The Joys of Fiddling

I’ve been spending a lot of time letting my mind go off the rails and, for lack of a better term, just fiddle. By this I mean I spend time tweaking, attempting to improve systems and programs and preferences without much of a concrete goal or end state. This is something I’ve been doing for some time now, and it didn’t start intentionally; it’s more a symptom of my ADHD than anything, and at times it can be very difficult to control or even notice.

But lately, I’ve started to realize some benefits to this kind of activity. I’m learning a lot. Is all of it useful? Absolutely not! Let me just give you a brief list of what I’ve been doing the past couple of years in some of my spare time.

  • Tried out at least 10 different to-do list systems and apps (GTD, Autofocus, Bullet Journal, Franklin-Covey, Uncalendar, and probably more for systems… for programs, Omnifocus, Things, Taskpaper, Todo.txt, Taskwarrior, 2Do, Clear, Reminders, Wunderlist, Outlook, Todoist, Asana, others I can’t remember) (I keep coming back to Omnifocus, and that’s what I’m using right now)
  • Tried out at least 10 different note-taking systems and apps (Drafts, nvALT, Evernote (and Alternote and Geeknote), Simplenote, Org-Mode, Bear, Vimwiki, Zim, definitely more)
  • Migrated my journal formats several times, often just back and forth between analog and digital (I can type much faster than I can write, and search, and all that good computer stuff, but there’s something much more satisfyingly tactile about handwriting in a hardcover book with a fountain pen)
  • Learned the massive and insane open source program Emacs (oh don’t worry, I also learned Vim, and actually ended up using its keybindings) and all the stuff that goes with it (the aforementioned Org-Mode, Spacemacs, Lisp)
  • Learning coding (I’m pretty proficient with HTML, slightly less with CSS, and a novice with Javascript, but also dabbling in Python, C, C++, C#, YAML, SQL, Swift, and various other bits and bobs)
  • Learning about relational databases (primarily with the aforementioned SQL)
  • Learning terminal commands, installing Zsh to replace bash (ironically) and also installing and utilizing Powerline and Homebrew
  • I’ve begun learning Lilypond, a typesetting program for sheet music

And with all of this, I’ve also spent hours tweaking preferences and themes and often, in the end, dumping it all and starting all over again. If you were to watch me while I was doing this (or, hell, if I was to watch myself doing this), I’m sure you would be banging your head against the wall with how much time I seem to be wasting.

And yet…

I don’t think it’s all a waste. It can be fun even! Learning about databases has taught me how data at my university job is structured (our school uses a giant database called Banner to store basically everything) (I now kinda wish I could use SQL to access said database, now that I understand it more). Trying out todo platforms have made me understand my own tendencies and process action items much more efficiently when the going gets going. Emacs, which has quite literally been around for 40 years, has taught me the power of sticking with one platform for the long term, and the power of open source communities and their work. I’ve learned to build my own website, like the one this very post is on, and I’m able to use my web development skills on my university department’s website. I’ve learned how the web works (sort of!). Learning coding, terminal commands, and whatnot has given me marketable skills for the future and given my the ability to dig into the technology that drives our civilization and that many of us take for granted. Fiddling with themes has given me an appreciation for the effects of aesthetics on usability.

Above all, the more I fiddle, the more I simply feel more well-rounded and more understanding of the tools that I use every day. So it’s something that I’ll continue to do and enjoy, and just maybe it will lead to opportunities somewhere down the line. But if it doesn’t I won’t mind.

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