Chiseling Down Project Templates

I felt super overwhelmed last week. My evenings were packed. I had a board meeting, a council meeting, a book club, a class, a monthly discussion group on personal knowledge management, a monthly discussion group on things we’ve learned in the past month, and volleyball (twice). I ended up falling behind on my other personal projects.

This week I find myself still struggling to catch up.

In reflecting on this struggle, I looked at my project templates. I think I may be creating unnecessary work for myself.

At present, my project kick-off template has 7 set-up steps and these prompts:

  • Intermediate Packets (Past, Present, and Future)
  • Current and related thoughts
  • People who may be interested or may be able to contribute
  • Foreseeable challenges
  • Why is this important to me?
  • What does done look like?
  • What does success look like? How will I measure it?

And my project retro template has 9 wrap-up steps and these prompts:

  • How successful was this project?
  • Does this project lead into or inspire any future projects?
  • Are there any remaining open loops?
  • What went well that should be repeated in the future?
  • What didn’t go well and what can be changed to improve next time?
  • What learnings from collected feedback can be applied to future projects?

Some of these are repetitive. Some of these don’t provide value to me right now. And if they aren’t providing value, they’re just providing unnecessary work.

I’m gonna try experimenting with a simpler process. I’ve combined these two templates into one. This new template has 4 set-up steps and 0 wrap-up steps. It also has the following prompts:

  • Success Metrics
    • Target/Goal
    • Actual/Results
  • Related Links
  • (Optional) Pre-Mortem/Planning
  • (Optional) Post-Mortem/Reflection

This feels much lighter. Hopefully it allows me to move much faster while still seeing the same value.

TSN’sย Newsletterย – Issue 1 – October 2021

I figured I’d share the first issue of my newsletter. (I don’t intend to do this every time, but I thought I’d open this up for feedback here since I don’t have as many readers on my newsletter. Click here to subscribe ๐Ÿ˜‰) Already, I’ve learned to write the newsletter over the course of the month instead of cramming the writing in at the end of the month. I also realize that I focused mostly on breadth in this newsletter, and I hope to gradually move more towards depth in the future.

Please let me know if you have any feedback on how I can improve future issues, or feedback on what you like/dislike about how this first newsletter came out ๐Ÿ™‚


Welcome to the first issue of my monthly newsletter ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for subscribing! If you have any suggestions for future issues, or thoughts, please let me know!

Autopilot

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman introduces two distinct ways in which we think about things. He calls these System 1 and System 2. In brief, System 1 is fast, automatic, and unconscious. System 2 is slow, deliberate, and conscious.

Recently I’ve encountered a bunch of ideas that remind of these two systems. I wanted to touch on some of them here.

I’m slowly reading How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. I think the automatic way most of us read books is to simply read them cover to cover. Adler and Van Doren recommend a more deliberate method of reading books. I am practicing part of this method which they call Analytical Reading. This involves slowing down and paying attention to the structure of the book, the meaning of the words the author(s) are using, and the arguments being put forward to support the author’s claim. This often involves taking notes or marking up the book as it’s being read.

This year, I completed Building a Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking. My default behaviour when watching TV is to just sit down and enjoy the show. However, both of these classes mentioned the value of Capture–making the effort to take notes about things that are interesting, surprising, useful, or otherwise worthy of recording. Unless I make the deliberate effort to pay attention and prepare to take notes when watching things, I make extra work for future me. I’ve encountered this recently while watching both House, M.D. and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. I didn’t take notes while watching them, and now I wish I had because there’s a lot of references I relate to things I’m thinking about (eg. different modes of thinking, trauma).

David Allen’s Getting Things Done also advocates for a Capture habit. Many people leave much of personal productivity up to their System 1 brain. They trust their intuition that they can remember to do that thing later, or when it’s relevant (but have you ever forgotten to pick something up from the grocery store while you were there?). They think that the best way to decide what to do is to feel out what’s most important (picking up a birthday cake for your daughter may be your biggest priority, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re stuck on the train coming home late from work). They think that having done something means that they’ve done enough (eg. if you added a task to your to-do list but it’s been sitting there ignored for months, it probably means you need to change how it’s appearing on your to-do list; just because you can take comfort in knowing the fact that you have put in effort into repairing a damaged relationship doesn’t mean you no longer have the responsibility to make the deliberate choice to continue putting effort in). Allen’s Getting Things Done system teaches how to get the System 2 to put some cost upfront so that the system is prepared to create good results even when System 1 takes over again in the future.

The orientation session for Relating Between the Lines was this week. In this session, Norman Tran shared a thought he had from reading Brenรฉ Brown’s Daring Greatly. This thought was that connection looks like playfulness, authenticity, and a feeling of renewal. These attributes reminded me of the idea of the Inner Child when they feel safe and free. In Fierce Intimacy, Terry Real talks about the idea of the Adaptive Child and the Functional Adult. When we feel threatened, the Inner Child falls back on the automatic patterns it had previously learned for survival. Because many of these patterns are double-edged swords (eg. independence, vengeful) centered around disconnection, we may choose to use our Functional Adult (ie. System 2) to step in and help navigate the world. If navigating the world in this way brings us back to a place where we feel safe again, our System 1 may once again take the perspective of the safe and free Inner Child (instead of the Adaptive Child).

Stories

It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.
— Donna J. Haraway

One of the ideas covered in this week’s Relating Between the Lines session was distinguishing different states of relationships. One of the factors we used in this discussion was receptivity. I interpreted one of the motives for this framework as to help evaluate which relationships are worth the effort/investment.

(Note: This framework is new to me and I’m still processing it. Just thought I’d share some of my thoughts out loud here.)

While seeking clarification on how to determine receptivity, there were a couple things suggested for me to look at. The first was to consider whether the other person is putting effort into the relationship. The second was to consider whether the other person was being malicious.

I am concerned that both of these factors are heavily influenced by stories (ie. interpretation). If I’m evaluating whether a relationship is worth the investment, it is likely I carry some baggage in that relationship. That baggage is likely to shape how I see whether the other person is putting in effort, or whether they’re being malicious. The Landmark Forum calls this a Vicious Circle. The stories we have shape how we perceive the world, and then that world we’ve created further shapes our stories. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.

This also reminded me of an idea from The Wisdom of Trauma. Trauma isn’t the result of having had a difficult experience. Rather, trauma is the result of feeling alone in dealing with a difficult experience. We experience different worlds when we deal with something alone versus with others. When we deal with something on our own, we experience the world of our stories about that situation, and the world where we have to deal with it alone. When we deal with something with others, we experience the world of our stories about that situation, a world where we recognize other people are with us through that journey, and other worlds that result as a result of that collaboration.

In any case, I also have to wonder whether determining receptivity really matters. I think opting for disconnection will always carry consequences. However, I also understand that some people are positioned to prefer those consequences over other consequences. So maybe it’s best to focus less on understanding receptivity and instead to focus on choosing what’s best for oneself.

People, in general, only ask advice not to follow it; or if they do follow it, it is for the sake of having someone to blame for having given it.
Alexandre Dumas

Scaling

For a long time, I think science was seen by many as somewhat of an authority figure. If you made a claim that was scientifically inaccurate, you’d be corrected either by the scientific method itself, or by other people who were more familiar with the findings that existed at the time.

I’m observing a lot of places where science is being challenged. Climate change and vaccinations stand out as two examples of this.

I suspect part of this is a scaling problem. Cunningham’s Law states that “The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.” I think this observation may be particularly dangerous. Especially with the tendency towards homophily (perhaps more commonly recognized as echo chambers on the internet), people who post a wrong answer on the internet may not get the right answer. If they exist in a community who all prescribe to the wrong answer, the right answer may not bubble to the top, and even if it does, they have enough support through their community to hold on to their beliefs.

Tribalism

I recently visited Victoria and participated in a couple walking tours.

One of the interesting stories I heard involved public hangings. I learned that public hangings used to be public events in Victoria. They would draw large audiences, sometimes even from neighbouring islands. Businesses would offer food and drink for the onlookers as they observed the event.

This made me think of the idea of moral tribalism. I think that we often form tribes over the morals we have. In this case, the public likely prescribed to one set of morals that differed from the set of morals prescribed to by the person being executed. This story also made me think about how moral retribution can be used as a bonding mechanism for a tribe. People would show up to these public executions and bond with each other over their conquest of members of another tribe.

This also reminds me of political polarization. From what I’ve seen, many people tend to form tribes over their political beliefs. When the other tribe fails at something (eg. an election, a judicial trial), the tribe perceives this to be moral retribution. This often leads to celebrating and otherwise tribal bonding.

Random

I got my class 7 driver’s license ๐ŸŽ‰

Recently on repeat:

Interesting facts:

Distinguishing Newsletter Content

We’re almost 75% through 2021. There’s only a few days left in September. And I’m due to publish the first issue of my monthly newsletter soon.

I’ve been struggling a bit in preparing for this first issue. How do I distinguish what goes in my blog from what goes in my newsletter? Do I distinguish them?

I’ve done some research, but this still feels like it’s gonna be pretty experimental for the next several months.

One common thread I found was that blogs typically follow some niche topic whereas newsletters can be more broad. My blog is not niche at all. ๐Ÿคทโ€โ™€๏ธ I suspect that may make distinguishing the two more difficult. But maybe that’s not a problem.

But maybe I can just make the newsletter content even more broad.

Some of the things I’m debating including right now include:

  • The songs I have on repeat
  • Favourite ideas from things I’ve read
  • Random facts I’ve discovered
  • Quotes I’m reflecting on
  • New people I’ve discovered/started following
  • Connections I’ve been making between ideas
  • Shows/movies I’ve been watching

Let me know if you think I should exclude any of those, include anything else, or if you have any other thoughts on the topic. This is all new to me ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.