Minimal is okay

Don’t let tools intimidate you with their many options. Use what you need and, if and when you want, learn the rest.

2022-12-06

Latest commit: 3354e2e3, 2022-12-24
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This will be one of those “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but . . .” sort of posts. If you’re not someone who fits the description, I apologize in advance for wasting your time.


In my years of using various technologies and tools, such as static site generators (SSGs), to put content on the web, I’ve learned an important lesson. Or, I should say, I’ve remembered an important lesson I’d learned long ago in my former working life. Here it is:

Don’t get freaked out by all the capabilities you could be using and, instead, focus for now only on what you need to use. To put it another way: minimal is okay.

What do I mean? Well, let me explain it by the examples from when I initially learned the lesson. Indeed, I learned and re-learned it numerous times.

I started using personal computers, Microsoft Word, and QuarkXPress in the 1980s. Then I went on to HTML in the 1990s, followed by CSS in the 2000s (the “Aughts,” as some call them), content management systems (CMSs) in the early 2010s, and SSGs in the late 2010s. So what’s the common thread here? It’s that, for each, I taught myself not to worry about all its capabilities, but, rather, to concentrate on mastering its capabilities that I needed at the time. After all, I reasoned, I can always learn about the other goodies later if necessary.

While it’s technophobes to whom I usually give such advice, there are plenty of others who, although not generally afraid of technology, can find themselves experiencing occasional paralysis-by-analysis when some particular technology seems overwhelmingly powerful. “How can I ever get the hang of all these features?” they ask themselves.

The answer is: “You may not, and that’s fine. Just learn what you really need to know.” Such a requirement will change over time, and it’s okay to take that time and learn more about the technology as one needs to do so, rather than trying to consume the whole thing all at once.

I know enough about each technology and tool I use to accomplish what I want to do with it. I don’t worry about the rest. If I need to grasp more later, I’ll learn it later.

Case in point: there are many capabilities in my two favorite SSGs, Eleventy and Hugo, that I’ve either never tried to use or, upon giving them a try, have decided I don’t need to use them. But I haven’t let such experiences keep me from making use of these SSGs for their capabilities that I do need. Are there other users out there writing incredible posts about how they do use these capabilities? Oh, my, yes. Does that mean I have to use them? No, not unless or until I see a need for them.

And the same is true for you, too. Embrace using a tool or technology only to the extent you need it, and be comfortable in deciding that you’ll learn more about it if and when you decide you need that knowledge.


Side note, in closing: Obviously, you may have a work-based obligation to go beyond your comfort level in such matters, while this post — also obviously — is aimed at those who can make the choice entirely on their own. However, a wise supervisor won’t need to have this explained; knowing it is part of being a good boss, especially where knowledge workers are concerned. And I say that after spending decades as just such a knowledge worker.

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