During my college years, I worked in a machine shop part time and learned how to use all kinds of different tools. Inevitably I would screw things up, which resulted in me quickly learning what I did wrong and how to use the right tool for the job. Three tools may do the job, but perhaps only one will work the best, improving accuracy and efficiency (and reducing headaches). Lucky for me, veteran machinists were there to help and tell me which tool to use. This meant as I learned, there wasn’t as much trial and error on my part (and less for them to deal with and fix).
This older Japanese machinist that everyone called ‘grandpa’ would look over my shoulder and see if what I was doing was right. He’d give a fatherly approval nod and a grunt if I was doing it right and if I was doing it wrong, he would make fun of me. Basically he was like a real life, smart ass Mister Miyagi. I’ve never seen another guy work a metal lathe with the accuracy and craftsmanship he did. I appreciated grandpa and the other machinists looking out for me and teaching me the ropes as a young, completely inexperienced, green machine shop grunt.
Which tool to use?
Unfortunately for us (especially in this remote work world), we probably aren’t going to have someone looking over our shoulder (like the veteran machinists back at the shop) to help us with the right tools to use. Additionally, the more you move up in job roles, the less help you are going to get determining how the tools work and what tools to use. This all sounds rather bleak, doesn’t it? How do we figure out what tools to use then?
When you are new to a process / skill / job, you likely will not start with a good idea of what tools to use or possibly even what tools are available. You have to try out different tools and see how they work. You also use available resources and learn from others. The lead editor has been doing this awhile, she might know some tricks – go pick her brain. What website, book or video has a tutorial / help on what you are struggling with? Who knows how to do this?
Sometimes the tool won’t be obvious, or sometimes it might be personalized for how you work. If it is based on preferences – your natural talents / weaknesses, contexts and inclinations, it will naturally drive you towards certain tools (or away from others). Other times your tool choice will be process driven – there is a definitive best tool or required tool and there isn’t a question of what to use. In these cases, hopefully someone tells you what to use, but they may not necessarily train you in how to use or the best way to use (you have to dig that out on your own through learning and execution).
Is the tool working (for this task)?
The way to understand if your tools are working is easy: just look at the results (isn’t that always the answer?). And please – do a hard look at what the end product is, don’t idealize and sugar coat what might not be the best so you can feel better about the mediocre job you did. You might consider asking friends, peers, bosses if your methods are working effectively. You can always lie to yourself (or might be too close to the product), hopefully others will give you good / honest feedback. If you have real, quantifiable data to reflect on your progress – use it. The old saying, “What gets measured, gets managed.” works here.
When you are using the right tools with consistency and improvement, you will see good results and progress. You should also be getting a paired decrease in gaps and errors. If you are instead seeing ongoing just barely meeting standards or getting below standard quality (or declines), it might be time to review your tools and update.