Here’s a simple truth: The better you become at your distinct craft the more simple your toolkit becomes.
What’s fascinating is that this has been shown to be true of some of the best and most well-known “doers” out there, entrepreneurs, artists, and businessmen and women.
What does this practically mean and look like? It means that there seems to be a direct relationship between the quantity of tools that you use and the quality of your craft – the less you have the better you are.
For example, the amount of applications that I typically use on a day-to-day basis may actually surprise you – I can count them on one hand:
It has surprised many people when they ask what I do and what I use to get stuff done and the list isn’t too long. Sure, I use some other apps here and there but these are really my “core” – these are the things that get the job done. In fact, if you were to follow the line of actual physical devices it would really be three:
- Macbook Air
The question, naturally, is why this is true and the reason is simple: There are tools that you use that seem natural and easy to you – these are the things that you keep going back to, every time you encounter a “new-ish” device or application that does what the previous one did but does it “better” – but you don’t need better, you need done - the things that help you get things done.
That’s why I always return to the sheer basics – the tools that I know that I can trust day-in and day-out to get the job done and with excellence. Hugh Macleod from Gaping Void once put it like this:
Actually, as the artist gets more into his thing, and as he gets more successful, his number of tools tends to go down. He knows what works for him. Expending mental energy on stuff wastes time. Heʼs a man on a mission. Heʼs got a deadline.
Hugh is best known for his design work – but it’s important to know that his toolkit is super simple: A black pen and the back of a business card. That’s what’s made him famous – that’s him, at his very best in his craft.
Steve Jobs did this well too – he knew his toolkit and he framed Apple, Inc. to leverage a unique and focused toolkit as well telling his company when he got back, after having been kicked out, that they would only build four types of computers (via Steve Jobs Biography):
After a few weeks Jobs finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted at one big product strategy session. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. “Here’s what we need,” he continued. Atop the two clumns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; he labeld the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. “The room was in dumb silence,” Schiller recalled.
He simplified their toolkit, focused their efforts, and made them the best products in the market. No wonder they became so good at what they do!
Your challenge is to simplify your toolkit. Become hyper-selective about what you use and even more selective about what you don’t. Who cares if everyone else is using Evernote? I know I tried it for a while and even liked it – heck, I even blogged about it!
But I had to leave it eventually – it just wasn’t me and it didn’t enhance my craft – it forced me to create a pattern and a workflow that just didn’t work the way I did. I didn’t want the tool to shape me, I wanted to shape the tool.
Do this and you will become better at your craft. Period.