I have come to believe that the best and most cost effective technology upgrade that one can make is to themselves. I’m not talking cyborg implants here. I’m speaking about knowledge. That is, increasing your skill, aptitude, and understanding when it comes to any device, application, or tool.
For instance, one of the best technology upgrades I have ever made is to learn the keyboard shortcuts in Mail.app to the extent to where I can perform all of my regular tasks without touching the mouse. I can read, reply, send, forward, archive, mark as junk, etc. completely with the keyboard. I did this by, very intentionally, making note of each time I reached for my mouse while using Mail.app. When I did I would use it not to perform the intended action but, instead, to go look for the keyboard shortcut for that action. I then, used the keyboard shortcut to do what I needed to do. I did this enough that pretty soon I learned. Though this added a bit of time and effort at first, it has payed off tenfold since. I now spend a lot less time dealing with email simply because I now save a second or two on every action. When multiplied, those seconds quickly turn to minutes and hours.
There is not a single feature that has been added to Mail.app by Apple in my memory that has provided the reward that I feel having upgraded my knowledge and usage of it has. In fact, while we are on the subject, when you know an application deeply upgrading the app and new features can be a double-edged sword. For, new features means more to learn and upgrades sometimes mean things you once knew or expected have now changed and have to be re-learned.
There is also an argument here for using the simplest technology needed to do the job. Because, less features means ease of learning and a quicker path to depth of knowledge. Think of the difference between learning TextEdit deeply and learning the much more feature rich (bloated) Microsoft Word. The path of deep knowledge to one is certainly quicker than the other.
The point here is that we are very easily taken in by the promise that buying or upgrading to some new thing will measurably improve our lives. I propose that, if we learned how to fully use what we already had better, such depth of knowledge and skill would have a far greater and more lasting impact. That, especially with those tools we use every day, getting better at them will reap the greatest reward. There is likely some feature or use-case that we don’t even realize we need until we know it and when we do we will be thankful we learned it.
So, with this said, here are some strategies and ideas to think about:
Consider the least technology possible/needed to get the job done. The less complicated the device or application the easier it is to learn.
Consider upgrading only when there is an overwhelming reason to do so.
Money is not the only upgrade cost. Time and attention are as well (the cost of these is greater).
Learn and then use the keyboard shortcuts of programs you use often. Seconds matter (and scale).
Dig into the preferences and settings. By digging around, you might find a feature you have been looking for. Or, better yet, one that could change your game in ways you never knew.
Force yourself into the mindset that this is all you have. In other words, imagine this is the last working technology on earth. How would you still get the job done? How would it help you create? How would it help you work? How would it help you survive? (I wrote a book on my iPad not because other technology was not available to me. I did so in part because it forced this question.)
I’m still forming my thoughts around this idea as I’m going to be giving an upcoming talk on this very subject. Therefore, do not be surprised if you see similar posts by me surrounding it. In fact, I welcome further discussion anyone wishes to engage in about this. Email or App.net are preferred.