GTD ✅ – Reflect

The next step of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system is Reflect. This step is focused around ensuring your system is working effectively.

There are two main components to the Reflect step. One of these is what Allen refers to as Horizons, which are used for gaining greater perspective; this is done less frequently so we will talk about this later on. However, the core component is the Weekly Review. We will focus on this component in this post.

The purpose of the Weekly Review is to keep track and on top of everything you’re working on. This has the benefit of removing this responsibility from your mind, which hopefully encourages you to relax.

Allen suggests setting a regular time each week to do the Weekly Review. More specifically, he suggests doing them on Friday afternoons. It may take a couple of hours to do your first Weekly Review, but in my experience, they get much faster as you get used to the process. This may feel like a long time, but it is worth the benefits it provides.

Here are the steps for completing a Weekly Review. It may be useful to create a checklist based on this that you can use each week as you complete your review.

  • Tidy your environment and mind
    • Add any loose papers, sticky notes, business cards, etc. to your Inbox.
    • Add anything you’re thinking about to your Inbox. These may include things to do (eg. talk to Bob about the new designs) or information you’ve gathered throughout the week (eg. an online article that may be useful for one of your projects).
  • Review your Calendar
    • Review your past week for any action items, follow-ups, or useful information that you haven’t yet collected. Add these to your Inbox.
      • For example, suppose you had a meeting with a coworker to collaborate on a presentation for the Developer All Hands. Looking back at your calendar, you recall that you wanted to schedule another meeting with them to have a practice run before the actual presentation, and also add some finishing touches to your slides. Add these items to your Inbox.
    • Review the upcoming two weeks for any action items that you haven’t yet collected. Add these to your Inbox.
      • For example, suppose the Developer All Hands that you’re presenting at is coming up. You see this two weeks out on your calendar and remember that you wanted to reach out to the organizers to clarify some logistics. Add this to your Inbox.
  • Review your Waiting For List
    • Add anything that requires follow-up to your Inbox.
  • Review your Someday/Maybe List
    • For any items that you want to start actioning on in the immediate future, move them to your Inbox.
    • For any items that you’re no longer interested in doing, remove them from this list.
  • Process your Inbox
  • Review your Active Projects List
    • Any active projects that you want to defer working on until later should be removed from this list and added onto your Someday/Maybe List.
    • Any projects that you have started or will be starting this week should be added to this list.
    • Every active project should have a next action in your GTD system.
  • Review your To-Do Lists
    • Reflect on any items that have been sitting in your list for an extended period of time. Some possible reasons for this may include:
      • Being assigned to the wrong Context. If “Write report draft” has been sitting on your Phone to-do list but you resist picking it up because you’d feel more efficient writing it with a computer, perhaps you should move it to your Computer to-do list.
      • Actually being a Project. Perhaps this next action actually requires multiple steps and should be broken down accordingly.

That is it for the Weekly Review. Depending on how your GTD system evolves, you may wish to add, remove, or change the components of your own review.

And we are now ready to move onto the final step of GTD: Engage.

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GTD ✅ – Horizons

In Getting Things Done (GTD), David Allen presents the idea of Horizons. Each horizon represents a different level of clarity on your productivity.

There are two main components to the Reflect step. The core component is the Weekly Review, which is done frequently to keep on top of the things that most immediately require our attention; we reviewed this component in depth previously here. The other one is what Allen refers to as Horizons, which are used for gaining greater perspective. We will focus on this component in this post.

These horizons from the top down are as follows:

  • Purpose and Principles
    • These are the principles and purpose that guide you and your life.
  • Vision
    • This is the long-term vision you have for your future.
  • Goals
    • These are the goals you are pursuing.
  • Areas of Focus
    • These refer to the important core areas of your life. These may include your family, friends, career, health, finances, etc.
  • Current Projects
    • These are the projects you currently have on the go within your GTD system.
  • Current Next Actions
    • These are the next actions you currently have on the go within your GTD system in your calendar and to-do lists.

We already review the Current Projects and Current Next Actions during the Weekly Review. We need to review these most frequently because they are the most immediately actionable.

As you move up the horizons, you need to review them less frequently. The cadence at which you review them will be subjective to your personal preferences.

I personally review my Areas of Focus and Goals in a monthly review where I reflect on:

  • whether I’m deliberately tracking all of my Areas of Focus and Goals
  • whether any of my Areas of Focus or Goals are no longer immediate priorities
  • whether my Current Projects and Current Next Actions are serving my Areas of Focus and Goals

I review my Purpose and Principles and Vision in an annual review. I usually do this around the start of the year when I reflect on whether my Areas of Focus and Goals are serving my Purpose and Principles and Vision.

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GTD ✅ – Engage

The final step of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system is Engage. This is the step in which we actually get things done.

Allen argues that there are four factors that can help determine which of your next actions you should engage with right now. These four factors and the order in which they are to be applied are as follows:

  • Context
    • Allen refers to context as the how, when, where, or (with) whom factor that defines whether a task can be done. Some examples of this include home (eg. I can’t wash the dishes unless I’m at home), phone (eg. I can’t call my Mom unless I have my phone), or online (eg. I can’t read a web article unless I have access to the internet). The context is the first factor in determining what to engage with. Picking up a cake for your daughter’s birthday may be your highest priority today. You may have the energy and 10 minutes to pick a cake and have a birthday message written on it right now. But none of those matter if you’re currently across the city at your office. This is why we filter our next actions by context first.
  • Time Available
    • The time you have available is the next factor in determining what to engage with. Suppose you’re at the office and you have the energy to do the highest priority next action of the day: pair programming with the newest member of your team on a bug they’re working on fixing. However, if you only have 5 minutes before your next meeting, this is probably not the next action you want to take on right now. This is why we filter our next actions by time available next.
  • Energy Available
    • The energy you have available is the next factor in determining what to engage with. Suppose you’re at the office, and you have the rest of your afternoon free–several hours of time to get things done. The highest priority next action on your to do list is to have a difficult but not urgent conversation with a coworker. This may not be the best choice if your energy has hit rock bottom as you may not have the capacity to maintain composure during this conversation. This is why we filter our next actions by energy available next.
  • Priority
    • The priority of the next action is the last factor in determining what to engage with. This may seem counterintuitive (eg. the Eisenhower Method suggests prioritizing the most important tasks first). However, I hope some of the examples above help to explain why the other factors are used to filter the available next actions before priority.
    • If you ever encounter a next action that your intuition firmly states you should be taking on above other next actions despite the other factors, it may be an indicator that some of those items on your next actions lists should actually be moved to your Someday/Maybe List for now.

That is all there is to the Engage step and the GTD system.

In the next and final post, we will discuss how the GTD system helps to address some of the psychological factors we covered at the beginning of this series.

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GTD ✅ – Psychological Benefits of GTD

To conclude this series, I wanted to discuss how David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system addresses some of the psychological factors we talked about earlier.

The Capture step is where we unload things from our brains and into our GTD system. This helps to reduce Working Memory as we can rely on our system to keep track of things instead of relying on our short-term memory. It also helps with the Zeigarnik Effect as it closes loops on the unfinished tasks and unsorted information that we were previously storing in our heads. This also helps to move us from a Stressed to a Relaxed state as we can stop worrying about things we may forget or things we have already forgotten, and we can better focus on the work at hand instead of getting distracted by all the things we still have to do later.

The Clarify and Organize steps are where we process the information and tasks we have collected and integrate them into our GTD system. This helps with Decision Fatigue–so long as the items have been clarified and organized. Ideally, when we pick something from our to-do list, we’re looking for something that is ready to be engaged with. However, if we haven’t clarified and organized that item in our to-do list, then we’re back to having to decide what the next action is before we can engage with it. By batching all this work into the Clarify and Organize steps, we reduce the number of decisions we need to make when we are getting things done. These steps also help with the Zeigarnik Effect and Working Memory when it comes to projects. Because we entrust our system to keep track of on-going projects, we don’t need to worry about what the next action is when we make progress towards a project.

The Reflect step is where we ensure our system is working effectively, and also continues to work effectively so that you build trust in your system. It encompasses attributes from all of the CaptureClarify, and Organize steps. As a result, it also helps with Working Memory, the Zeigarnik EffectDecision Fatigue, and transitioning from a Stressed to a Relaxed state.

The Engage step is where we actually get things done. This step helps with Decision Fatigue. Instead of having to rack your brain for what to do, you now have a list of things that are immediately available for you to do. You may choose to be selective during this process, but even if you do, this has greatly narrowed the set of possible options and thus the impact of decision fatigue. Additionally, this step helps to move you from a Stressed to a Relaxed state as you complete things and feel like you’re getting things done and making progress on your goals.

In summary, there are many psychological factors that can impact our productivity. Allen’s GTD system is a way to help improve our productivity by addressing some of these psychological factors.

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.
–David Allen

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The Fun Factor

Whoops. Time goes by so fast. I didn’t realize yesterday was Tuesday. Sorry for writing and posting this late. 😅

Last week, I alluded to the factor primarily responsible for why I haven’t been spending as much time with my notes as I expected. That factor is the feeling of fun.

There are two things that immediately jump to mind when I think about fun.

First, I think about the distinction between work and play.

Play is fun. When something feels like play, it is naturally engaging. It is energizing, much like attending a party with friends is energizing for an extrovert.

When something feels like work, it requires us to intentionally engage. This requires energy, much like attending a party with friends depletes energy for an introvert; they may want to do it and find it enjoyable, but it requires them to expend energy.

Second, I think about the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Fun is intrinsically motivating. We can do something simply because it’s fun. It’s something we’d want to do even if we had no other reason.

When something isn’t fun, we generally need a reason to do it. It’s something we want to do because we feel like we should do it, or like we have to do it.

Now, let’s return to my notes.

I often feel like my notes have to meet some quality standard. I often feel like my ideas are mediocre and not worthy of including in my notes.

In today’s live session of Building a Second BrainTiago Forte mentioned the importance of shifting our mindset to bias towards creating instead of collecting. Reflecting on this, I think I commonly default back on collecting because it feels safer. I have less skin in the game when I’m simply making notes of other people’s ideas instead of producing, working on, and presenting my own ideas.

I’ve lost the fun factor with regards to my notes.

As Paco Cantero pointed out on Twitter last week, if something isn’t fun, we won’t do it for the long-term. It won’t be a sustainable practice.

Going forward, I have some questions I want to explore.

Is the experience of fun something we have any control over? Or does it just happen? If we have any control over it, how can we increase the experience of fun? How can we prevent ourselves from losing that experience?

And what better place to explore those questions than in my notes 🙂

Update on The Structure of My PKM

This is a follow-up on a previous blog post. Thank you Shirley for the nudge 🙂

I haven’t finished my migration into a unified system. I’m continuing to make gradual progress, and in this blog post I will share some of my reflections through this process.

I’ve updated my 2021 Projects note to have some additional headers:

  • Completed. I list my completed projects right up top so I’m reminded of how much I’ve accomplished so far this year.
  • Completed, To Be Reviewed. This is a holding ground for projects I’ve completed but haven’t yet reviewed. I typically move projects here throughout the week and then review them during my weekly review.
  • In Progress. These are the projects requiring my most immediate periods of focus.
  • Slow Burn. These are the projects I slowly chip away at over time.
  • On Hold. These are projects that I’ve temporarily de-prioritized.
  • Future. These are projects I may want to tackle in the future.
  • Dropped. These are projects that I’ve permanently de-prioritized.

My 2021 Projects note is typically pinned (ie. always visible) in Obsidian as I use this to navigate my notes on a daily basis.

Previously I listed some benefits I foresaw from moving away from a traditional PARA structure:

  • I will have a single system to navigate my notes. I’m still working towards this, and parts of my PARA folder system are still in place. There are still a few places where I’m struggling to move away from PARA folders. For example, my daily notes and notes for my regular reviews I’ve been keeping out of my thought bank so that I can more easily omit them from my graph view.
  • Notes can now live in multiple places. I’ve been finding this useful for when my notes are relevant to multiple simultaneous projects and/or multiple notes. An example of this is when I have notes that I re-use for book clubs, blog posts, and my newsletter.
  • Historical integrity can be maintained. This has been true so far as I have yet to edit a project note after the project has been completed.
  • Unexpected connections between projects may be discovered. Admittedly, I haven’t been aware of this happening. This may be related to something I will briefly touch on at the end of this post.

I also listed some concerns I had about this approach:

  • Loss of constraints may decrease intentionality and focus. I have experienced this when I created a new note and then didn’t associate it with the relevant project(s). I am trying to be more cognizant of this, though, and this is part of the reason I’ve started pinning my 2021 Projects note—to ensure it’s always at the forefront of my mind.
  • Things may get messy. I have yet to be concerned by this. I almost never look for files through the file explorer—I usually navigate using either links from other notes, or via a search function. My thought bank currently holds ~2000 files totalling ~70 MB. This isn’t enough to exceed my storage limits or cause indexing/software to be slow. So yes, things may be messy, but the mess so far is of little consequence.

There is one last thing I wanted to mention. I’ll mention it briefly here and then elaborate on it more next week.

When I signed up for Building A Second Brain and Linking Your Thinking, I expected that I would be spending a lot more time in my notes. I suspect the lack of insights and slowness in changing the structure of my PKM is related to this. And I think the reason I’m not spending more time in my notes ultimately comes down to this one factor: Fun.

Judging Inner Honesty

I’m finding it difficult to accurately judge inner honesty.

My current understanding of decision-making is roughly as follows: we make decisions based on various factors such as emotions and body sensations. After we make a decision, we make sense of our decision in the way that most coherently fits into the rest of our beliefs.

This being the case, it seems like any rationalization of our decision will ring true to us. The sense making we make up will make sense to us. And it will feel like we’re being honest with ourselves about our decision.

In Relating Between The Lines, we’re currently practicing two communication tools. These tools both have components that deal with emotions.

For the greater part of a week, I wasn’t practicing these tools. Many of my conversations seemed to be mostly fact-oriented, and thus I didn’t see the emotional component necessary to practice these tools.

It wasn’t until later in the week that I realized what had happened.

My brain decided not to practice the tools because doing so seemed scary and made me feel uncomfortable. I rationalized that I couldn’t use the tools because it wasn’t the right place or time–the emotional component was missing.

I didn’t see that people often talk about facts because they’re emotionally meaningful.

I didn’t see that practicing the tools didn’t require perfect execution–I could omit the emotional component and practice the rest.

I didn’t see that I wasn’t being honest with myself about why I wasn’t practicing the tools. But for quite some time, I thought I was.

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’s Newsletter – 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 😉) 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 🙂


Welcome to the first issue of my monthly newsletter 🙂 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 Brené 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 🎉

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. 🤷‍♀️ 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 🙂