The allure of metawork (and changes to my reading process)

Cohort 14 of Building a Second Brain wrapped up this week.

I debated jumping back into another cohort-based course, but I’ve decided to take a break for a bit. Reflecting on recent months, I feel like I’ve been doing too much metawork and too little actual work.

Metawork is work directed towards the systems and tools we use to accomplish our goals.

Whether something is metawork or not is context-dependent. If my goal is to write a newsletter by Sunday, then re-organizing my tags in my PKM is metawork. If my goal is to host a webinar showcasing how tags can be effectively used in a PKM system, then re-organizing my tags is actual work.

Metawork can be helpful. It improves our systems and tools, enabling us to execute our goals more quickly.

Metawork becomes a problem when we mistake it for actual work. It can become a form of procrastination. It can allow us to feel productive when we’re not progressing towards our goals.

In my case, I feel like I’ve been spending:

  • too much time optimizing my system
  • too much time consuming new materials
  • too much time focusing on things that aren’t producing value in the immediate future

I want to spend more time:

  • doing targeted research toward my goals
  • writing more articles that dive deep into my areas of interest
  • putting together a few workshops or presentations that I think would be valuable for the people in my life

Earlier this week, I started moving my books into my PKM. I tagged them to mark which of my 12 favourite problems they might be relevant to. And I started making notes of their tables of contents to have some idea of the structure and ideas in each book.

This start at an inspectional reading is, admittedly, still metawork.

I aim to do just enough metawork to provide a good jumping-off point for when I start doing targeted research for my future projects.

That being said, I realized that I got sucked into the allure of this metawork. I don’t need to include that initial table of contents structure until I decide to start diving into the book. I can reduce some of this metawork by just tagging the notes and stopping there for now.

And I hope to use these tagged notes in my next attempt at reducing waste: changing how I read books.

I still find myself reading books cover to cover.

I want to try skimming a book while looking for information related to a specific question. Hopefully, this will allow me to do more efficient and diverse research for my thinking and writing.

Fortunately, I have some time this week to dedicate to this. Our quarterly hackathon is here, so I plan to do some of this metawork then. (And also taking notes on Everything Everywhere All At Once for that article I want to write.)

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