I try (and usually fail) not to be “that guy” when it comes to the tools I use. Over time, and with constant reminders from my wife, I’ve gotten better at accepting that my way is probably not the best way for everyone (and may not even be the best way for me just yet). I still love to geek out and share what’s working, but I’ve gotten better at not pushing my way as the answer.
But what I think I’m finally starting to realize, and am unwilling to quietly accept (not that I do much of anything quietly), is that most people haven’t found the best way to do their best work.
A Familiar Story
Over the years, many of these choices were made for me. We used Windows at school, so a Windows user I became. We were required to process our words a certain way, so Microsoft Word it was. When I entered the working world, our office used Office, so hello Outlook. None of these tools actually worked for me, but they were the tools I was told to work with. Even though I tried my best to make them work, they didn’t and, the work I did was far from my best.
Now, I’m not saying that the tools are to blame; the fault lies entirely with myself. I let myself fall prey to indoctrination. I didn’t give how I work the thought it deserved. I was so focused on what I wanted to do that I never became competent enough to do it. For many, this doesn’t seem to be all that damming. Over time, they seem to adjust. But I couldn’t and it wasn’t until I started questioning everything from my tech to my paper products that I was able to start finding my own way.
No One Else Has Your Answer
Our schools, our jobs, our friends, our favorite websites have a way that they do things. Sometimes these things are based on the deal they got on the solution, the agenda they’re trying to push for our own business or a deeply rooted belief that the solution can help. It’s very possible they might work out. It’s even possible that the next solution is the one you’ve been looking for. But, probably not. You keep a critical and conscious mindset when it comes to the way you work. And know that, even when it seems like someone is giving you the answer, they’re really only offering a solutions to try (as Merlin Mann so perfectly put it in an episode of Back to Work).
And there’s value in those solutions, especially for those of us who struggle. Trying to figure this out on your own is impossible. I’d still be lost today if I hadn’t discovered Merlin’s “solutions to try”. Many weren’t a fit, but several of them have changed the way I work and live my life. His productivity struggles seem to match several of my own. He is far further down the road and by learning about the way he works, I learned how to work better. By learning how others excelled and seeing how these techniques fit, I got even better. And by inevitably making every aspect of my workflow my own (even the stolen parts), I’m at a place where I feel I’m starting to do my best work yet.
And, not coincidentally, not a single tool or tactic that I use today is one of the ones that was forced upon me by someone else. They are all things that I discovered, experimented with and enhanced on my own. They are all things that came from getting a better understanding of myself. Perhaps I’m in the minority of people, those for whom the tools we were handed are insufficient, for whom that indoctrination was a creative death sentence. But for those of us who struggle, the way you work needs to be as intentional as the work you do. You have to take the time to look beyond what you were conditioned into and discover what actually works.
Why Should You Find Your Way?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that there is tremendous power in learning better ways to do better work, that finding the best possible tools and tactics to mitigate and enhance my personality has been the key to forward motion. And in discovering this, I wanted so desperately to share. I wanted people to have the same solutions I had, but it took me a while to realize that my solutions are just that… they’re mine. They relate to my problems and are optimized to my personality. And while I hope they help, I also hope that you do what’s needed to discover exactly what is going to work for you.
I believe that there is an ideal way for you to do your best work, you just have to be willing to discover how.
Have you found your own solution or are you still using someone else’s?