Waiting for the plane to take off, my eight year old self would grab the Swiss Air magazine from the flimsy netting in front of me and open up the airline route map. I would notice the dots that represented destinations – Boston, New York, London, Karachi, Mumbai. I would trace the long lines from the dots back to Zurich.
Inspired by these maps, I wanted to create my own continents, destinations, and airlines. How could I do that? A computer program? Some type of simulator?
In a moment, I was armed with a pen and a notebook. I was the President of Saalik Airlines, conjuring flight routes on magical continents.
I was present – my mind abuzz in the act of creation. Simple tools like pen and paper let my creativity run wild.
When we look to spark creativity, experimenting with our tools is a necessity. There’s a dance and excitement in playing with new implements, scouring landing pages, and reading verbose product critiques on Reddit.
I performed this jig when I was looking for a note-taking solution. YouTube videos piled upon reams of blog posts, skimmed and scoured. I felt like I was getting closer, but the tab count had ballooned, and I had no decision made.
All this time, I had not written a single note. Every solution I came across had promised perfect note-taking, complete with a plethora of life-altering, mind-bending, and world-changing features. I guzzled marketing copy on product websites, wondering if by choosing one note-taking app, I’d be alienating myself from the features of another.
Constant exploration is deceptive. When we’re evaluating solutions, tools, or devices, it can feel like we’re being productive. We tend to be enamored with shiny solutions that solve legitimate problems. But by re-evaluating what we use constantly, we’re not producing anything at all.
A shiny solution makes a lot of noise.
A boring solution is stable enough to be invisible.
When we stumble upon a boring solution, there may be resistance to it. Simple tools may not concede to grandiose promises or over-the-top messaging. It’s like their superpowers are invisible.
I felt this when I started using Obsidian, my chosen note-taking tool.
Simplicity is a core feature of Obsidian. Instead of adding more technical layers to a note-taking product, it’s built on less. As a result, it makes it enchantingly simple to take and store notes. It has a small feature set that does this extraordinarily well.
Initially, I wondered if Obsidian wasn’t “feature-rich” – and if I should consider a tool with more capabilities. With its text-focus, it looked a little… boring.
Then I started writing.
As I began to flow, Obsidian faded into a misty border around a swirling crescendo of words. A faint sound of keyboard clicks pitter-pattered in the distance. With one look at that finished note, I knew. This was the tool for me.
Simple is Art
Obsidian has its quirks and its character, and it won’t resonate with everyone. While it employs fascinating features, Obsidian’s personality is wrapped around an embrace of text. Boring, simple, awesome, text.
You may not think so, and that’s cool. Like good music, simplicity is subjective — to an extent. To identify a simple tool, listen for moments when your mind stops chattering and you find yourself lost in creativity.
Simple solutions don’t equate to sterile, passionless husks. They are artful, too. People on different wavelengths will resonate with different tools.
When you think about your favorite tools to write, publish, construct, paint, or code, where do you see artful simplicity that lets you create with reckless abandon?
I’ve embraced simple tools full of art — and they’ve accelerated my creativity:
Switching from innovative hardware on Android to boring, “just works” iPhone.
Building for the web with an “old-school” language like Ruby as my daily driver, and sticking with good ol’ Rails as a web framework. (I align with pieces of the Rails doctrine).
Working with Llama Life, a pomodoro timer that has big character and a small feature set.
Consuming content on Feedbin, an RSS reader that focuses on the basics while staying faithfully design-conscious.
Whenever I’m looking at a new tool to adopt, I pause and ask myself: Is this boring enough to make me wildly productive?
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Another lovely piece of writing from you here, Saalik. I'm not using Notion as much as I ought to be for the 5usd a month I pay — I reckon it's time for me to switch to Obsidian! Thank you...
A great reminder that we often miss the forest for the trees. It reminds me of my baseball coach as a kid who always reminded my team to focus on the fundamentals. To be a successful team player you need to nail the basics first.