Whether you’re customizing your application preferences, changing your desktop background or adjusting your workflows you are guilty of the sin of tweaking: the act of altering a process that has no immediate or direct impact on the product of that process. I am here to say that tweaking is not a waste of time but is a valuable activity with many benefits.
Tweaking is Learning
When I start using a new piece of software it’s not long before I start mucking around with the preferences and seeing what I can change around. This can be a great way to learn what the software can do. If I were to just start using the application to produce something I’d probably be replicating whatever behaviors I’m already comfortable with. Fiddling with the software gives me the opportunity to see what the new application does better or differently and then modify my usage accordingly.
If I’m between projects or just feel like I need a break I’ll often start tweaking stuff. This means I’m still engaged with the processes behind my work even if there’s no work to be done. Then when I pick up a new project it doesn’t feel so much like a cold start; I haven’t put my toolbox down so there’s no effort in picking it back up. In other words, tweaking my tools keeps me in the flow of work even when the work itself has come to a halt.
Sometimes it really works
There are times when changes in process lead to improvements in the product, when exploring the tools of production leads to making something new, interesting or just better. This blog is a case in point: I’ve blogged before, using Blogger, Wordpress and Textpattern. I got tired of blogging mostly because those tools just didn’t seem to fit any more and it wasn’t any fun for me to keep working with them. It wasn’t until I discovered Jekyll that I could see myself blogging again and it wasn’t until I’d fiddled around with my setup for a while that I was ready to start writing.
Where does it end?
There’s a fine line between useful tweaking and empty procrastination, a line that separates the productive from the idle, the focused from the distracted. At some point you’ve got to reach a point where the tweaking stops and the real work begins. I just hope I’m staying on the right side of that line while I’m exploring new tools and playing with the ones I have for the most important reason I can think of. It’s fun.