Seven habits of…

The seven habits of successful people? Well, yes, except that it is only one person (me), and ‘successful’ just means that I am highly content with the workflow that I am going to describe.

  1. I don’t open my email if I could not react, anyway.
  2. I prefer RSS over email news.
  3. I store an item whenever I have reflected on it.
  4. I don’t care much while capturing stuff,
  5. But I care a lot for grouping it later.
  6. Of course, I use my Thought think tool.
  7. I take an easy way to prune stuff.

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1. I don’t open my email if I could not react, anyway.

If I am preoccupied with a larger piece of work, or if I am not near my desk, a newly arrived email must wait. My curiosity about it is smaller than the reluctance to get interrupted. Enjoying an email means for me, to start thinking about a response rightaway, or to take the time to follow its scents.

2. I prefer RSS over email news.

My categorized RSS subscriptions come across to me as offerings rather than urges. They give me a sense of space, as if I was visiting the authors on their respective front porches, and I have already a certain idea of what awaits me there. Thus it is easier to notice the salient, unexpected, relevant news to pick.

Picking from RSS is more like ‘pull’ than ‘push’. It does not urge me to almost synchronously react — not even to decide if I delete an item or keep it or where to keep it: it rests on its web site without bothering me. Push vs. pull is a big issue today where lots of sites try to control our attention and patronize us. Joi Ito’s “Whiplash” has a whole chapter about pull over push.

Other kinds of notifications feel like a terribly linear assembly line. Once I get into such an unstructured linear list, I feel that it will mean a long time-span with almost no chance to interrupt and digress and still find my way back, and this is somehow daunting. ‘The stream’ is an ineffective construct just made to lure us into filter recommendations. It eats up power to connect items to their contexts rather than to relevant similar ones. Small bloggers are just ‘flushed’ down the stream. See also what Mike Caulfield writes about the stream.

3. I store an item whenever I have reflected on it.

Sometimes I am not sure if I have stored something in my ‘knowledge base’ of my harddisk. Then this little simple rule of thumb helps: If I have thought for some time about an item, I will store its url or a note. Even if it turned out to be rubbish (which I might note in brackets in the file name), I will vaguely remember it as somehow relevant and then I might try to find it again, so it is better to save a cue rather than search it in vain.

4. I don’t care much while capturing stuff.

Capturing an idea must be quick rather than optimized, to minimize the distraction from the task at hand. I don’t think about what would be the most appropriate medium for the note. I fire up Notepad and store the idea in a single separate file. I don’t think about the filename either, and I abbreviate ruthlessly. For my idea notes, the names are almost like a ‘private language’: typically, such a note is a one- or two-liner saying “xxxxxxxx has something to do with yyyyyyyy?”, and then the filename will be xxxxYyyy.txt which I will forget before I revisit my notes.

And I don’t care too much about the folder names. My filing is not optimized for directly searching, but for browsing in context and seeing what is there. So the folder names just need to be recognized within the context of the containing folder. Whenever I was looking in vain for something in one folder, I create a folder shortcut there, pointing me to the other folder next time. So over time, a dense network emerges, the traversing of which strengthens my awareness of the relationships.

And it is not important to find the optimized procedure having the shortest click path. Rather, a default procedure that is well-rehearsed will do to minimize distraction. So, my idea note files are saved to the desktop and dropped to a folder called ‘new’ — via a folder shortcut on the desktop. This minimally invasive note-taking guarantees that no tiny humble idea gets ignored and can be processed later — see next section.

5. But I care a lot for grouping it later.

In contrast to the careless capturing, I really cultivate my notes collection later. The crucial thing for me is not to classify them prematurely, but to be open for new similarities, connections, and patterns, and for new emerging categories becoming necessary. Once I put the notes into the disjoint categories of my private localhost WordPress, I have shuffled them around for so long that I know them well, and I rarely need cross-links.

6. Of course, I use my Thought think tool

Whenever I start to produce some output, I drop all pertinent stuff into my which helps me with the step between stuff collection and outline.

7. I take an easy way to prune stuff.

Sometimes I notice that a digression needs pruning, only after I have struggled quite a while with a difficult text, and I would not want to delete it entirely. Then I am glad about this well-rehearsed habit: I cut the text and paste it into a little text file called xxxxYyyy+1.txt — plus 1, for some distant next attempt that may never happen.

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