On Tweaking vs. Fiddling

Mike Vardy makes an important distinction between tweaking and fiddling:

Fiddling generally involves avoiding the things you need to do rather than work towards making those things happen. You wind up getting caught up – and have to play catch up as a result.

Tweaking is making changes that are necessary in order to better optimize your situation – in this case, my ability to shift between work mode and life mode. Tweaking are changes for the sake of progress; fiddling are changes for the sake of change.

I totally agree.

As I mentioned in my Byword review, I’m pretty good at avoiding fiddling. I admit that I love to go through preferences and settings, but once I have everything set up, I tend to forget about them. That’s tweaking. Fiddling, on the other hand, would be playing with preferences to the point where it interferes with getting your work done.

For me, tweaking is a way to tailor something to suit my specific needs. If we’re talking text editors, for example, the proper font is important. I use Open Sans in Byword, which is also the body font I use on this website. It just feels good seeing that nice sans-serif on a pleasant white background.

Much of my tweaking comes from a desire to make an app “feel” good. Fonts are a big part of how an app feels. Look at Instapaper. Each of its iOS apps’ new fonts has a different feel to it, and choosing the right one for you is central to having a great reading experience. (I’m currently using Proxima Nova on my iPhone and Tisa on my iPad.)

The point is that taking the time to decide what font I want to write or read in is not fiddling. I don’t spend time trying different options every time I open the app. If I did that, I’ve never get anything written or read. Rather, I carefully consider my choices, pick my favorites, and then get to work.

If I love the way an app looks or functions, I’m much more likely to use it. If Instapaper only had Arial and Comic Sans, I’d never feel compelled to open it. The lack of tweaking would deter me from using the app. In turn, I’d just keep saving things to Instapaper and never get around to reading them, which would make me feel guilty. Or — heaven forbid — I might switch to another Read Later app. Fortunately, Instapaper is highly functional, reliable, and offers just enough customization to make using it a joy. After I’ve taken a moment to pick my preferences, I can get down to reading.

The same is true of Byword. It’s reliable, ultra pretty, and it works on all of my devices. Byword makes me want to write the way Instapaper makes me want to read.

In addition to apps and productivity, tweaking can also help improve your quality of life. As Mike suggests, tweaking is a way of refining and improving. It’s adjusting for the sake of getting better.

If you love taking hot showers, but your skin is always dry, you might try taking cold showers — James Bond style. That’s a tweak.

If you find yourself spending an extra hour in bed playing on your phone in the morning, you might consider moving your charger to your desk. That’s a tweak.

If you hate running, you might try running barefoot like Mike and me. I couldn’t stand the thought of running a few years ago, but since I tweaked my footwear, I love it.

The important part is not spending too much time on any of these decisions. That’s when tweaking becomes fiddling. If you’re spending more time tweaking than you are getting things done, you need to dial it back. Fiddling is aimless; tweaking is focused.

Tweak, then do. Repeat as needed — no more, no less.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Also, you should follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.