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Get to know your tools

I think we can agree that time is a non-renewable resource. You cannot make back lost time. 

So it would make sense to maximize doing what inspires you and minimize tasks that feel like chores. One way to do that is to delegate, but in today’s world, there is another option: automation and better tools. 

The availability of better tools is not always easy to see or even to put in practice, because there is an emotional cost of trying something new, of letting go of how things used to work. 

Children seem very comfortable living in this space of not knowing and being curious. Still, most adults find the same space very uncomfortable, maybe because we associate it with feelings of incompetence. 

But once you become aware of this, you can choose to ask yourself: “Is the way I’ve always done this, the best way forward? Or is time to change?”

Let’s take WordPress as an example. It is trendy for its ease of use. There is a plethora of themes and plugins that allow non-technical people to create beautiful and sophisticated websites. But this does not mean that you will install WordPress and a theme, and in 10 minutes, you will be an expert in building websites. Yes, it is easy to use, but a different kind of easy. It means you don’t have to learn to code or to think like a programmer or do deal with complicated network protocols and fallback mechanisms. But it still means you need to learn to play with your toys. Those cubes won’t stack themselves into something interesting. You have to play. 

It is surprising to me how many people install a “drag-and-drop” builder on their site and then just create a massive text block with some colors in it that makes no use of the power of the new builder. 

Here is how I think about a new tool:

1. I decide based on recommendations from others and what I can glean from their marketing if this is a tool that may help me speed things along.

2. Once I’ve made up my mind that I will use this tool, I want to get close to mastering it. The reason is that a tool you don’t know will not speed things along; it will slow you down. So yes, in the beginning, you will “waste time,” creating silly pages, breaking them, and maybe pulling your hair out, but give it a few tries, and a light bulb goes off in your head. You now understand how your tool works, and you begin constructing instead of stumbling around.

3. To speed up the road to mastery, I have a simple strategy. I do specific Google searches that will help with deep learning. Those searches are:

– “the best features of [your tool]” – get to know why this tool is powerful and how it can help you

– “[your tool] vs [some other tool]” – side by side comparison helps your brain organize and remember the information better. Especially if you know one of the tools. “Oh, this is like my old online store… but better in this specific way! Got it!

– “top ten mistakes when using [your tool]” – let’s be honest; if they are top 10 mistakes, it is likely I am going to make them. So, I try to make different mistakes and learn from the common ones. This approach is good with learning because understanding why common mistakes are common helps you understand how to think about using your tool correctly. We make most mistakes because we don’t use a tool in the way it was designed to be used. (You can fry an egg with a hammer, and it may taste delicious… but that will be a long and frustrating experience. Blaming the hammer for being broken won’t help). 

– “master [your tool]” – this is the last search I do, because what you find assumes you are a pro, and you’re ready to look into more advanced use cases.

This kind of research can take from one hour to a couple of days, but then you can build your pages with blazing fast accuracy, and if something gets broken, you know why and how to fix it. 

Tip: When doing these searches, you will stumble on new terminology. Don’t skip over it. Make sure you understand what they mean. It is a process of discovery that will uncover many gems that you did not even know you were looking for.

4. Subscribe to your tool’s newsletter – this is just to keep up to date with the development of it. There is a caveat here, too many emails to read will not do you good. If you don’t get fantastic value from their newsletter, drop it.

In the end, I challenge you to question “common wisdom and practices” and come up with something better:

– build for desktop first and fix it on mobile – instead of building for mobile and then add layout for the desktop

– we need meetings to move forward and sync up – instead of using an async tool like Slack to share updates, ideas, and track progress 

– I don’t have time to learn new things – instead of learning new things will save me time in the long run

– I am too old/tired/young for this – instead of I am curious about this

Go build something interesting!