Tools Don’t Matter

One reason I don’t talk about tools here is because I don’t think they matter so much in the grand scheme of things. What’s important (to me) is making your art and sharing it with the world. Ultimately, you’re going to be remembered for the art you created and how it impacted the world, and not for the tools you used to create that work.

Tools don’t matter. They only make you more efficient. You still need to work on the important part (your art), but tools can’t help you do that. Tools don’t matter on their own. It all depends on how you use them, and, more importantly, what you do with them (as in, what you make with them). The final output is what matters in the end.

Tools are about making ideas happen from start to finish. I want to use them to get the work done, and I want them to be invisible. I want them to get out of the way so that the spotlight is on the work I’m trying to create, not on the tools. Tools are just the means to getting the work done, and, sure, I like my tools, though I’m not obsessed with them. I like my tools because they help me get the work done without having the need to think about it. Because I know my tools so well, the focus is on creating.

Having the right tools is important to getting your work done efficiently. What they won’t do is tell you what the right things are to work on. You still have to figure that out by youself. Once you’ve taken the time to figure out what those right things are for you, then the tools can increase the efficiency in helping you create whatever it is that you’re trying to create. Working on the right things is more important than having the right tools. For instance, you could be a marathon runner and not have the “best running shoes”, but you can still make do with the shoes you have. They may not be optimized for running, but will work nevertheless.

Once you know you’re working on the right things, then it’s a matter of having the right tools for the job. That will save you valuable time in the end, if and when the tools work just as you expect them.

I suggest picking the right tools, both digital and analog, that will serve you well in the forseeable future. Pick a few tools — as many as you need, and as few as you can get by with — then, use the heck out of them. Take as much time as you want in exploring and figuring out what those tools could be for you. Once you think you have sufficiently explored, then pick the tools you think that will help you get your work done. Focus more on doing/improving your work, and less time thinking about your tools.

How do you know if you’ve picked the right tools? When the focus is on producing quality work, and you’re also producing that work, that’s how you know that you have picked the right tools. They’ll become invisible over time, so to speak. You’ll use them without thinking and they’ll be a part of your toolkit. They’ll become a natural extension of your work and how you do things. Tools come and go, and they can change over time. The same tools I use today might be extinct in the future. They are not permanent. In any case, tools don’t matter in the end.

Tools can mean different things to different people. To a writer, a tool could be a text editor; to a painter, it could be a paint brush and canvas; to an executive, it might be using Excel, and so on. Whatever field you are in, you know what the appropriate tools are for your work.

Tools could be digital, analog, or both. My digital tools include a notebook and a phone. My analog tools include a pen, paper, sticky notes, and whiteboards.

I use analog tools, such as Doane Paper, Field Notes, and whiteboards, for capturing, ideating, and visual thinking. The analog tools are my “moving” and “thinking” tools.

I use the digital tools, such as my notebook and phone, for capturing ideas, editing, and polishing them before publishing (You can find the specific tools I use on the Colophon page).

These are my main workhorse tools. They help me get the work done without having to worry about losing anything, but I still have to do the right work with these tools.

50 years from now when someone visits my website, all that’s going to remain are my ideas from my writing and the value that readers derive from it. The tools I used to produce my writing will be irrelevant. What will remain relevant is the ideas that were conceived in my writing along with their practical applications.

In the end, tools don’t matter. What matters is the work you create and how it impacted the world. What good are tools if you have nothing to show for it? Ultimately, what matters is making those ideas happen.

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