Posts in: gtd

🗃️ Chris Aldrich’s advice on zettelkasten for course work applies to anyone who is just getting introduced to a new field:

A zettelkasten practice like that of Niklas Luhmann is more useful when one already has a strong lay of the land and they’re attempting to do the work of expanding on the boundaries of new areas of knowledge.

If you’re attempting to create 30 permanent notes a day and interlink them all, then you’re going to find yourself overworked and overwhelmed within just a few days.

This is why slip boxes get abandoned: not because they’re empty, but because they are full on unintelligible gunk. And doing it digital — looking at you, Obsidian and Roam — just makes it worse for those without discipline.

I am not a fan of legalese, but this case of typographic mischief was right up my alley. Just read the judge’s closing paragraph:

The Court further notes that the last thing any party needs is more words on a page. The length of an argument is no guarantee of its success, and indeed could result in more confusion, not clarity. Moving forward, the Parties are encouraged to spend their valuable time focusing on the merits of this case, and certainly not figuring out how many sometimes-useless words will fit on a page.

Words to live by! (ᔥMatthew Butterick, who was — no suprise there — involved in the case)

Bryan Vartabedian on the angry email:

The angry email is usually rooted in frustration over inefficiencies or some nagging problem that hasn’t been fixed. Ultimately, it’s about the fantasy of the willful imposition of change by the sender. […] The defining element of the angry email is that it’s ultimately regretted. Or it should be.

I’ve written thousands of angy emails in my head, a dozen or so on the computer, and sent zero to date. If there is a next one, I’ll write it in longhand.

Seth Godin on the amateur presenter:

If you’re called on to give a talk or presentation, the biggest trap to avoid is the most common: Decide that you need to be just like a professional presenter, but not quite as good. Being a 7 out of 10 at professional presenting is a mistake. Better to stay home and send a memo.

This is exactly what happened last month at that medical conference. Colleagues, please stop.

The problem of optimization and scale

They are converting a modern office building into condos a few blocks down from my apartment, and by the looks of it they may as well have torn everything down and built it anew. I hope they will do that will all the brutalist federal garbage downtown, the FBI building first. Meanwhile, the late 19th-early 20th century townhouses scattered around DC have been switching seamlessly from commercial to residential and back for a hundred years now for little to no cost.

Optimization and scale: they work great, until they don’t. Just ask a salaried physician working for a conglomerate in the medical-industial complex, a large-scale operation which is being optimized to death (sadly not its own, but that of its component parts — patients and health care workers alike). All those large reptiles and mammals are extinct for a reason.

We discussed the problem of scale at the first RWRI I attended back in August 2020, the Beirut explosion still fresh in everyone’s mind. Less than a year later, a big ship blocked the Suez channel, as if to reinforce the message. I expect Nassim Taleb’s next book will have a chapter or three on the problem, even if “scale” doesn’t make it into the title.

What goes for biology, architecture, and logistics also goes for industry, and if there is one hyper-optimized massive-scale operation around, it’s Apple’s iPhone production. If and when its production chain comes toppling down, it will not be a black or a gray swan event, it will be snow-white, which is why I suspect (or, as an iPhone user, hope) they have contingencies.

And in practicing what I preach, I have slowly been transitioning away from GTD levels of hyper-productivity and into a 40,000 weeks mindset. Whether this is a sign of wisdom, experience, or just plain old age, well, who is to say? Why not all three?

The Benefits of Being a Young Mom:

My mom, who had me at 22, worked as a nanny for other people’s children when I was a baby, bringing me to work with her in St. Louis, where we were living so my dad could finish school. She had a few rules for kid-raising: no need to go to the doctor for most things (better to wait and see if a malady resolves on its own); a cardboard box from the garage makes for the most thrilling play; and babies can—and should—be brought practically anywhere.

I’m not a young mom, but I can vouch for the soundness of these rules. We did have our first child at an awfully young age for the East Coast (28–29!?)

When a project I have been putting off for 2 months gets done after 90 minutes of concerted effort, how should I feel: relieved or annoyed? Because right now it’s the latter.

This baby turned 11 years old a few weeks ago. Treasure the moments.

Baltimore MD, 2013.

Photo of a baby in a doctor's office, standing in front of a Norman Rockwell illustration of a doctor's office.

Nitin Khanna:

I love that Anne calls the very first draft of what writers write as “shitty first drafts”. I love it not because I write shitty first drafts and then better second drafts, but because I only write shitty first drafts, and then hit publish.

Which is exactly what I’m doing. Long live blogging!

Doing more is the American way, but you have to do more of the right thing

Patrick McKenzie on X:

I hate to sound intellectually vacuous but choose to get more done. At the relevant margins, get more done. Life : culture / peers will routinely tell you it is OK to get less done and you should politely insist on getting more done. The amount of doneness you get is not fixed.

I have been thinking along these lines ever since reading, some dozen years ago, an article about a particularly successful cystic fibrosis center, whose outcomes were an order of magnitude better than average. This was before any new drugs or promising trials were available, and the only reason why they were so much better was that they did more of everything: more frequent follow-up, more intensive manual therapy, more changes to treatment regimen with subtle changes in condition, less complacency.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the inpatient service. It is incredibly easy to coast with reflexive and defensive medicine, putting out small fires like hospital-acquired infections or patient falls, passing on the buck to the next team, shrugging your shoulders about that 60-year-old with questionable CHF (or is it COPD/asthma) exacerbation who is not following the script and doesn’t seem to be getting any better despite being treated for everything. Patients hang around a bit longer, suffer a bit more iatrogenesis, die a bit sooner, not enough for it to be obvious in any particular case but just enough for the outcomes to be worse in aggregate.

Make no mistake: this is how many (most?) American hospitals operate, for the simple reason that there simply aren’t enough doctors and nurses around for the level of attention sick patients with many active complex disorders deserve. But doing more is the American ethos (see the X-post above); not being able to provide more focused care, we dig into the seemingly infinite supply of more drugs, more procedures, more iatrogenesis to which to expose patients, making their condition all the more complex.

Outside of medicine, this is also the difference you can see in “good” and “bad” (for collaboration) institutions: good ones throw water at embers before they become a fire, communicate more frequently and openly, do not leave documents for review “for after the long weekend”. They do more; or rather, each individual there does more and does not pass on the buck to forces unknown which are beyond their control (and the bigger the institution is, the more numerous and more complacent those forces are; incredible how that works). The not-so-good institutions also do more: of emailing, usually, to tell you that something can’t be done.

So yes, choose to get more done, and also make sure you are doing more of the right thing.