Is Progress Measured in Workflow Improvements?

Is that all there is to life? Making the doing of things more streamlined and perfect? I’m starting to think it is—especially if you interpret “things,” “doing,” “perfect,” and “life” rather broadly. But for now let’s just concentrate on the ergonomics of human-machine interaction, okay?

When my MacBook Pro suffered a series of failures last December, leaving me without a computer for two week-long stretches (and with a hefty bill for repairing an affliction called “kernel panic”), I really didn’t think I would eventually deem it a good thing. Alas, the diligent creation of a clean user profile on my upgraded OSX got me thinking about all the ways I could make my computing life palpably better. Thus, I welcomed the year 2013 in a meticulous and persistent mood, devoting practically all my free time to various workflow improvements.

These tasks have included editing my entire digital photo archive (and re-editing the individual images from the past five years in Lightroom—while learning Lightroom, no less); establishing a practice on Pinterest; building this site and blog; and carrying out many corrections to folder contents on my hard drive and preferences panels galore. I even learned to set up Apple Mail to play nice with G-mail accounts, which continues to fill me with colossal relief and pride. (I am, however, miffed that I can't find an “archive” button for Apple Mail—nor a way to analogously store sent items.) I also took advantage of a nifty tool called MyPermissions.org to locate sites that have been granted access to my core accounts (and to remove most such access). Best of all, I got in the habit of backing up everything. Twice.

For a time, I also devoted considerable energy to managing my numerous logins and passwords via cryptic notes-to-self on my computer's “Stickies” application, but this proved tedious and, eventually, impossible. Not without repeating passwords—or occasionally “burning” them by entering the right info on the wrong site. So, recently, I moved all such sensitive data into one very safe basket—a password manager called 1Password from the Canadian software company with the great name AgileBits (recommended by a friend who can rub two sticks to produce fire, runs an enigmatic securities company and does his banking in the Caymans). Being a precise, thorough sort of person, as I began to populate my new app with my logins, I also read extensively about password security, or, rather, the fast-approaching lack thereof, unless you’re fine with something like QKcfjN32$7;WXwe)qk. And even though my efforts were designed to save me mountains of time (and minimize exposure of sensitive data)—getting all my logins in one place and devising truly secure passwords for the five or six applications that still warrant remembering (like one’s cloud storage access and the password manager itself)—well, it was all taking a small mountain of time in the first place.

I admit, I wound up devoting a chunk of this time to familiarizing myself with Randall Munroe’s visionary comics “of romance, sarcasm, math and language” on his addictive website xkcd.com. Here’s one that’s apropos (and no, I don’t mean this one):

The General Problem by Randall Munroe, published on xkcd.com

The General Problem by Randall Munroe, published on xkcd.com

And here is the author’s text that shows up on mouseover: “I find that when someone’s taking time to do something right in the present, they’re a perfectionist with no ability to prioritize, whereas when someone took time to do something right in the past, they’re a master artisan of great foresight.”

More updates on workflow enhancements are coming. Meanwhile, make sure you don’t miss the hover text on xkcd.