Introducing a Toolbox


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It’s been a little while since I’ve added more content here. After the last post, I had back-to-back business travel followed by a 2-week vacation to the UK. Coming back to normal flow after being outside of The Box of Daily Experience(*) for over 3 weeks can really do a number on an individual... as I’m still myself learning... apparently.

But things are gradually falling back into place and I am back. Although it’s still summer and if all goes well, in a week I’ll be spending my time with a kayak, a tent and my wife enjoying some holy silence somewhere in wilderness preserve. So possibly I’m not back for long.

In the meantime, I am working on introducing a Toolbox section to this site. Similarly to the theme of other things I’ve posted here so far, the Toolbox is where I’d like to identify some of the tools that I use and that have come up in various conversations.

Why tools?

Last year, I joined a monthly QA guild discussion at work and the topic of the day was: how do you keep track of all the things you need to do in your personal and/or professional life? Reflecting back on that conversation with another engineering leader, there were few things that we found very interesting:

  • The wide variety of approaches and methods that different people have implemented and the wide variety of how successful those implementations were
  • A good chunk of people DID NOT USE ANY tools whatsoever. They would simply keep their entire to-do list in memory and if/when they forgot something, they figured they’d be reminded by someone else, like a manager, a team lead or a spouse.

That QA conversation and the follow-up reflection recently popped back to my mind as I was listening to Coaching for Leaders Podcast, Ep. 298: Tools for Saving Time and Learning More(**). In that episode, there was a very simple message that I wholeheartedly agree with:

No matter how good you believe your memory is and no matter how many different things you feel you can juggle in your head, it would behoove(***) you to come up with an external system/tools for organizing and keeping track of your life.

And there’s some reasons to follow that advice:

  • As you move through life, grow and develop, your responsibilities will increase and things will get more complex. Sooner or later, even if you don’t think are there yet now, you will get past the point where you can mentally do everything. Being proactive about setting up a system means you won’t go through a dark phase when reality hits you over the head a few times.
  • As your responsibilities increase, the stakes get higher and so do the costs when you drop the ball. So even when you have a 98% success rate, the one time you forget, you just may let down someone very important to you.
  • Even if you believe your memory and brain is so good that you can remember important things by outsourcing that responsibility to an external system, you can now free up more of your brain cells, your mental energy and precious time on doing on other more important aspects of your life.

While a calendar and a task list are the typical tools that often come to mind, the idea of a toolbox is broader than that. The toolbox would include any tool that makes some aspect of our lives easier to manage. Presumably, the ease/convenience introduced by the tool itself would outweigh the added complexity, learning curve and ongoing upkeep/maintenance cost of having to deal with yet another tool. Which is why we should always be judicious and conscious of that balance as we decide which tool we pick up and for what purpose and when not to pick anything up. The toolbox I am sharing on this website is my toolbox. It’s been changing overtime as I try different things. I do not suggest that anyone should simply start using the same things I use and do what I do. Rather, use this list, if you choose, as the start of your own journey of discovery, learning and reflection into what works for you and what doesn’t.

(*) - I found that blog post on the plane coming back home from UK and found it to be very insightful and very relevant given my own context at the time.

(**) - Coaching for Leaders is one of my favorite podcasts. As I wrote this article, I’ve also extended the Library4 (formerly known as “Bookshelf”) to include this one as well as few other podcasts.

(***) - that’s a great word... “behoove”