Building your own tools

Posted October 28, 2011

I was explaining to someone in IRC earlier this week about why I was building my own project management software and said it was basically because managing my projects and tasks (or more abstractly, what I pay attention to) is so critical to everything else I do that I want to control the software behind it.

Afterwards, that struck me as a rather important point. After some further thinking, my point is fairly close to the common business question of whether a particular service should be outsourced or kept in-house. There’s a lot that goes into making that decision but one pretty hard-and-fast rule is you never outsource a core competency.

I realized that in persisting in using poor-fitting tools for managing my attention, I had to some extent been outsourcing my core competency as a knowledge worker, i.e. defining what my work is and helping focus my attention. My ability to effectively do these two tasks has been hindered by using poor quality and poor fitting tools. As Marshall Mcluhan said, “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Tools can be powerful inhibitors or powerful enablers in all sorts of subtle and unexpected ways.

The last few weeks I’ve started paying much closer attention to the quality and fit of my intellectual tools and if I should bring any of their creation “in-house” and recreate them to meet my particular needs. Which is a tricky thing to decide. You don’t want, in a fit of vainglory, to go off and try to recreate Vim badly. I think in addition to my project management tool, I’ll be building a few writing tools. Beyond that I’ll wait to see how these first few experiments go.

What tools, intellectual or otherwise, have you built and how well did they work?

Tagged with tools

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.