Scott’s Thoughts: Reduce to the Realistic

“Simplicity is a great virtue but it requires hard work to achieve it and education to appreciate it. And to make matters worse: complexity sells better.”

-Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, Dutch systems scientist, programmer, software engineer, science essayist, and early pioneer in computing science

Notebook and pen.In Tuesday Tactics we often feature a wide range of apps and tools to deal with organizational and productivity challenges. We never solely endorse a single system or product, because we know that different folks have different learning and working styles. What works for you might not work at all for someone else, and we hope that as we bring these shiny new interfaces to your attention, you’ll sample them like you might a buffet, trying a variety of samples until you zero in on the one you want. Our hope in all of this is to guide you towards systems and processes which best fit your life.

In reading literally thousands of pitches for products designed to “make your life easier,” we have learned one very important lesson: Complexity is seductive and deceiving. It can be very, very tempting to adopt and learn a complex system which promises to anticipate and solve every problem. The idea that one perfect tool will free you from all hassles is almost always a fantasy. Instead of solving practical problems, these tools sell the fiction of seamless success.

As you look for tools to help you manage your work, here are some guidelines to consider:

1. Recognize what’s already working. Sometimes a product will pitch you on a problem you don’t really have, or will promise only a marginal improvement over your current approach.

2. Separate need-to-have from nice-to-have. If you find yourself saying “It would be nice to have that feature just in case…” put your guard up. You may be buying excess complexity. Focus on seeing your needs clearly.

3. Find the friction. New tools or complex systems will introduce friction into your flow. Does a piece of software feel clunky? Does an app feel unnatural in the context of your approach to projects? The problem is usually not you.

4. Recognize every system has inherent compromises. No system will be completely friction-free. The key is learning to prioritize compromises and understanding your personal perspective on associated costs with each solution.

Experimentation is an excellent approach, but try and recognize when you are letting it run away with your valuable time. Whenever possible, reduce to the realistic.

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