2020-09-13

Yesterday, my day started with errands. They say you have to win the morning to win the day, and I found that to be true, just in reverse. I lost the morning, and I certainly lost the day. But otherwise, it was a good week.

In fact, I feel like I had a great week in terms of notes. Some highlights.

Attention

On HackerNews, the article Attention is your scarcest resource made its rounds last week.

The key quote from the article:

“50%+ focus” is roughly when something becomes the top idea in your mind. It’s when you start caring enough to think about it in the shower. It’s when you start habitually asking “how could this go faster?” It’s when you get relentlessly resourceful. It’s around when you start annoying your coworkers and/or significant other, although that part is avoidable with practice.

Having one top idea in your mind (itself, an essay from Paul Graham) is extremely powerful. Anecdotally, it seems that my teammates' best ideas emerge spontaneously, and outside of work. One day, we'll show up to work in the morning and they'll tell me "Hey, had this idea, what if we..."- and suddenly we're on a new trajectory. Personally, I come up with a lot of my best ideas in the early morning, or after working up a sweat.

Attention is scarce, and we all understand how constant context switching can kill productivity. But there's another cost to splintering your attention - an opportunity cost of sorts. Our brains run a variety of processes, of which we're only conscious of "linear thinking". When it comes to problem solving and searching for creative solutions, our subconscious brain, the diffuse mode of thinking, needs to be activated too.

I haven't seen any instructions on how to activate this creative, diffuse mode of "connecting the dots" - but I believe that curiosity is necessary. If you only keep deeply interesting questions in your mind, you stand a chance. But, there's clearly a limit to the number of interesting questions we can load into our brains. 1,000 is too many. But what about 2? Can our diffuse modes consider even 2 simultaneous questions?

I'm not so sure. I believe we must focus on one thing at a time. On any given day - focus.

How to Take Smart Notes

I started reading, "How to Take Smart Notes". I'm not entirely sure how I ended up buying it, but it popped up on my radar enough times to warrant a look (likely the #roamcult). When a few smart people start recommending the same thing, that's a good sign.

Anyways, I'm about halfway through the book and I'm convinced it will change my life.

Here's why: this book will change the way you read and learn. When it comes to knowledge, most people are living paycheck to paycheck - we are as smart as the most recent stuff we've read. This book presents a system that allows us to create a knowledge bank that can accrue learning AND compound in value.

Tools like Roam and Obsidian facilitate this system. But the tool is insufficient, you must learn the procedure of how to maintain your ever growing web of knowledge. Simply having a memex is not enough. How you manage it is everything.

I'll be summarizing/reviewing this book soon - its lessons are hard to put into practice. But I believe that those who do will reap benefits that are hard to imagine. After all, the human brain isn't very good at intuiting exponential growth.

Portability

This idea came up in the context of the term "digital sharecropping" - or the idea of "investing in a platform you don't own". It happens in the context of "user generated content", but also when building a business on top of another platform which might shut down at any moment (i.e. Facebook games, Twitter API). Or the platform might just shut you down (i.e. via a cease and desist or Acquihire)

The idea is also interesting as it relates to the careers of software engineers. Compare, as an exercise, a software engineer to a salesperson. The salesperson gains skills at a company, learns a process, but most importantly, builds up a rolodex of people that work at other companies. By doing deals with a lot of different people, they accumulate a network that grows more valuable every month.

Contrast this to the software engineer. The engineer gains skills, learns processes, but in contrast, builds up a resume of commits that are only visible within the company. Sure, the engineer may develop relationships with people, but there's a limit to the number of "career changing connections" they make as mere a byproduct of their job.

Consider internal transfers vs external hires. With transfers, we can look at someone's commits and see their work product. We do half the number of interviews we normally would for an outside hire, and the process is greatly relaxed.

Yes, software engineers get paid a good amount (especially early in their careers), but they need to realize that there's limited liquidity to their skills. Outside of the knowledge you gain and a title bump, there's very little you can take with you (and even then, the title bump might not be respected by a new employer). You can't always take your domain expertise. You can't take your commits (which you can use to reference previous best practices).

Will you work at the same company forever? If you suspect the answer is no, then you'll likely need to change some of your habits. Invest in transferable technical skills (focus less time on company specific excellence and more on general excellence). Write on the internet, use social media, do open source - build yourself a bit of a reputation. Invest in portability.

Miscellaneous

  • False Dichotomies - I've been thinking about ways in which the world is not black or white. Not enough here to share an idea, but consider these constructs: "Architect vs Gardener", "Bootstrap or VC". To me, they're all false dichotomies
  • Sleep - my sleep this last week has improved 🙌. Or at the very least, I've used melatonin and orange tinted, blue light blocking glasses to adjust my sleep schedule to about Midnight to ~8AM. Not sure if my sleep has improved, but productivity has seen a small boost!
  • Rewire your Anxious Brain - another book that I'm reading that I think has useful applications to my life. I've always found truth in the idea that "what we need to do is often what we fear the most" But I've never had a good strategy for dealing with it. This book doesn't solve the psychological, but it does help you understand the neuroscience behind why you can't "think your way" past anxiety, and you need different tools for this rewiring 🧠. Will do a summary/review of it soon-ish