Quick tip – learn to use your tools

I’ve recently taken a close look at the application folder on my Mac. If you sort your applications by “date last opened”, you may be in for a surprise. More than 70% of the applications I have installed had not been opened in the past 30 days. Including some applications I consider essential and would not ever want to remove from my computer.

That simple fact led me to consider why I actually acquired the 70% that had not been used in the past month. With very few exceptions, I’ve downloaded or purchased them to solve a single problem. This is not unlike buying the most extensive Swiss Army knife in order to clip your nails, because it has – of course – a nail clipper. I’m using only a very limited part of the capabilities of the tools I have. And that’s a problem on several levels. Let’s examine this a bit further:

I don’t know what I’ve got

Because I acquire these tools for a single purpose and I never take the time to learn what else they can do, means that I have really no idea what these tools can do for me other than what I wanted to use them for.

Take Name Mangler, for example. I acquired the tool because I had to rename a bunch of JPEG files with duplicate names, as JPEG files that come from cameras tend to have. Little did I know that this was one of the prime applications for automatic renaming available on the Mac.

If I don’t know what I have, I’m likely to go looking for another application to do a job I need doing, but that one of my current applications can handle if I only know about it. If I read the manual, or get to know the tool by using it in different configurations, I will not go looking for a new solution, saving myself significant research time in the process.

I’ve been wondering whether this is the result of a couple of years of iOS use, where single purpose tools are often the norm more than the exception.

I have multiple tools that serve the same purpose

That leads to situations where I keep similar data in the same type of tool. If the data is accessible and in a format that is shared by multiple tools, this may appear less of a problem. Markdown formatted plain text files, for example, can be read by quite a few applications, some of which I have installed. However, the problem lies elsewhere. The time I invest in getting to know the basic functionality of each of these tools could have been better and likely more productively been invested in getting to know one of these tools a lot better.

Instead of focusing my effort at one tool and really getting to know it, I diffused my effort over several tools. In text editors, I am a jack of all trades, but a master of none. And that is only due to the fact I felt the need to download and use a number of them.

My current text editor set-up has been reduced from a mix of Ulysses, FoldingText, Sublime Text 3, Byword and nvAlt to just Byword and nvAlt. Byword is for writing, nvAlt is for looking up information across my library of text files.

Imagine for just a moment the time spent in getting to know even the basics of these tools.

What do I suggest to resolve this?

Well, I’ve learned the hard way, so you perhaps shouldn’t. There is really only one solution I consider as an adequate answer to this problem: you need to invest in your tools. Get to know them. Be aware what you can do with them. If you have a problem, check whether there is anything in your current toolbox that my solve the issue. It perhaps will not be the most elegant of solutions, but you will have mastered more of your existing tools.

As Kourosh Dini so eloquently states: “Mastery is mastery of the basics.”