Every Sunday morning, I get a notification from Apple about my screen time for the last seven days. Last week, I spent fourteen hours looking at social media; this fries my brain.
Context is everything of course; I'm in bed for eight hours (asleep for seven) and yet, twelve per cent of my time awake is gone, scrolling through an endless stream of tweets and posts. I spend another hour a day reading articles, webpages, and the news. This excludes the thirty minutes a day I spend with my Kindle, reading to try and learn even more.
Putting all that together is quite frankly frightening. I am, like so many others in the world, the epitome of the first part of the quote from E.O.Wilson.
"We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely."—E.O.Wilson
I am drowning in information, and at the same time, starved of wisdom.
I'm my quest to improve my decision-making I've come to see that my mind is cluttered. Cluttered from the endless streams of noise, all because I become consumed by the endless scrolling on social media. I don't save the information I'm exposed to; I read it, but I don't record it. I just hope I might remember it.
I need a Second Brain
Note-taking is something most people do. There is an unlimited choice of apps and tools to help capture your notes. I'm also a prolific bookmarker, saving endless articles on Pocket. I read, rarely pausing to make notes.
When I do make notes, I've become stuck, jumping from tool to tool. I used Evernote in its early days and then moved onto OneNote. From OneNote, I moved to Notion. I wanted more flexibility than I was getting from OneNote, but with Notion, I still felt restricted. I love the way the databases interlink and come together, but it was still too hierarchical and rigid for me.
Changing how I Process Information
I've understood the principles but never had heard it framed in such a way, let alone consider a tool that might do the job for me. Every day is a learning day, and I'm certainly learning - and doing it quickly. The hierarchal frameworks of PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) are calling me. Awareness of projects and the cascading effects of goals and tasks are well known to me. But using them to manage information is new to me – and exciting.
Now, I'm wondering how I should manage the information I interact with. As time continues to decline on the time I have left on this planet, I'm also contemplating the criteria I use for reading - both books and articles.
Brandon Zhang shared with me his thoughts in Reading with Intention, which offers ideas around the process of choosing what to read. Not only am I looking to apply this to my book reading efforts, but also to the articles I consume.
There is another consideration for me. What principles should form the foundations of my note taking?
- Should I copy the article?
- Make highlights?
- Add my own context to draw out the relevance?
There are lots of thoughts to me consider here. Thankfully, I’m guided by those who already know better. The insights from Brandon Zhang, Tiago Forte and Nat Eliason have proved helpful. Progressive Summarization is one example of a new way for me to capture information and keep it within my second brain.
Like most people, temporary feelings influence my decisions and I feel the need to apply a more disciplined approach. One that removes impulse and emotion from the process.
Decision Tree's offer that capability.
It means I can map out a 'if this, then that' method which will help safeguard against some of the inferior decisions I've made in the past.
For some, this will appear cold and clinical. But that is how it must be. Simple decisions like what to keep for my second brain, and how to keep it, start to open the way for me to begin clearing my mind. I find it quite frightening how I have allowed the consumption of information to dominate my time - and my mind.
As Nassim Taleb says:
Clearing my Mind
Decisions are battles of thought we must overcome. Some of us hesitate; dithering on the outcome of what might or might not happen. What would help is clearing my mind. A brain free of information and keeping only wisdom, which would certainly help.
This is the point that Nassim Taleb is making. Our minds are so cluttered, so clouded with information that the opinions we form become blighted. Stepping free of the blinkers shifts the mind to a different space. A space where it can think deeply. Where it can draw on the insights and knowledge held in our second brains.
It is this space I want to get too. To be able to make decisions free of emotion. To control the urges of my system one thinking and use the more logical - and thoughtful - system two. The two decision systems as described by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast, and Slow.
With this process in place, one day I might get to that utopia of a clear mind.