Write-Fu

Wikis have been on my mind lately, tangentially through some posts on the Markdown mailing list regarding the addition of tables, images, and so forth to its syntax. I came across this posting regarding productivity tips via Weblog Without Honor. The suggestion that a personal wiki or Wiki-like editor to help organize on-the-fly is very compelling.

Think of it like this: Markdown makes it easier to seamlessly write and format as you go, without a lot of clicking around with the mouse. It’s even better than most keyboard shortcuts, because you don’t have to grapple with the control and alt keys in awkward ways.

Awkwardness kills productivity, and it pervades modern software. Don’t get me wrong, keyboard shortcuts are great, but there are very few software application that have keyboard/mouse interfaces that really feel seamless. In fact, there are only two pieces of software that I’ve used that really achieved this: * The pixel painting program DeluxePaint, published by Electronic Arts * The word processor WordStar from MicroPro International

Both these applications had a unity between keyboard/mouse interface and the task at hand. The shortcuts chosen and philosophy behind tool mix allowed you to keep your hands working over the home keys and mouse. Because of this, you could keep your eyes focused on the exact space that you’re working. It seems like a small thing, but you drop into “the zone” faster without the hundreds of tiny interruptions caused by looking for a button, shifting your hands to reach the control key, and so forth.

You might argue, “Yeah, but you eventually learn the shortcuts it’s not that much time lost really. Just look at the screen!” You’re right. But you’re missing the point. I don’t want things to merely work…I want to achieve work-fu… the fluid execution of creativity and productivity. Every glance that takes you from the task is a wasteful glance; it is better to excise it from your habits. Every extra inch of movement is a waste of energy and time. Excise these wastes from your habit, and divert that energy into production action!

There’s a similar concept in military aircraft called HOTAS — Hands on Throttle and Stick — that puts essential task-oriented functions right on the primary flight controls. You know, things like arming weapons, selecting targets, and so forth. You could mount those controls in a very logical and easy-to-read panel on the dash, but the time it takes to take your HAND OFF THE CONTROLS to manipulate them forces you to not control the aircraft fully for that time. Of course, you end up with a potentially confusing cluster of buttons and knobs on your controls, but they’ve been shaped by years of experience and (hopefully) do not alter their primary function of controlling flight.

So back to the task at hand: What is my Primary Task? It’s thinking and writing. What’s the problem? Structuring and connecting more than a few pieces of information because more of an exercise in finding things than actually structuring them. Authoring a good hypertext document takes a lot of cutting and pasting of different kinds of information all over the system. My ideal information management system would allow me to write, organize, and link text with other media by keeping my hands on the keyboard 90% of the time.