Posts Tagged lifehacks + cooltools

Smart notes

P.A.R.A. is Tiago Forte’s “system for organizing digital information” (read more on Forte’s blog “Praxis” – The PARA Method”). Here’s how a Master GTD trainer uses PARA. (See also my notes on Forte’s PARA method.)

This video is a screencast by a highly competent user of the GTD system. He uses Evernote and PARA.

How to Take Smart Notes: a summary of what Forte learned about note-taking from reading a book called How to Take Smart Notes (affiliate link), which is itself based on a system familiar to many as zettelkasten using index cards. (I actually used this system myself for many years – very analog it is, that was part of the attraction.)

Photo by plindberg  via Sean Lawson | Zettelkasten Method for Researchers & Academics

Instead of notes becoming a “graveyard for thoughts,” they can become a life-long pool of rich and interconnected ideas we can draw on no matter where our interests lead us.

How To Take Smart Notes: 10 Principles to Revolutionize Your Note-Taking and Writing

Well, that’s nice, but my index cards did become and remain a “graveyard for thoughts”, and the same thing has happened with my Evernotes, tho to a slightly lesser degree. Which is why I’m interested in both Building a Second Brain and the app Notion.

How many brilliant ideas have you had and forgotten? How many insights have you failed to take action on? How much useful advice have you slowly forgotten as the years have passed?

We feel a constant pressure to be learning, improving ourselves, and making progress. We spend countless hours every year reading, listening, and watching informational content. And yet, where has all that valuable knowledge gone? Where is it when we need it? Our brain can only store a few thoughts at any one time. Our brain is for having ideas, not storing them…

Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience…

This methodology is not only for preserving those ideas, but turning them into reality.

trying to remember all of it is overwhelming and impractical. By consolidating ideas from these sources, you’ll… have an ongoing record of personal discoveries, lessons learned, and actionable insights for any situation.

Building a Second Brain

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve been keeping track of “lessons learned”, but those lessons and their associated action plans are scattered in different places, both digital and analog, and I want to develop a way to keep them if not in one place (although Notion seems to make that feasible) at least more easily and quickly accessible.

Building a Second Brain offers a system for note-taking and for storing information (PARA) in a way that stacks the odds in favour of notes re-surfacing when needed instead of staying “out of sight, out of mind”, and Notion offers an interface that allows many different elements to be easily visible and accessible.

The “master GTD Trainer” uses a great many tags, something I wonder if Forte would approve of, given his opinion that “tagging is broken”!

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Back to the Opera (browser)

UPDATE: Another reason I like Opera is that it has a WhatsApp plugin that lets you read and reply to WhatsApp messages. How cool is that?!?

After playing around with Google Chrome for a while, I re-installed Opera on my desktop pc’s. Why? Because Chrome was so slow. And, I had to login to Google each time if I wanted my extensions to load. What the …? Extensions, of course, include my password manager, so that meant I had to type in my super-secret long-assed Google password BY HAND before I could load and use my password manager. I mean, really!

I blogged recently about Tiago Forte’s suggestions for streamlining one’s email procedures using keyboard shortcuts, which, however, I could not implement as my Google account did not allow me to access that function.  But Opera does have some shortcuts of its own: mouse shortcuts. AND keyboard shortcuts. Coolio.

I still keep Chrome on my USB, tho, because Opera does not have a portable version. Strike that. It does! Just installed it.

Update: 1 downside to Opera is that there is no Grammarly extension for this browser, so I’m keeping Chrome on hand, but Opera is my default browser.


A Manifesto for Human-centred Work

(UPDATE: After mulling over the interview with Tiago Forte [see below], I think what was most valuable and interesting is the idea of fusing work and personal growth. Forte wants to see many many more knowledge workers doing creative work. Productivity (which is a huge buzzword, just google it!) can be a wonderful vehicle for personal growth. Why keep the two separate? They both involve improvement and the desire to improve, but Forte hopes [and is creating tools such as Building a Second Brain for this purpose] that, with some thought, planning and re-orientation, technology can take much of the drudgery out of “productivity” leaving workers a little freer to use all that time and effort and attention and squirreling away of millions of bits of data to actually do creative, interesting and valuable work, both for themselves and for others.

Forte has inspired me to record some of my mini-lectures, as I use them over and over. Why re-invent the wheel every year or semester? And the more I think about it, the more activities occur to me that I can record and use as templates for the future, as well as for others.

PS Building a Second Brain workshop is now accepting applications for its next session in April 2020. Sign up here.

How about you? How can you do more with less? Make things easier for your future self?

The original show-notes with time-stamps can be found here: Video  Interview: Eclectic Spacewalk with Tiago Forte

and the transcript of the entire interview on Medium here: Conversation #3 – Tiago Forte (Transcript).

Up next: I’ll summarize and comment on Tiago Forte’s critical look at Evernote and tagging. OK. Back to the scheduled programming.)

A Manifesto for Human-centered Work. In the second half of the interview I blogged about earlier, Building a Second Brain founder Tiago Forte talks about his vision of work which is both enlightened and enlightening, a vision he calls a Manifesto for Human-centred Work.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Conversation with Tiago Forte

Tiago Forte is founder of Forte Labs and creator of the Building a Second Brain course, which I wrote about (briefly) here.

I’m subscribed to his newsletter while waiting for his next Building a Second Brain course to open, and today’s was a link to an interview he did, a filmed podcast. It’s quite long, so I’m just going to pick out some parts that I found interesting.

The original show-notes with time-stamps can be found here: Video  Interview: Eclectic Spacewalk with Tiago Forte

and the transcript of the entire interview on Medium here: Conversation #3 – Tiago Forte (Transcript).

The main topic is knowledge work and knowledge workers, the new economy. The first half of the podcast is about Forte’s background and upbringing, but the first key idea he talks about is Buckminster Fuller‘s concept of doing more with less.

  1. The key thing here is that Forte understood that this concept could be applied not only to manufacturing but also to knowledge work.
  2. The second idea is Toyota’s quality control which broke the belief that you had a choice between quantity and quality: Toyota showed that you could improve both at the same time. And again, Forte applies this to knowledge work, and points out how some of the best knowledge workers out there (he mentions no names but I think of Simon Sinek, Cal Newport and Dr. Ali Abdaal) are also incredibly prolific: they write, they blog, they give public talks, they publish books, they have podcasts.. AND they have a life (and in the case of Dr. Abdaal, a full-time job as well).
  3. The next point is “principles not prescriptions”:  “people want a quick fix, they want a plugin… one action that will fix everything… working temporarily.” But rather than focusing on the app or the steps or the insights, Forte wants to teach people the principles of a system, which is why he went with a course rather than a book (tho he’s working on a book): he works with people to help them create their own second brain. “Creative products are always shiny and new. The creative process is ancient… You can read the ancient Greeks about creativity and it still applies.” But people don’t know about their own creative process, even creative people. All knowledge workers need a creative process.
  4. Distraction, not being focused, with the attention split a million different ways, is an all-too-common condition or tendency that can be countered by creativity.
  5. The 10 principles.
  6. Principle 1: stand on the shoulders of giants.
  7. Principle 2: the capture habit – you need a way to not only store info but systematically so that you can retrieve it. Knowledge workers are constantly creating new bits of knowledge by piecing things together, re-interpreting information, etc., yet all too often that hard work goes to waste. Captured info and the understanding or reason why you thought it was interesting in the first place needs to be stored in a way that you can and will retrieve it later to create something of value to yourself and others.
    1. This is perhaps the main reason why I’m interesting in Forte and his course: I have thousands of Evernotes, tagged and everything, but 95% of them are dormant, not associated with anything and with no schedule or clear plan to revisit, review, and put to use. I do review but in a very haphazard way. And that’s just my Evernotes! There’s tons of other stuff, too – blog posts, jottings, diary entries, voice memos, etc. Just thinking about it all gives me a headache.
  8. Idea recycling: ideas are not single-use only. Every bit of intellectual labour should not be wasted, but re-used – as a template for other things.
  9. Projects over categories. Libraries store information but the way they do that is not suitable for individuals: libraries require a large full-time staff. A much more effective way to organize information for the individual is by attaching it to a particular project, something they are working on, where that information will be most actionable and useful. Projects are finite, as are human beings, so it’s a much more practical way to organize information. (Update: cf Forte’s thoughts on tagging and storing info by categories or hierarchies of folders: Tagging is Broken)
  10. Slow burn. Slow and steady wins the race is the key idea here. The image is from weight-lifting. Lifting a small weight slowly can be more effective than dramatically hoisting a big weight. Forte attributed his attraction to that idea partly to recognizing that he’s getting older (34) and can no longer pull the all-nighters that he did even five years ago. (Update: this is much more important and useful than I thought. See here for my later thoughts on this).
  11. Start with abundance. Although there is a common idea of creativity as, say, the writer facing a blank page or the artist a blank canvas, Forte sees that approach or mindset as contrary to the way the human mind works. Start with a pile of stuff and as you sift, you find something takes shape.
  12. Intermediate packets. To avoid overwhelm, break work into smaller, manageable pieces. See slow burn above.
  13. “You only know what you make.” I didn’t understand this the first time I read it, but in this interview, Forte clarifies: simply knowing something, having memorized or stored the information, is by itself of little value. “I’ve read 100 books!” Ok, but what you have made, built, done, produced, to show for it? (The quote is a paraphrase of Verum esse ipsum factum  (“What is true is precisely what is made”), coined by 17th-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, by the way and I know you were dying to know that.
  14. Number 9: make it easier for your future self. “If you make your notes a little better each time you touch them – a little more organized, a little more succinct, a little more clear – then your future self will find it easier and easier to access the knowledge you’ve saved.”
  15. Principle 10: keep your ideas moving. “Your Second Brain will evolve to suit your needs only when you put it to use in your daily work.”

The rest of the interview sounds interesting, too, but it’s my bedtime so let’s call it a day, yeah? I’ll be back tomorrow with another article on the second half of this interview.

The original show-notes with time-stamps can be found here: Video  Interview: Eclectic Spacewalk with Tiago Forte

and the transcript of the entire interview on Medium here: Conversation #3 – Tiago Forte (Transcript).

I’ll just end with my favourite quote from the above interview: “Productivity is the ideal sandbox for life.”

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More on PARA and Building a Second Brain

I recently got interested in an app called Notion that many have been touting as the new Evernote but better, and I wrote about it here. Several of the most prominent Notion users on YouTube also mention PARA and Building a Second Brain as principles on which they build their Notion system.

So what is PARA? What is Building a Second Brain? Here’s my Notion notes on the subject.

Here’s what I learned about Building a Second Brain

The next Building A Second Brain course is not yet accepting applicants, so I signed up instead for Tiago Forte’s email newsletter, and read and took notes (see the link above) on one article in the first email, One-Touch to Inbox Zero: How I Spend 17 Minutes Per Day on Email

There are 9 other enticing articles in that first newsletter and I’ll write about some of them in future articles. The “Throughput of Knowledge” and “Progressive Summarization” sound particularly intriguing.

I followed along with his suggestions for Inbox Zero. Took me 40 minutes! My work Gmail account won’t let me use the keyboard shortcuts he recommends (tho I learned that there are some for Thunderbird), nor functions like “Auto-advance”.

Tiago also has a YT video introducing his course. Apparently, “Building a Second Brain” was coined by Evernote. Go figure.

This point in the video got my attention as being key: Level 1 is where most people get stuck (me too). And this is one of the problems Building a Second Brain (the course) is apparently designed to unstick. Which is why I’m interested in it.

Tiago recently posted a written overview of his course here: Building a Second Brain: An Overview

My key takeaways:

  • Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. 
  • not only for preserving those ideas, but turning them into reality
  • We spend a significant portion of our careers creating snippets of text, outlines, photos, videos, sketches, diagrams, webpages, notes, or documents. Yet without a little extra care to preserve these valuable resources, our precious knowledge remains siloed and scattered across dozens of different locations. We fail to build a collection of knowledge that both appreciates in value and can be reused again and again.
  • The Building a Second Brain methodology will teach you how to: Consistently move your projects and goals to completion by organizing and accessing your knowledge in a results-oriented way
  • It is tempting to turn on our mobile device or computer and immediately become immersed in the flow of juicy information 
  • Instead of organizing your files primarily by topic (for example, web design or psychology), which is time-consuming and mentally taxing, organize them according to the projects you are actively working on. This ensures that you are consuming information with a purpose
  • Keep only what resonates

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Costs of switching nuclear off | Lenz Blog

Prof. Lenz has some interesting things to say about the Fukushima nuclear crisis. As there is so much hyperventilating blogging going on (anxiety and unease sell, and they are also somewhat addictive), I like to read alternative views. Here’s a selection:

New York Times has an excellent article about some of the damage to the climate and Japan’s economy expected from slowing down nuclear energy.

They estimate about 3 trillion yen per year in extra fossil fuel costs, which will place a burden on the balance of trade. And they report on a government estimate of about 210 million tons of CO2 emitted over 1990 records, a 16% increase, while Japan is supposed to reduce by 6% under the Kyoto protocol.

I learned that Japan was the world’s largest importer of coal to begin with.

via Costs of switching nuclear off | Lenz Blog.

SPIEGEL has published an interview on radiation damage from the Fukushima accident with Shunichi Yamashita, who has been working as an adviser to the Fukushima prefecture government and plans to be involved in the large follow-up studies coming up.

He is reasonably well informed about the lack of danger from low doses, but still says that he doesn’t know for sure about the absence of risk under 100 millisieverts dose. I don’t agree with his position, which I think is much too generous to the irrational fear crowd. As far as I am concerned, at the very least the 100 millisieverts per month proposed by Wade Allison should guide all related decisions.

One thing I have learned from this interview is that people relocated from Chernobyl saw their life expectancy reduced from 65 to 58 years. That is a massive health effect from the evacuation, and it is mostly caused by irrational fear, leading to symptoms as depression, alcoholism, and suicide.

This story should not repeat itself in Japan.

SPIEGEL interview with Shunichi Yamashita | Lenz Blog.

Mainichi reports on a couple of cases where Fukushima residents’ health was damaged by fear-induced stress. They say that Fukushima Medical University plans to study the problem in a systematic way and will publish results of a survey in autumn of this year.

Since no one has got radiation exceeding a reasonable limit of 100 millisieverts a month, all the health damage from the accident is expected from this kind of nocebo effect, and none whatsoever from radiation.

via Psychological stress | Lenz Blog.

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Keynote presentation, and my note-taking system

(Photo credit: Sequence: Gene of my life, by Hawkexpress on Flickr)

I’m now working on my keynote speech for the Nara JET Mid-year seminar. I made a draft handout on Google Docs, so that I can access it from work and school. I already sent the handout to the Institute where the seminar will be held, and am now using the Google Doc as my notes for the presentation, adding to it as I think of things. I use Google Docs a fair bit following a tip by UK History teacher and web 2.0 wizard, Doug Belshaw (another useful Belshaw article on Google tools here). The digital format makes it so easy to add things at any point or make other editions and changes.

I used Google Docs “publish” facility, so that others, e.g. the seminar participants, could access the document. Feel free to steal from it.

I keep index cards and a pen handy at all times, even in the bath. I use a system called PoIC, short for Pile of Index Cards(!), developed by a Japanese guy. I admire this guy hugely, because he put his ideas up in Japanese and English, despite the fact that English is not his native language and it must take him alot of time and trouble to put all his pages up in English as well. (I’ve always been a sucker for non-native-speakers English pronunciation – my first girlfriend was Swiss – and I find Hawkexpress’s English charming.) He’s put some photos of his system up on Flickr, too. I’ve been using his system now for nearly 18 months, and find it better than GTDGetting Things Done (tho I still subscribe to certain GTD principles, such as the weekly review, and making files for everything. One of David Allen’s tips for packing is to leave your suitcase open in your room well in advance of your trip, and every time you think of something to put in, just throw it in; rather than leaving the whole packing until the very last minute. I’m using the same principle for my Keynote talk).

I get ideas at the oddest moments, and cannot rely on my memory. Also, I value David Allen’s suggestion of  getting everything out of your head and onto paper, and relying on memory as little as possible.