrameMaker or Ventura Publisher or QuarkXpress. But I did have a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 (yes, the version that ran on DOS). And I stumbled across a book titled Desktop Publishing with WordPerfect 5.1.

Using the two, I managed to learn how to publish long, well-formatted documents using a tool that wasn’t really designed for that task. It was a cumbersome process, but it was possible.

In learning to desktop publish with WordPerfect 5.1, I learned a valuable lesson: unless you have no other choice, it’s not worth the time or effort to push your tools beyond their intended uses.

It’s not uncommon to come across blog posts and hacks that tell you how to wrestle an application into doing something it wasn’t designed to do.

Take Evernote, for example. It’s a great tool for collecting and organizing information. But it’s not a word process, it’s not a blog post editor, it’s not a task or checklist manager, it’s not a flashcard app, and it’s not a presentation tool. Yet many people who use Evernote use it for all of that. And a whole lot more.

As good as Evernote is at collecting and organizing information, it’s not as good as the dedicated application people try to use it to replace.

I can understand why people try to push their tools beyond their uses, beyond their limits: they might not want to clutter their hard drives up with specialized applications. Remember what I did with WordPerfect those 20+ years ago?

Sometimes, though, you need to bite the bullet. You need to recognize the limits of the tool that you’re using and, when necessary, turn to something else.

Remember that the goal behind using tools is to make us more productive. To free up our time. I don’t think that trying to push your tools beyond their limits is the most productive use of your time and energy.

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