Inventorying my Tools

One of the things I’ve been inspired to do lately is to take an inventory of all the tools I use to get work done. 1 To help bring some order to this I’ve broken it down into tools I use every day, tools that I use often, and tools that I only use occasionally, but are vital for particular tasks (within each of these categories tools are listed in no particular order).

Every Day

OmniFocus
Microsoft Word
Safari
Chrome
Outlook
Spark
iPhone Mail app
Hours
Bear
1Password
Dropbox
TextExpander
Field Notes

Often

Drafts
Byword
Ulysses
Workflow
Excel
Numbers
PowerPoint
Timepage
My office whiteboard

Occasional But Vital

ArcGIS
TransCAD
Python (IDLE)
TextWrangler
Scrivener
OmniOutliner
OmniGraffle
Fantastical

The list itself is kind of interesting, but I think the real value here is to reflect on the tools individually and as a set. Are there some of these where I would benefit from learning to use them better? Which ones do I want to use more often? Which ones do I want to use less often? Are there tools that don’t fit my needs anymore? What tools aren’t I using that I might benefit from?

I’d really like to move Drafts up the list and make it an app I use every day. I know I’m not using it to it’s full potential right now. On the flip side, I’d like to use Microsoft Word less often. It’s in the “daily” category because I use a PC at work and almost all of the folks I collaborate with don’t write text any other way except in Word. I’d much rather use a simpler Markdown enabled text editor (several of which you’ll see on the list). I doubt I can get it off the list entirely, but only having to open it a few times a week seems doable.

One of the tools that’s helping me diminish my reliance on Microsoft Word is Bear. It’s can export content as a Word document and, using Dropbox, I can get the exported .doc file onto my work PC fairly easily. When I initially made this list, Bear was in the “often” category, but by the time I got around to writing this article it had jumped up to “every day”.

Among the things this list has me thinking about is whether Byword is going to stick around for me much longer. It’s been a mainstay for me on both iOS and the Mac for a long time. But when I look at all of the text editors on the list I have to wonder how much room there really is for it between Bear on one hand and Ulysses on the other. About the only thing Byword has going for it right now is when I need to make some edits to a text file on the filesystem of my Mac (since both Bear and Ulysses want to store their own documents internally).

Many of the apps in the occasional category are problematic. They serve a vital purpose, but I don’t use them often enough to really achieve a level of mastery. There are a few of them like ArcGIS that were everyday apps for me in the past and enough of that knowledge has stuck around that I can still make them dance when I need to.

For some of them I probably just need to decide if a more specialized app that I seldom use is worth the overhead compared to a more general tool that I use less often (Ulysses versus Scrivener, for example). For many of them, though, I really don’t have a good alternative. It’s just not a problem I’ve got a solution to at the moment.

In addition to all the apps, you’ll notice a pair of analog tools on the list (Field Notes and my office whiteboard). Initially this list was going to be focused on just software tools, but these are important to my getting things done. In particular, the Field Notes Steno books that I use for all my note taking in meetings and the like is probably one of the most vital, and most used tool on the list.

Overall, I think this was a useful exercise. It got me thinking and caused me to make some changes to how I use certain apps. I’d encourage others to give it a try as well. It’s probably something worth doing on a regular basis.


  1. I’ve excluded personal stuff that I use purely for recreation, like Reeder and Sonos.