I spend most of my day on a 15" MacBook Pro. Since it’s the tool I use the most in my life I’ve invested in ways to maximize efficiency — I’ve customized almost every aspect of the experience to the extent that I find any Mac setup besides my own to be borderline unusable.
For example, in 2012 I purchased a small third party app that lets me execute almost any computer action by gesturing on the trackpad — I can change Chrome tabs with a finger tap, copy and paste text in two flicks, move entire windows with a single drag. I rarely need to move my mouse.
It’s also no longer updated by its developer or supported on the latest versions of Mac.
So over the course of seven years I’ve gone to great lengths to maintain its functionality. Every once in awhile it stops working and I have to go through a multi-step process to boot it back up again. But it’s worth it! I can’t use a computer without it.
There’s a beauty in software that becomes indispensable because it decides to do one thing really, really, well.
That’s why I love Stickies. (buckle up, folks)
Yes, that Stickies. The little Mac app that is a literal interpretation of the physical sticky note. Open Stickies on your Mac and you’ll find little yellow text boxes that sit above all the other apps open your computer. You can collapse or expand a sticky and move it around wherever you’d like to have it on the screen.
That’s it. That’s the app.
It was created the year after I was born and I don’t think it’s fundamentally changed in the 20+ years since then despite a proliferation of note taking apps. From Evernote, to Wunderlist, to Apple Notes, to Google Keep, to Notion, to whatever launches tomorrow — none of them can beat Stickies. Besides Chrome, it is the only app I keep perpetually open. In fact I have about 30 stickies open right now. They say things like:
“- Lots of work in self driving takes R&D flavor, problem with multi year horizon is not tied”
“Narrative = semiotics
We’re becoming a moment in their history of something
Kitchen vs “studio”
Labs, I’ve thought about calling it a “garden”
“the ultimate shadow”
Each of these three stickies are thoughts I’ve captured in different contexts at different times: a recent note from work, a note from watching a design talk six months ago, and a note from whatever moment that gave birth to “the ultimate shadow” (what does it mean? I have no idea).
But each time Stickies was the right tool for the job.
I think there are three main qualities that make Stickies such an essential tool, and I think these same qualities are universal to all good software: speed, simplicity, and juuuust the right amount of flexibility.
Stickies opens instantaneously — I click the icon and I’m met with a blinking cursor and blank canvas. There’s no loading, no splash screen, no waiting. It’s the closest digital metaphor of “from pen to paper” that I’ve found.
Stickies doesn’t include formal organization — there’s no kanban board, or folders, or grouping, or categories, or tags. There’s no account management, it doesn’t sync to the cloud. It’s just boxes of text.
Stickies can be any size and positioned anywhere. So much of today’s user interfaces are composed of boxes contained in larger boxes stacked in a vertically constrained grid (think about scrolling through any social media platform). But not Stickies! Stickies can stack on top of each other, they can be scattered across the screen, they can float above other windows.
In these ways Stickies reflects the way my mind works — a loosely related jumble of disparate thoughts waiting to be connected instead of a list of rigid boxes.
The beauty of software is that it can constantly evolve. The work is never truly finished.
But Stickies is proof that sometimes — even in software — you can get it right on the first try.
This post was originally published in Bonsai, my email newsletter reflecting on life, culture, and design. You can subscribe below: