Strong opinions, weakly held

Picking up new habits

In a post about the adoption rate for FaceTime, Marco Arment talks about the tendency of people not to use new features of devices that they already use. He explains that while people who were already using the iPhone when FaceTime was released may not get into the habit of using it, people who started using the iPhone post-FaceTime may be more likely to make regular use of it.

His post reminded me of something I think about a lot — how to get more out of the tools I already use. Most of the devices and applications we use on a day to day basis are incredibly complex. For example, I spend a lot of my day writing code in TextMate and Eclipse, and I’m certain that there are keyboard shortcuts that could make me more productive that I don’t know about, and features that would be really helpful that I never take advantage of. People often ask for features that already exist.

One resolution that I’ve made a number of times but never kept was that I’d try to build one new habit a day that will make me more productive with a tool I already use. That’s what the “tip of the day” feature that so many applications used to include was all about — giving users an opportunity to discover features that slipped past them. It’s also what Ribbon Hero, the Microsoft Office game is for. I still think this is one of the great unsolved problems in the software industry. We’re great at building powerful tools, but not so great at helping users unlock that power.


  1. I suspect you may have already seen “Seven habits of effective text editing” http://www.moolenaar.net/habits.html . One of my favorite bits of wisdom on the web. Note esp. #7.

  2. ‘One new key combination a day’ is an easy habit to bootstrap. All you need is an index card, which is just the right size to seat behind a row of function keys, so you’ll see it as you type. But plan to allow the habit to die naturally after a few months when diminishing returns sets in.

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