This is an excerpt from today’s issue of my weekly newsletter.
At work, we build a note-taking app called Ideaflow. As I talk to users and think a lot about how we use tools to organize information, I keep finding myself arriving at the same conclusion. A tool-making business is a habit-crafting business.
I’ve written before about how I think our tools are, and should be, simply reified workflows. They should be the concrete, touchable, visible versions of the workflows that our minds naturally tend towards. And what are the workflows that are essential to our lives but habits? The best tools become addictive and habitual in the best way. They become a part of the way we navigate life.
One of the things we’ve been talking about at Ideaflow recently is the idea of building a tool that becomes an “operating system for your life” – something that you can run your life on, so to speak. More than any domain-specific tool, a tool like this has to really become one with the habits and workflows that make up your waking hours. When we build Ideaflow, we aren’t so much building features, as we are crafting habits for our users to adopt and live by. When you need to remember something, we want you to open Ideaflow. When you need to think through a complex idea or take notes during a conversation, we want you to use Ideaflow as the scratchpad, a thinking-writing medium for thinking aloud on paper with your hands. Some part of this is building software, but I think a much more critical and interesting part of the challenge is designing these features so they could become habits.
Tools that support habits have a much higher bar to meet than simply offering useful features. They need to be fast, all the time – you shouldn’t have to wait for electrons to travel halfway around the planet for you to do something you do a dozen times every day. They need to be consistent – the buttons and gestures your muscle memory depends on can’t change all the time. They need to be easily within reach wherever you are – if not, they can’t become a meaningful part of your life.
If we do our job well, we won’t be selling an app, per se. We’ll be selling better habits for thinking and writing. It just happens to come in a software package.
In this way, building tools is a lot like building social media apps – the killer feature is that it becomes a part of your life, woven into your muscle memory and mental reflexes as intricately as the way you unlock your phone and scroll through tweets.
We’re certainly not there yet, but layer by layer, we’re laying the groundwork.
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