Surfacing The Things You Need

In my tendency to over simplify things, I wrote a post about how to maximise your productivity. There are no apps involved, just a notebook and something to write with. No fanciness, no expensive things, just a tried and tested method of keeping everything with you – the problem is: How on earth do you put it to use?

There’s a practice that is rife in productivity, it keeps people busy and keeps whole companies in business, it’s called the collectors' fallacy. The logic that saving some things can be helpful, so more must be better. With the only issue being you are quickly drowning in saved ‘things’ and cant make use of it. As R.J. Nestor put it in his newsletter, the issue is often that capture is too easy and I would also argue too permanent.

…capture in itself is not the primary problem for most of us. The problem is that we capture too many things, and we don’t have a corresponding way to surface what we’ve captured. — R.J. Nestor, Surface Tension

We’ve all be there. Like a note hoarder, we can’t bear to not save something, or later delete it “just incase”. When digital storage is so plentiful, there might seem like no downside to collecting absolutely everything to refer to at some point in the future. However, it then becomes impossible to sift through the pointless stuff and get to the important parts of your system.

In almost every productivity system I have come across there is always some kind of ‘inbox’ followed by a sorting phase. A review has to take place to make the most of the things you have saved, no matter if they are digital or physical things, you must review them. The next part is painful, though, you must now admit your errors and throw out most of what you saved.

Not throw it out per se, but at least no longer dwell on it. If it’s digital, consider deleting it or perhaps not tagging and sorting it. If is a physical note, don’t copy it anywhere else, read it, digest it, and then decide to move on or not. The real benefit of physical notes, of which I am a massive proponent of, is that by writing them out you are more likely to remember them anyway. As much as 70 percent increase if you go through them again in the next 24 hours, and it produces stronger brain activity too.

This post is about more than that though, it is about getting the most out of your system, and that involves sorting your notes afterwards. I have tried indexing my notebooks for more benefit, but that didn’t last long. Copying out and sorting my mess of a handwritten ledger has proven is essential to surfacing information I can use later on. Making sure the helpful notes hang around, and the useless ones fade away.

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