You don’t need more tools. You need the right ones.

I’m almost always on the hunt for a new tool. The right tools make work fast, efficient, and fun. They work with you instead of against you. They give the right leverage for the task at hand.

When it comes to software, it’s so easy to find the next “All in one {blank} for {blank}“ or discover “The #1 alternative to {blank company}.“ But I have to check myself: do I really need a new tool to solve the problem at hand?

In my garage, I have a fairly limited tool set. I’m not a professional mechanic, nor do I have the budget of a pro shop. Instead, I have curated a set of tools that has enabled me to perform regular maintenance tasks and even complete some more intensive projects like changing a water pump and replacing valve head covers.

I don’t have a fancy rolling tool cabinet. I don’t have pneumatic tools. I don’t have a ton of specialized wrenches. The core of what I use includes sockets, wrenches, pliers, some oil filter wrenches, and a few other odds and ends. There are also some crossover tools that I use for handyman work, like screwdrivers, utility knives, and the like. It’s not vast, but it gets the job done.

My tool set has been built up over several years, and (almost) everything in my collection was purchased to solve a specific problem. Most of the time that has meant buying tools while one of the family vehicles was up on jack stands.

Adding to my garage tool set is a constant lesson in the difference between “must have“ and “nice to have.” There have been many cases that I thought: Oh it would be really nice to have a brake pad spreader. But I’ve actually been able to do a bunch of brake jobs with a very basic and humble C-clamp. I have often seen a really neat tool on YouTube and gotten goo-goo eyes over how easy it made the job, but the reality is that most of those tools would make it out of the toolbox once every six months at best. And even if they saw the light of day more often, would they be worth the cost? Probably not.

Well, it comes to software, I think it’s equally as important to choose the right tools. Some of the characteristics of a good software tool include functionality, integration with other tools, documentation, and the overall user experience. If the software is free and open source, cost may not even be a factor. If it’s proprietary, and then it’s a matter of looking at the feature set with respect to the subscription tiers. In a garage, it’s OK to have a bunch of single use tools. A hammer does one job. A socket set removes nuts and bolts. But when it comes to software, the feature set needs to be robust enough to cover all the tasks within a specific domain. For example, if a project management system can’t account for all of the types of tasks and projects that your organization works on, then there’s probably a better fit out there.

Choosing the right tool means ignoring both hype and hyperbole and really drilling down to your feature requirements. For my work, I don’t need to make a feature matrix to sort that out. I usually just identify the two or three most important criteria for the problem at hand, and then I’ll test out a few options—much like you might test drive a few vehicles. Each one may have the same seating capacity, towing capacity, and fuel economy, but at the end of the day you’re going to pick the one that feels right to you.

It’s so easy to try out a new software: you can always sign up for 30 day trial, you can download that plug-in from the WordPress repository and test it, you can clone a Git repo or install a package via Homebrew. There are too many options available at your fingertips. And as important and fun as it is to try out new new tools, I have to remind myself to focus on the problem that I’m trying to solve and not get distracted by the shiny object. A hammer won’t do you much good if you’re trying to tighten a bolt; a wrench is useless if you’re trying to drive a nail. Having the right tool at the right time for the right job is the key to success. In many cases, you need fewer tools than you think.

Further Reading

Mike Melanson. “Marie Kondo Your Software Stack with Open Source.” GitHub. Accessed August 24, 2023.

David Heinemeier Hansson. “Invest in Things That Don’t Change.” Accessed March 27, 2023.

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