Unwork with Tools

I recently attending a teleclass with Andrea Lee and Suzanne Falter Barnes on the concept of "unwork." It’s all about making things easier. That’s what I aim to do with my clients- but it was a really good reminder of one of my key strategies.

I used to (many incarnations ago) work as a theatre technician (lighting, scenery, etc). I had a summer gig repairing lighting equipment and other inventory for the Fine Arts Center at UMASS Amherst. I had to learn everything as I went, but what I kept learning over and over and over again was this: the right tool makes for easy work.

It’s kinda funny to think of in these days of the Leatherman, the multitool that seems to serve every purpose, you can even use it as a hammer. You can use it as a hammer. It takes a lot more force and coordination than an actual hammer. I guess that’s what I figured out back then, too. When stripping wires to attach them to your lighting instrument, a tool for stripping wires is easier than using (a) a wire cutter, which is easy to cut too far with if you’re clumsy like me, or (b) a pliers with that little sharp cutting bit on the inside, which is easy to cut too far with if you’re clumsy like me.

To my pleasant surprise, Andrea had a similar example: you don’t run down to the basement and find a power tool when you want to hang up a calendar. It’s overkill. You can push the thumbtack or picture hook into the plaster with your thumb. Ok, unless you need to hang it on a concrete wall or in a stud. Then your thumb will start to hurt…

She was focusing on the overkill part: how can you do less?  In my life that’s meant looking at when I can avoid new software or devices if paper is actually easier- but how I can easily choose new software if it does make it easier. That’s one itty bitty example. Andrea focuses on less overkill. I focus on, um, killing the right thing with the right tool?

Are you using a  power drill instead of your thumb?
Or are you using a wrench instead of a pliers?
How about… Microsoft Outlook when a simple mail client would do?
Or, salivating over that uberfancy PocketPC you’ll struggle figuring out how to use and update when the cheapest black and white Palm will work better- or even the paper calendar you’ve used?

On the other hand, fancy tools can radically change some people’s lives in some ways:
A GPS in your car ain’t overkill when maps aren’t enough to get you there.

Bottom line: tools make things easier. If they’re making it harder, it’s time to get honest, and that’s your unwork.

Do you really need that new gadget/software?
Is this more about the novelty of a new system, or the effectiveness of it?
Will it actually make things easier?  Is it a more appropriate tool, or just a fancier one?
Are you using overpowered systems that bog you down?
Are you psyched about a sexy new gadget- that really has too many features for you to wade through? Is there a simpler model that’ll serve you better?
What system might be simpler? What might take less work?