The Low Friction Setup

Yesterday I talked about the Ideal Setup:

where I say “I could do X if only I had this ideal way to do X.” Like, I’d write more if only I had the perfect writing environment. I’d blog more if only my blog supported offline editing and static pages and but also could be edited from Dropbox from my phone.

The big way for me to work around this is by getting letting go of my need to have any kind of ideal setup and instead opt for the lowest friction setup I can make work. That way, instead of worrying (read: procrastinating) that I don’t have the perfect tools, I tell myself “that perfect tool will probably not benefit me that much anyway” and I see how far I can get by with something easier, at least to get started.

When I wrote about starting a “developer diary,“ I mentioned how I use a regular markdown file in a regular text editor. There are tools specifically designed for this job, and they’re probably great! but instead of spending hours trying to figure out which was best, what I really needed was to start writing so I could get my work done. I keep a list of potential topics to write about in a todo app because the tool was handy and was good enough to jot my ideas done. I’ve been dreaming of a spatial-graphical-hypertext-wiki for ages as the perfect way to capture stuff from my head, but for now I just jot them down in text files. None of these things are ideal but they let me actually do the thing I actually want to do.

This sort of low friction mindset also melds well with prototyping. Instead of trying to setup a whole perfect environment to prototype an idea, go with the lowest friction version of it. Maybe this means writing really janky code, or maybe it means not writing any code at all! I wanted a way for my computer to remind me to take screen breaks every half an hour, and my first instinct was to write a little app. This certainly would have taken hours to get jussssst right, but instead I remembered OS X has a setting to speak the current time every half an hour. Bingo, that’s not ideal but it’s pretty much as low friction as you can get.

Going low friction is essentially “just get it done,” which is hardly a new concept. In some ways it’s Keep It Simple, Stupid. In other ways it’s like a Minimum Viable Product (for itty bitty mini “products”). And it’s definitely still worth investing in better tools in the long run, or else we’ll be stuck with shitty text editors, todo lists, and plain-text programming languages forever. But for now, going low friction has been really helpful for me, it reminds me to let go of my urge to nerd out and instead just get moving.

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