Repurposing Someone Else’s Toolbox

Don't repurpose this tool. Unless you're going to use it as a paperweight. Or a decoration. Actually, use it for anything but writing.
Don’t repurpose this tool. Unless you’re going to use it as a paperweight. Or a decoration. Actually, use it for anything but writing.

My tools are stupid. Some are too simple. The rest are too complex. They don’t work the way they should. They look like they were designed using sidewalk chalk in a parking lot.

You’d be crazy to try to use the tools I use. But my tools are perfect for me.

What Works for Me…

I spent[1] a lot of time finding the right apps for all the jobs that I do. Any other person would look at my Applications folder or my iPad’s home-screen and just shake their head. It’s not necessarily a collection that I’m proud of, but it gets the job done.

I’ve found, and am still finding, apps that do the job that I need them to do. What I’ve found won’t work for you because you don’t work the way I do.

Don’t Copy, Learn

This is not to say that there’s something wrong with looking for suggestions on how to build, record, or write. In fact, you should find smart people and learn from them. But that’s the crucial distinction: find people to learn from, don’t just do everything those people say.

The way to do important work, meaningful work, is to make conscious decisions about the way I’m doing something. To make those decisions, I need to understand what I’m doing, not just do what someone else says.

This is something I struggle with. It’s easy to slip from looking for suggestions to implementing someone else’s workflows. It’s easy because I’m lazy. I don’t want to take the time to understand the problem and work out a solution.

The problem with the copycat approach is that we’re not all the same. We differ in both how we approach and carry out our work. My workflows won’t work for you[2], you’re workflows won’t work for me. Don’t try to force them to.

Make it Yours

The real solution is to take concepts and tools and repurpose them. I’m writing this in Byword, a plain text editor. I’m not collaborating with anyone. I need a little bit of formatting, some footnotes to unclutter my prose, and a blank page to write on.

I’m working on a book that will include some video segments. I’m using Pages because it allows me to format the book the way I need it. I can include videos and export the individual chapters to iBooks Author to do the final layout.

But you may be working on a legal document with a lot of people on different platforms. Pages and Byword would be terrible choices for that project. You’d choose Microsoft Word, or some industry-specific tool that suits your needs.

Take some time to understand your needs. Think through the problem you’re having. Find an appropriate solution. It might save you some time, it will certainly save you some frustration.

How have you repurposed a tool to use it in your workflow? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Am spending. I think about this stuff way too much.  ↩

  2. Mostly because they’re really, really bad.  ↩