We have been doing some thinking at work about the tools we use to get work done – specifically the software tools. We rely on some tools to do things that their creators probably didn’t envisage, where we could instead use something specifically designed for that purpose.
It’s not quite as stark as Maslow’s famous hammer (I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail). A lot of the tools in question were designed to be generalists – Excel, Miro, Notion – so a more apt comparison might be a Swiss army knife. But if you’ve ever tried to use a Swiss army knife as a knife, you’ll know that it doesn’t do the job as well as… an actual knife.
That’s not to say there is no place for generalists – every new tool introduces friction, requires behavioural change, and may turn out to only be marginally better after all. But it’s worth having the discussion, and maybe trying something new. Even though you know that when the next unexpected use-case emerges – the generalists will strike back to fill the gap.
I have been using Notion recently, a note-taking and collaboration product that has enjoyed favourable buzz from some of the Silicon Valley people I follow on Twitter. I was surprised to learn more about Notion’s backstory, which includes a recovery from the brink of failure, and a relocation to Kyoto which I still don’t fully follow (unless it was for the ramen, in which case the strategic importance of the move is clear).
I’m enjoying it. The individual note-taking experience takes what is good about Google Docs and adds some nice widgets and Markdown shortcuts, which is cool. But it is the flexible data-structure with its easy connections between notes and data-points that I have found most transformative – letting you start from anywhere and build in an emergent way, unlike the fragile top-down architecture of a Google spreadsheet (for example).
There are lots of directions the product could go in – I think it is only at risk of death-by-a-thousand-features, so am interested in how they handle curation and creation as the product grows (the current mostly blank slate approach already has me feeling like I’m not making the most of what is there).
It has bugs, the occasional glitch duplicating an object for example, or logging me out, or crashing (gulp). I’d like to be able to select whole notes on the Android app. But nothing too jarring.
I guess my broader writing problem is that this isn’t my first note-taking relationship, and I am shame-faced to I admit that I have often had overlaps. At this point I have notes on the following:
- Google Keep
- Google Docs
- Apple notes
- Gmail drafts
- Atom .txt files
- Atom unsaved files
- Actual physical notebooks (gasp)
I feel an urgency to patch it all together, particularly as Myspace is showing how easy it is to lose a server or two down the back of the sofa.
Though on reflection, as I recall some of the diaries, song lyrics and (I apologise) poetry I have written over the years in these places … absolution wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Full disclosure I wrote this in Notion. Give it a try!