Creating your own Tools

Use what is useful,
reject what is useless
and add what is specifically your own.

One of the reasons why I love working in academia/science is that you get to create your own tools. You’re working in areas where there are no sure solutions, where (to put it dramatically) you have to step into the unknown — and tools that were made for known purposes usually do not quite get you there.

And I think quite like the craftsman who honors his tools, many aspects of creativity can be fostered if you have a close look at the tools you use and how to improve them to make the mundane aspects of your work more easy, to let you focus on the really important aspects: the message, the meaning, the fine details.

I was reminded of this when someone dropped me a comment regarding his site, which has a similar purpose, albeit with a more selective focus on academic research. He uses — among others — DEVONthink (more on that program in a later posting, as I have started to use it half a month ago) and makes heavy use of Apple Script to facilitate working with it. I was reminded of my extensive DokuWiki modifications, e.g., using a frame that allows the creation of template text, easy creation of pages, insertion of back buttons, etc. I think these modifications helped me use tools that would otherwise be too unwieldy and even now that I have switched to DEVONthink the groundwork with the Wiki was invaluable.

And I am still doing it, for example, after posting on “Ark of Ideas” about the need of a “smart” virtual keyboard for Smartphones, I have started to develop one. Reason is, I love typing while walking, because the information is send automatically to my MacBook Pro, but I hate that Apple’s virtual keyboard is so damn inconvenient to use. When it’s finished, it will be much easier for me to walk and type and will allow me to concentrate on the important aspect: Getting the idea down as fast as possible.

Of course, the tool should never become more important than the area in which you work, after all, it is only a tool. Many people spend ages creating the perfect tool or the perfect infrastructure, but avoid doing any creative work. But imperfect tools, which always bug you in a small and noticeable way, drain energy and concentration — and should be improved. Always have a close look whether the tool makes your work easier, whether you have better ideas and produce better work when you use it. Test it in the daily practice, this is the only way to make sure that the tool really helps you and has not become a goal in its own, distracting you from the creative endeavors you originally wanted to embark on.

So, which tools can you improve? What can you improve to help you focus on your creative work, and not on the tools you use for it?