My Latest Experiments with Reading

I’ve got a few books on the go right now. One of them is How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler.

Adler talks about four levels of reading. The third level is called Analytical Reading. It’s focused on understanding the book. I’m focused on practicing this level right now. (Farnam Street has provided an introduction to Analytical Reading here.)

Most of my reading notes used to be highlighted passages. This was largely driven by fear. I was afraid of misinterpreting an author or not knowing how to properly cite a specific idea.

Now I’m experimenting with paraphrasing instead. This is part of my Analytical Reading practice. This involves understanding the author’s key arguments and writing those down in your own words (as much as possible).

I have been finding this to help me better understand the overall argument presented by an author. It also reminds me to reflect on how every part fits into the whole.

(I don’t know how I will approach citations with this new approach. Perhaps I don’t need to be so specific because I’m not writing for academia anymore. I’ll probably start to experience this closer to the end of the year.)

I recently bought an iPad Pro. I’ve been using split screen to have my Kindle and Obsidian apps open next to each other. This allows me to read and take notes with ease. I’ve been using this to read when I’m not at my computer. I find it much easier than taking analog notes or typing notes on my Kindle.

The Immortal Task

Maybe you’ve heard of The Immortal Task. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve experienced it.

It’s the task on a to-do list that forever sits undone.

It’s the task that gets left until the end of each day. The task that gets put off until tomorrow. The one that starts to fade into the background.

Although the task may be immortal, not everything is.

Trust in the to-do list. Productivity. Willpower. Self-esteem. These things start to die as The Immortal Task lives on.

The Immortal Task is typically born of one of two sources.

First, the task is not a priority. Maybe it was before. But this is no longer the case. Other things now take precedence.

In this case, the task should be removed from the to-do list. Perhaps it should be deferred to a Someday/Maybe List. Or maybe it should simply be deleted.

Second, the task is actually a project. This means it’s multiple tasks disguised as one. This makes it intimidating–not only must the task be completed, but first the work to be done has to be identified.

In this case, the project should be broken down. Each of the steps should be a separate task on the to-do list. For completeness, the project should be tracked on a Projects List and reviewed weekly.

These are the strategies I usually use to tackle The Immortal Task.

Avoiding Overwhelm

A Capture habit is a great first step. It can help with productivity, creativity, and relaxation. But it can also hinder those same things.

To-do lists. Brainstormed ideas. Bookmarked articles.

Sometimes the things we capture can fuel us. Other times they can leave us feeling overwhelmed.

This is related to The Paradox of Choice. Seeing all our options can leave us in a state of analysis paralysis.

The key is to filter our options.

For example, in Getting Things Done, David Allen provides some guidance for filtering our choices. He suggests we choose our next actions based on the following criteria, in this order:

  1. Context
  2. Time available
  3. Energy available
  4. Priority

I do this in OmniFocus using tags and perspectives. When I’m at home, I only look at the tasks available to me then. I don’t let myself see the tasks that require me to be elsewhere such as the office or the grocery store.

Another example is Tiago Forte’s Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives (PARA). By organizing our notes in order of immediate actionability, we can focus on the notes that are most relevant to our immediate goal. When I’m working on a blog post about food, I’m able to read through my notes about diets, recipes, and flavours. I don’t need to read through my archived notes from past projects, journals from thirteen years ago, or my phone bills.

Filtering allows us to keep our minds clear while focusing on those things that are most useful.

The Truth About My Cardio

This year I found myself getting injured way more often than usual. In the Fall, I got a calf injury that put my running on pause for 2 months. Then I got another leg injury in January. And 3 weeks ago, I got a minor calf strain playing volleyball.

I recently watched a Nick Bare Youtube video where he shared that he had gotten injured. He attributed at least part of that to running too hard too often and mentioned shifting to adopt The Maffetone Method.

I recently started reading The Maffetone Method and I bought a heart rate chest strap to measure my heart rate while I’m running.

I always thought my cardio was pretty strong. I am used to running a ~8km hilly route most days of the week at a comfortable pace. I’ve done half-marathon races. A couple summers ago, I was doing the Grouse Grind multiple times a day.

Learning about heart rate zone training from Nick Bare, The Maffetone Method, and my heart rate strap really opened my eyes.

Whereas The Maffetone Method suggests doing a majority of your cardio/aerobic traing in heart rate zone 2, I found out my daily runs were actually in an anaerobic zone 3 and zone 4. No wonder I was getting injured so often.

Because most of my training had been anaerobic, I learned that my cardio has broken down significantly.

Right now, running uphill while staying in zone 2 requires me to jog slower than I walk. (I can’t simply walk because that drops me into zone 1 instead of zone 2.) This is painful (not physically) for me because I’m used to going at a much faster pace which I thought was comfortable. Unfortunately, I live on a mountain, so almost every running route option I have is hilly. It also makes maintaining zone 2 difficult as I have to alternate between walking and painfully slow jogging for the uphill portions of the route.

Yesterday, I decided to try using a treadmill to more easily maintain zone 2. It was much easier to maintain zone 2 on the treadmill. But whereas I used to do my cardio at 7.5 km/hr (also, 4.5 km/hr for walking, 6 km/hr for recovery, 12 km/hr for HIIT), maintaining zone 2 this morning required me to jog at 4.5 km/hr.

Sigh.

Anywho, it looks like I found something to work on. I’m glad I learned about heart rate zone training and that the heart rate monitor revealed the truth to me. Hopefully once I get my cardio back (or for the first time, maybe?) I’ll be able to stay active without getting injured so often.

Folders vs Links for PKM

I started using PARA after taking Building A Second Brain. This structure is productivity-oriented, and organizes information into folders based on how immediately actionable it is.

I’m currently taking Linking Your Thinking. This course is focused more on using your notes to improve your thinking (as opposed to productivity reasons).

As the course is starting to wind down, I’m starting to experiment with integrating these two systems together. One experiment I’m trying is to switch from PARA’s folder structure to using Maps of Content (MOCs) (ie. notes primarily used to link to other notes) to organize my information.

When I did my most recent weekly review, I started my new projects in MOCs instead of in new folders. In PARA, the Project folder had a number of folders inside, each representing a project. This maps to the idea of a project list from Getting Things Done. To replace this, I’ve created a 2020 Projects note, with separate headings for Completed and In Progress projects.

I’m hoping to see the following benefits from this experimental structure:

  • I will have a single system to navigate my notes. Before this change, I had two distinct systems side by side. I had my PARA system and what I had called my Thought Bank. I navigated my PARA system by opening the relevant folders, whereas I navigated my Thought Bank either via a Home note (ie. top-down navigation) or by opening a file based on the name (ie. bottom-up navigation). As I move towards moving PARA into MOCs, I may be able to navigate my notes in a more consistent way.
  • Notes can now live in multiple places. With PARA, a single note may be relevant to multiple projects and multiple areas and multiple resources at the same time. Where it ends up lives depends entirely on where it is most immediately actionable (and that home will change as projects get completed, areas change, etc). Using MOCs instead of folders will allow these notes to live in multiple places, and serve multiple purposes, at one time.
  • Historical integrity can be maintained. When you complete a project in PARA, each note from that project is potentially moved from that project folder elsewhere into PARA depending on where it is most immediately actionable. As a result of this, if future you is looking back at a project you completed, some/all of the context you had at one point may no longer be there. Using MOCs instead of folders allows that same context to persist even after the project has been completed.
  • Unexpected connections between projects may be discovered. Because notes can now live in multiple places, they can also serve as bridges between multiple projects and ideas. This may lead to serendipitous discovery of new ideas/projects to explore in the future.

Some of the concerns I’m looking out for with this new structure:

  • Loss of constraints may decrease intentionality and focus. Choosing the singular place where a note is most immediately actionable served as a valuable constraint. This ensured that I was being intentional with where I’m choosing to organize my information, but also re-focused me on my highest priorities.
  • Things may get messy. Without having a folder structure to organize my notes, more of my notes may get thrown together in a single folder that may grow to become unmanageable (ie. difficult to keep track of what’s in my system, quicker to reach sync/storage limitations) over time. This also makes the PARA idea of archiving more difficult.

If this week goes well, I may start moving my areas over to a similar MOC structure next week. I’ll try to update again here as I discover new things 🙂

Current Ponderings

What makes efficiency a benefit (eg. ROI) vs a hindrance (eg. buying a small milkshake vs a large one)?

What makes communication so difficult at scale? How can the root cause be addressed? If the root cause can’t be addressed, what are the best options?

What are the best ways to distinguish reliable sources? How can you effectively evaluate a source and another source that is challenging it when it is outside your area of expertise?

The Sum of My Thoughts

Today was the closing conversation for a B.O.O.K. Club I joined for The Sum of Us. I just thought I’d share some of my thoughts that I’m gonna be pondering for the next little while coming out of that closing conversation.

Two potential paradoxes were discussed:

  1. Is tolerance a form of intolerance?
  2. Is inclusivity exclusive?

Part of me thinks these are paradoxes, and part of me thinks there’s some nuance to be discovered about why these aren’t actually paradoxes.

McGhee talks about the hidden wound, which refers to the suffering of white people as they bump up against their complicity with historical racism. I had a thought comparing how this shows up with Terry Real’s concept of the adaptive child, which is how we tend to show up when we’re on autopilot in the face of a threat.

Finally, a more meta-reflection: I thought this closing session was facilitated particularly well. I don’t know if this is an actual observation or just a story I had about the session, but it seems like the facilitator always looked for the common ground in the conversation. I thought there were moments where he disagreed with something that was said, but would always respond by focusing on something that seemed to be more like common ground. I could be totally making that up, but there was something going on that had me pretty impressed with how the conversation was facilitated.

Anyhow, I’ll continue thinking. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up blog post in the future as I start to work through some of these ideas.

All Fear Is a Story

All fear is a story.

I can’t remember where I’ve seen this idea before, but I feel like it’s an idea I’ve seen multiple times. It also resonates pretty strongly with me.

This topic has come up in many different areas related to the mind.

I see it come up in therapy. We often examine fears. In doing so, we look at stories we’re telling ourselves there. Those may include catastrophizing, personalizing feedback, or all-or-nothing perspectives.

I see it come up in the Enneagram. I’m not an expert in the Enneagram. My experience is pretty much limited to a textbook and several articles I’ve read about it. However, my understanding is that everyone has a core fear. (It is also my current understanding that each personality type in the Enneagram (and similarly, I imagine, in other personality typing frameworks) is a protective adaptation to address that fear.) My current hypothesis is that each of these core fears is a story about disconnection/not belonging.

I see it come up in coaching. We often look at the fears that are holding us back. Underlying these fears are stories where we over-generalize, assume we know what other people will think, or assume we know what the future holds.

Worry is a misuse of your imagination.
–Dan Zadra

I haven’t been reading much lately as I’ve been focused on other projects. However, as some of those wrap-up, I’m planning on digging more into this topic. Some of the books I’m thinking about (re-)visiting include:

  • Awareness by Anthony de Mello
  • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
  • How Emotions are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett
  • The Master and His Emissary by Iain Mcgilchrist
  • Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Yesterday, Edvardo Archer also introduced me to the Narrative Therapeutic Framework. I’ve also added that to my research list for this topic.

If you have any other suggestions, please let me know! Would love to expand my awareness of this topic 😻

Written vs Verbal Communication

I’ve been present to a specific source of pain at work recently: Communication.

Maybe this is just a pain point because of rapid growth? Maybe this is a skill we’re still developing? Maybe I’m the only one feeling this pain?

Anywho…

We tend to have a lot of audio/video meetings. There seems to be a fear that writing hurts velocity. It can take significant time for people to asynchronously read through a document, share their thoughts, and respond to questions. It’s faster to pull everyone into a meeting. That way all points can be discussed and everyone can swiftly get on the same page when areas of concern are encountered.

However…

Meetings are difficult to schedule. This gets harder as the group increases in size.

Meetings often have observers.

It’s easier to miss things in verbal communication. Complex ideas require thought. This can distract from the overall message. With verbal communication, what’s been said is in the past. With written communication, it’s easier to pick up from where you left off.

It’s difficult to achieve understanding in meetings. Suppose you need to clarify something. Then you have to interrupt the chain of thought to ask for clarity. Or you have to wait until a more appropriate time… But there’s no guarantee that you’ll remember your question by then.

Writing can be revisited when you forget things. Without writing, meetings are purely transient events. Once in the past, their conversations cease to exist. Only faulty memories remain.

It’s also easier to share ideas when they’re written. Sharing a document is easily scalable. It also prevents the quality of shared ideas from wasting away over time. (Try to recall all the details of a meeting you had last month.)

It seems like writing is a better communication method in many ways.

However, it seems that both methods could benefit from the addition of diagrams and illustrations.

I’m still pondering a couple questions.

Some people love audio/video conversations. It feels more connected. It’s better suited for their personality types. What would make writing more valuable to them?

I realize I framed this like a binary choice. It’s possible there’s another solution altogether. Maybe better meeting etiquette would help? (This may include providing agendas and taking minutes.)

Lots of exploring to do here…

The Impact of Long-Lived Projects, and a Potential Workaround

PARA (Projects Areas Resources Archives) is a system for organizing information by how actionable that information is.

Last week, I wrote about how to distinguish between different components of PARA.

Two of these components are:

  1. Projects (tasks with a deadline that have multiple discrete next steps) and
  2. Areas (components of life in which a standard must be maintained over an indefinite period of time).

Something like “Complete Building A Second Brain” has a deadline (ie. the last class is on June 8, 2021) and has multiple steps (eg. do homework for unit 1, watch pre-lecture video for unit 2). Thus, it is a project.

Something like “Lift weights” refers to a standard (ie. progressive overload) maintained over an indefinite period of time. Thus, it is an area.

In taking the Building A Second Brain online course, I noticed that a lot of the mentors were stressing another characteristics of projects: short durations.

Projects that can be completed in a 1 to 2 week span have a couple of important benefits:

  • They help build a feeling of momentum. Long-lasting projects that never leave your to-do list can leave you feeling stuck. Regularly moving projects from your active projects list to your archive will motivate you to maintain your progress.
  • They help build trust in your system. Would you trust and invest in a personal assistant who regularly let things slip through the cracks and wasn’t helping you to make progress on your goals? You won’t use your system if you see it as a place that projects go to sleep or die. Completing projects helps to demonstrate that your system is working and has value.

This brought me to a conundrum: something like “Complete Building A Second Brain” appears to be a project, but it would remain in my active projects list for almost 2 months. Similarly, I have other projects such as “Get my driver’s license” and “The Sum of Us B.O.O.K. Club” that meet the project definition but live long enough to potentially impact my sense of progress and my perception of my system’s value–the former is a project that will likely remain open for over half a year!

To address this, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit.

What I’m trying instead is making “Complete Building A Second Brain” an area and then creating smaller projects coming out of that area (eg. “Complete the Capture unit”).

This means that “Complete Building A Second Brain” represents a standard I want to maintain over a period of time. While completing the course, I will be maintaining a standard of participating in the course and continuing to practice as the course progresses.

“Complete the Capture unit” has a deadline (ie. we pivot topics and move onto the next unit every Wednesday) and multiple discrete steps (ie. pre-lecture videos, homework assignments, participate in mentor groups). It is also achievable in a smaller timespan (~1 week) than completing the entire Building A Second Brain course.

Taking this approach allows me to keep my projects and areas separate (which is important for keeping only the most immediately relevant information in focus), build a sense of progress, and develop a sense of trust and value in my system.