Weekly Reflection: Week Two Hundred Eleven

This is my two-hundred-eleventh weekly reflection. Here are my takeaways from this week:

  • Personal knowledge management (PKM) – The books I read this week outlined some useful concepts. I modified and started testing some of them, and I’m getting significantly more value from Apple Notes and other apps I’ve used for years. I’ll test more changes next week.
  • Readwise – As the number of physical books I’ve read has increased, it’s been challenging to retain and consistently review highlights. I found the Readwise app and started testing it this week, and I think I’ve figured out a system for using it and physical books efficiently. More testing to come.
  • Productivity – After reading about PKM, I started thinking about my approach to getting work done. I haven’t made material changes in a long time, and I want to be more efficient. I’ll begin looking at productivity frameworks next week.  
  • Audio blog – The more I learn about audio, the more intrigued I am with the format as a tool for sharing information. I’ve been exploring the idea of sharing my daily posts via audio in addition to written form. A friend told me about some good options for doing this. I’m going to think about this more.

Week two hundred eleven was another week of learning. Looking forward to next week!

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Why I’m Testing Checklists

After reading Tiago Forte’s book Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential, I digested the PARA and CODE concepts. Part of my process was to see whether other credible people mentioned any of the same ideas Forte did. When multiple unrelated credible people reach the same conclusion through trial and error, their wisdom is often worth paying attention to.

One of Forte’s ideas—that using checklists in your process is valuable—met that criterion. Forte mentioned using checklists to ensure that you’re starting and finishing projects consistently. In a post last week, I shared that Josh Kauffman, in his book, recommended checklists to prevent omissions when learning about and acquiring a new skill rapidly. I also remember Charlie Munger’s “Investing Principles Checklist” from Poor Charlie’s Almanac: The Essential Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.

I know checklists work—they were key components of the processes at my e‑commerce company. The teams followed them to ensure that we executed processes consistently. We became known for our reliability and built a solid reputation because of it. Sadly, I never applied checklists to my work style. I keep in my head an idea of how I need to execute things I do more than once, but I haven’t always executed consistently on some of them, even though I consider them important.

Today, I decided I’m going to test using checklists for things of high importance that aren’t one-offs. I’ll spend some time thinking about what deserves a checklist (I don’t want to go crazy with this) and then thoughtfully create the checklists. I’ll test using them and adjust as necessary. I’ll also make sure using checklists is lightweight and doesn’t bog down my workflow.

I’m excited about this experiment and can’t wait to see the results. My gut tells me it’ll have a positive impact given that smart, credible people use checklists.

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Two Brains Are Better Than One

Last week I listened to a friend explain a problem he’s trying to solve and the solution he’s considering. His solution solves 100% of his problem but is expensive and creates another problem. I asked questions during our conversation and was intrigued. I kept thinking, There must be a better and cheaper solution. I decided to think about this problem more after our call.

The next day I read an article related to the problem. The information in the article got me thinking about the problem in a different way. A light bulb blinked on. I came up with an unconventional idea for how to solve the problem. It would solve 90% of the problem, cost 25% less than his proposed solution, and not create additional problems. I shared my idea with my friend, who was intrigued. He wasn’t aware of the information I’d read about and therefore hadn’t thought of solving the problem using it. He did more research and ended up loving the solution. Today he told me he executed the solution and is happy with the result.  

Had this friend never shared his problem with me, he would have likely come up with a good solution on his own, given his smarts. But because he did share it, I uncovered information that was new to him and used it to craft a unique solution.

Talking through problems with people who are familiar with the area in question is a great way to come up with better solutions. Explaining the issue helps you crystallize your own thinking, and it can result in more brains thinking about and sometimes solving the problem. The downside is minimal and the upside is massive.

The next time you’re trying to solve a hard problem, consider talking it through with credible people you trust.

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Tiago Forte’s Framework for Actionable Knowledge

I finished reading Tiago Forte’s book Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential. Yesterday I shared Forte’s PARA method for managing information you consume. I’m still learning about this method and comparing it to others. I may end up modifying my current approach and borrowing some aspects of PARA.

Today I want to zoom out a bit and share the central concept of Forte’s book: his method for capturing and storing information in a “second brain” and then using it as needed. The second brain is “an external, centralized, digital repository for the things you learn and the resources from which they come.” Forte’s approach is called CODE. Here are its pillars:

  • Capture – Capture information and ideas that could be useful later—but only what resonates with you. Forte thinks of it as creating a knowledge bank from all the various sources we encounter on a regular basis (email, podcasts, etc.). Instead of trying to remember all this information, store it digitally.
  • Organize – Organize the information you’ve captured in such a way that it’s actionable. The PARA method is a significant component of this step.
  • Distill – Find the essence of the information you’ve gathered. What’s the core concept or wisdom? Forte uses the progressive summarization technique to find the core and enhance its discoverability for future reference.
  • Express – Express what you’ve learned in smaller chunks, even if everything hasn’t been completed. Forte calls these chunks Intermediate Packets. One thing they’re good for is sharing with others to solicit feedback quickly. He views them as building blocks that are intellectual assets and can be reused in the future.

Forte’s approach doesn’t include anything we haven’t seen or heard before, but it combines components in a simple way that encourages you to think about how to use a second brain to turn information into actionable knowledge.

If you’re interested in learning more, Forte shared a detailed blog post on CODE.

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Tiago Forte’s Framework for Organizing Digital Information

An entrepreneur friend shared with me that he uses the methods of Tiago Forte to organize all the information he consumes. He suggested Forte’s book Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential. It sounded interesting, so I ordered it.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but one method it mentions has already caught my attention. Forte calls it the PARA method, and it’s his flexible approach to managing digital information on various platforms. The idea is to create four top-level folders to manage all incoming information you consume. Here are the main parts of the method:

  • Projects  – Things you’re currently working on in the short-term. Ideally, you have a goal in mind for each project. Think implementing a payroll system or hiring a contractor.
  • Areas – Responsibilities you must manage. They’re ongoing and essential to you. Think managing your finances or direct reports.
  • Resources – Topics you’re interested in but not actively working on. Think cooking, fashion, or customer discovery.
  • Archives – Inactive items from the above three categories.

An important part of this method is that information is grouped based on how actionable it is, which makes sense to me. Another thing I like about this system is that nothing is lost; everything can be retrieved in the future if it’s needed. The archive folder serves as a repository.

I’ll continue learning about the PARA system, but so far it seems very flexible, and it isn’t complex, which is attractive to me.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can read Forte’s blog post about PARA.

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Framework Books and Tactical Learning

I’ve been enjoying reading more. Usually, I read biographies and recounts of historical financial events, but this weekend, I spent time with what I would consider a framework book. The author gives readers his framework for managing and using all the digital information they consume.

I initially considered framework books as self-help, which I tend to shy away from because I don’t get much value from them. But after this weekend, I revisited my thinking on that. I realized that framework books aren’t self-help, and I do get value from them—in specific situations, not generally. These framework books are tools for tactical learning, while biographies and historical books are for general learning. Framework books are useful if I have a problem I’m actively trying to solve. They don’t solve my problem for me, but they give me an approach or method that, if followed, empowers me to solve my problem more efficiently.

I still enjoy reading biographies more than any other genre. However, I recognize the value of framework books when I’m trying to solve a specific problem. I won’t read them when I’m interested in general learning, but they’re part of my tactical learning toolbox going forward.

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First Impressions of Personal Knowledge Management

I have a problem storing all the important things I learn from the books, videos, articles, and other content I consume. A founder friend shared with me how he does it: he uses a variety of tools cobbled together. Doing some digging on the tools he uses and their competitors, I stumbled upon a world focused on this problem: personal knowledge management (PKM).

This world is new to me, and I was curious. I spent time this weekend watching PKM experts explain the frameworks, systems, and processes they use in their daily lives. A few early thoughts after today’s learnings:

  • PKM is niche but seems to have gained momentum around 2020-ish.
  • PKM is different from productivity management, but both were incorporated into many PKM experts’ systems.
  • A ton of tools help with PKM, but they all do things differently. No one tool can do everything, so cobbling tools together is the norm.
  • People consume information from so many different sources that it’s hard for one tool to be great at capturing all of it.
  • The need to cobble together tools increases complexity. There are just too many systems and moving pieces for the average person to manage. This decreases the likelihood that someone will adopt PKM.
  • Embracing the PKM approach that “experts” demonstrated requires a high degree of consistency in process execution. There isn’t a lot of room for error.
  • I expected AI to be mentioned and utilized significantly. It wasn’t.

I’m still learning about this, but I get the sense that PKM can get rigid and complex very quickly. In my experience, rigidity and complexity often lead to spending more time managing the system than getting value from the system. I don’t want to use anything rigid and complex.

PKM isn’t the same as productivity management, yet many people combined the two in the approaches I watched today. My gut feeling is that this isn’t the right approach for me. My task management will likely be more effective if it’s managed separately in a simple and loose system than as part of a PKM system.

I haven’t reached a verdict on PKM yet, but I think a better use of my time going forward is to learn about the frameworks and methods used in PKM. If I find a framework I like and want to use, it may be better for me to create a simple, flexible system that suits me instead of copying a complex, rigid system developed by someone else.

PKM is still new to me. What I learned today was useful and gave me a good idea of what PDK is and how people are using it. There’s a lot I don’t know about PDK, and I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll adopt. But I’m curious to learn more so I can determine whether it’s for me.

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Weekly Reflection: Week Two Hundred Ten

This is my two-hundred-tenth weekly reflection. Here are my takeaways from this week:

  • Storytelling – This week I made good progress on my storytelling project. The thing I’m most excited about is my new practice habit. I began practicing my storytelling every day, recording those sessions, and reviewing them to identify areas for improvement. It’s been painful! I have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited about what could be if I can get really good at storytelling.
  • Learning survey – In late January, I began casually surveying friends and family about learning habits. This week I started doing discovery with founders I don’t know. I had two meetings this week, which were helpful. I need to refine my questions a bit. I’ll repeat this next week.

Week two hundred ten was another week of learning. Looking forward to next week!

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Principles for Rapid Skill Acquisition and Learning

I want to share more takeaways from The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!. The major premise of the book, which I posted about yesterday, is that learning and skill acquisition are different. By combining the two, you accelerate your acquisition of a new skill. I found author Josh Kauffman’s thinking around the specifics of each area and how they work together interesting.

Skill acquisition

Kauffman defines rapid skill acquisition as the process of breaking down a skill into its smallest parts, pinpointing the important ones, and practicing those key subskills first. He believes “temporary obsession” aids skill acquisition and that “rapid skill acquisition principles” are a way to cultivate temporary obsession. Here’s a checklist of his acquisition principles:

  • Choose a lovable project – Pick a skill you’re excited about. Your excitement will fuel you when you’re frustrated.
  • Focus your energy on one skill at a time – Acquiring new skills requires concentrated time and focused attention. If you spread yourself too thin, your skill acquisition will likely be extremely slow.
  • Determine your performance level – Rapid skill acquisition is about sufficiency, not perfection. Define what sufficiency means to you.
  • Deconstruct skills into subskills – Identify what subskills make up this skill.
  • Obtain critical tools – Get the tools necessary for you to practice the skill.
  • Eliminate barriers to practice – Remove the soft barriers that will make it more difficult to practice the skill.
  • Make dedicated time for practice – Schedule time to practice consistently. Commit to practicing regularly until you’ve completed at least twenty hours of practice.
  • Create fast feedback loops – Figure out ways to learn how you’re performing when you’re practicing. The faster the feedback, the faster you can make the right adjustments. The faster you adjust, the faster you acquire the skill.
  • Practice by the clock in short bursts – Set a timer for twenty or thirty minutes for your practice session.
  • Emphasize quantity over speed – Do as many reps as you can without worrying about perfection. The more reps, the better your rep quality will become.

Learning

Learning about a skill is the acquisition of knowledge related to that skill. Kauffman doesn’t believe jumping straight into practicing a new skill is the most efficient approach. Doing some advance research and planning can reduce the amount of time and energy you’ll have to expend and the frustration you feel. He believes “learning principles” help you get the most out of your practice sessions. Here’s a checklist of his learning principles:

  • Research the skill and related topics – Look for patterns—the same ideas and tools being mentioned repeatedly as you research. These will likely reduce your trial and error.
  • Jump in over your head – You want to learn at an uncomfortable pace. Confusion is part of being uncomfortable and can pinpoint areas you should focus on more.
  • Identify mental models and mental hooks – Look for ways to help you make sense of what you’re seeing. These mental models will help you understand the present and what the future could hold if you take specific actions. These will come in handy during practice.
  • Imagine the opposite of what you want – Determining your goal’s natural opposite can highlight what to avoid. This is called inversion and is a technique Charlie Munger embraced heavily.
  • Talk to practitioners to set expectations – Unrealistic expectations can be discouraging. Talking to others with more experience can illuminate blind spots so you’ll know what to expect.
  • Eliminate distractions – Distractions can ruin focused practice, slowing or stopping skill acquisition. Figure out what could distract you during practice and eliminate it beforehand.
  • Use spaced repetition and reinforcement for memorization – Review important information regularly. New or difficult information should be reviewed more often; familiar or simple information less.
  • Create scaffolds and checklists – Create checklists to systematize your practice process and make it more consistent. Create a pre-practice sequence (i.e., a scaffold) to ensure that you approach the skill the same way each time you start practicing. A basketball player’s pre–free throw routine is a good example of a scaffold.
  • Make and test predictions – Come up with your predictions based on your research and test them as you practice. Adjust accordingly.
  • Honor your biology – If your mind and body aren’t good, your practice won’t be good. Put yourself in the best physical and mental state to get the most out of your practice.

Every principle won’t apply to every situation, but going through each checklist can prevent omissions that could hamper you from achieving your goal.

Acquiring a skill is the result of practicing it. How you practice impacts how fast you acquire the skill. Learning makes your practice more efficient and accelerates acquisition, but it doesn’t replace it. There is no replacement for practice. You must do the work. But how you go about it matters.

The insight and principles in Kauffman’s book aren’t earth-shattering, but his combination and articulation of them could provide clarity and an action plan to people who struggle to acquire new skills.

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To Acquire a New Skill Faster, Learn About It

During one of my learning survey conversations, a founder friend mentioned he’d read The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! by Josh Kauffman. He described the book as an approach to learning any skill quickly. It sounded interesting, so I ordered it. I just finished reading it.

The book highlighted that skill acquisition and learning are different. Acquiring a skill requires practicing the skill until you become proficient at it. Learning, though, is about understanding the skill. Learning about a skill doesn’t mean you’ll acquire the skill—it means you’ll know more about it. The book uses the example of learning about a foreign language. You can understand all the nuances and history of the language without being able to speak the language. Speaking it results from practicing by speaking it with others.

Kauffman goes on to say that to acquire a skill, learning about it isn’t necessary, but it is helpful because it’s important to acquire the skill rapidly. Learning about the skill helps you focus on the most important subskills, understand the key concepts related to the skill, avoid practice pitfalls, etc., all of which make your practice more efficient. And you’ll acquire the skill sooner if you improve more rapidly.

Kauffman’s distinction is helpful. I now think about learning as the prework I do that will make practicing a new skill more efficient.

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