Subscribe to 💌 Tiny Improvements, my weekly newsletter for product builders. It's a single, tiny idea to help you build better products.

Keep your tools sharp

Keep your tools in top-top shape

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the garage with my dad. He's a man of many projects - and hardly a weekend went past where I wasn't helping him work on something: from cars, to household repairs, lawn work or tinkering with electronics. I learned a lot about tools and how to use them, and I learned that the right tool for the job can make all the difference.

Two things that he used to tell me often were:

  1. Power tools are always out to get you. They may feel like they'll help you get the job done fast, but they're powerful, and they don't care about your fingers. Respect them and act as though they're always trying to hurt you.
  2. There's nothing worse than having to fix your tools. If you take care of your tools, they'll take care of you. Keep them clean, sharp, and in good working order.

These are both true - and while rule #1 is less applicable to software tools, rule #2 is absolutely something that I've found to be true in my career as a software engineer. The tools we use to get our work done are incredibly important, and taking the time to tune them to work just right can make a huge difference in our productivity and happiness.

Tuning your tools just feels good

I use Visual Studio Code for nearly all of my coding and writing. I love it because it's quick and customizable, and it just works well. No shade if you're a fan of vim; you do you. I dig VS Code, and I've spend some time recently changing up my setup to make it even better.

Here's a few things I've done recently to tune my VS Code experience:

Houston theme

There's an installable theme for VS Code called Houston which was actually made by the team that makes Astro. If you prefer a dark theme and like some spicy accent colors, you might like Houston.

Houston theme in VS Code
Now that's a delicious-looking theme.

Zen Mode

Zen Mode for VS Code is a great way to tune your IDE to be more focused. I use it for writing articles and newsletters. It's built in to VS Code, so you don't need to install anything. Just press Ctrl + K, Z to enter Zen Mode, or the Toggle Zen Mode command in the command palette.

Straight out of the box, Zen mode is pretty damn minimal - and that's not for everyone (myself included). To customize Zen mode, open up VS Code settings with Command + , and search for zenMode. Y

Zen Mode settings in VS Code
I like to use the Center Layout setting for writing articles and newsletters.

Pieces for VS Code

Pieces for VS Code is... amazing. It's a contextualized note-taking app and code copilot that helps you store, annotate, and generate code snippets in your IDE. Not only is it context aware -- as in, it knows what you're working on as well as the places where you're doing research -- but it also features an on-device, privary first LLM that can generate code snippets and notes without sending your data to the cloud. 🤯

It comes from the lean, mean squad at Pieces for Developers. If Pieces sounds familiar, you probably know about it because of my interview with their founder Tsavo Knott on Software Engineering Daily a few months back, and definitely not from Scott Hanselman's recent podcast about it. 😅

Pieces extension for VS Code
Pieces for VS Code is a fantastic use of AI tech.

More from me about whipping VS Code into shape

Find me online wherever you get your internet

Recently, I've been releasing past newsletters as podcasts - you can find them in your podcatcher under "Tiny Improvements", or if you prefer a direct link, you can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Music, Pocket Casts, and good ol' RSS.

They're a few minutes long each, and are a ton of fun to make. I hope you enjoy them!

I'm also releasing occasional videos (both short- and long-form) to my YouTube Channel @mikebifulco. I'd love it if you'd subscribe and let me know what you think of the content.

Hey though, how are you doing?

I hope you're doing well. As always, I'd love to know what you're working on, what you think of Tiny Improvements, and what you'd like to see more of. Hit reply and let me know - I do my best to respond to every email I get.

Keep up the good work, and I'll see you in the next one.


Thanks for reading Tiny Improvements. If you found this helpful, I'd love it if you shared this with a friend. It helps me out a great deal.

Until next time - be excellent to each other!

Keep your tools sharp

The tools we use to get our work done are incredibly important, and taking the time to tune them to work just right can make a huge difference in our productivity and happiness.



💌 Tiny Improvements: my weekly newsletter sharing one small yet impactful idea for product builders, startup founders, and indiehackers.

It's your cheat code for building products your customers will love. Learn from the CTO of a Y Combinator-backed startup, with past experience at Google, Stripe, and Microsoft.

    Join the other product builders, and start shipping today!