Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

Derek Sivers recently published a very interesting blog post explaining why he uses plain text to capture and store the most important information in his life.

As Derek writes:

My written words are my most precious asset. They are also a history of my life. That’s why I only use plain text files. They are the most reliable, flexible, and long-lasting option.

Give the post a read. It's worth your time.

Is plain text the best option for everything? Of course not. But for a lot of what we all do in our lives, plain text is an alternative (and antidote) to closed, proprietary file formats and services.

If you're interested in learning more about how to incorporate plain text into your life (even if you're not a techie), you should consider visiting The Plain Text Project. In case you're wondering, I maintain that site.

Over the last few weeks, various concerns and circumstances have made sitting in front of the laptop to write or plan (or do anything) somewhat tough. A little tougher than usual.

To get around these obstacles, I've had to change my approach. Here's what I've been doing:

  1. Digging out one of my notebooks.
  2. Grabbing a pen and retreating onto the balcony.
  3. Writing furiously in the notebook.
  4. Going back to a computer and typing what's in the notebook or on the pad

By going analog, I've been writing faster and in some ways a bit more fluidly. The ideas are coming out fully-formed The only thing I've had to contend with is my handwriting — bad at the best of times, nigh illegible at times when I'm writing quickly.

It's not a mobile app.

It's not software on your desktop or on the web.

It's definitely not a system, no matter how simple or how arcane.

It's you.

Your skills. Your discipline. Your focus.

Nothing more.

Tools are useful, but they're not the be-all, end-all. Tools only exist to help remind you and to help keep you on track. They don't help you push beyond procrastination. They don't help make planning and sane task management a habit. They definitely don't do the work for you.

It's all up to you.

If you truly want to become organized, if you truly want to become productive then fight that urge to check out every new tool or technique or system under sun. Use what works for you.

It doesn't matter if what you're doing seems old fashioned. It doesn't matter if you're not using the latest and greatest app, the one everyone seems to be raving about. It doesn't matter if you're not doing as much as the next person. What matters is doing what's right for you, using what works for you, and whether or not you're finishing what you need to get done.

In the end, that's what productivity is all about.

My friend Bryan Behrenshausen has been publishing a weekly newsletter for a while now. The subject of that email? Vaporwave music.

In each edition, Bryan chooses a song and crafts a story or essay, running a few hundred words, that tries to capture the essence, the feeling, the flow of that song. Even if you're not a fan of vaporwave, Bryan's newsletter is worth reading if you enjoy good, tight writing.

Ahead of the third series of the newsletter, Bryan has collected the first two series into an ebook titled Infinite Layaway. In it, Bryan has chopped and changed, mixed and matched the various individual editions of his newsletter into an interesting and lively whole. He describes it as:

[A] short treatise on vaporwave — as musical genre, creative aesthetic, and structure of feeling

The book flows, and the ideas and themes in it coalesce, in a different way than that of the newsletter.

Infinite Layaway is definitely worth a read. Not just to support the work of a friend of mine (though that's a good reason in itself!), but also to understand one person's passion for a microgenre of music.

I don't know about you, but for years I've been seeing a stream of articles and blog posts that claim to teach you how to do something like a pro. Thinks like tweeting, folding laundry, eating pizza, planning a trip. The list is endless. And most of the items on that list are common, mundane tasks. Things that I didn't realize had professional practitioners ...

I shake my head when see articles or posts like that. The notion that you need to, or even should, learn to do something like a pro is rooted in a pair of very flawed assumptions.

The first of those assumptions is that you're willing and able to put in time. The time to learn how to do something at professional level. Or, at least, the level that some bloggers and writers are advocating.

The second assumption is that you actually need to reach that level, to be able to do something with an incredible level of precision and efficiency. But do you really need to learn to do something like a pro?

I don't think so.

A lot of us embrace the idea that a professional, or someone extraordinarily proficient, always does whatever they do efficiently. That's not always the case. And you can be sure that no two adepts do something the same way. Everyone has their own variation. Everyone has their own take on how to do something. That variation, that take suits them. It might not suit you or anyone else.

To be honest, I'm not sure you can teach someone how to things like a pro. You can learn shortcuts and techniques but that doesn't mean you're a top performer or doer. At anything.

Like a number of so called productivity hacks and life hacks, the whole notion of learning to do something like a pro is wrapped up in the cleverness of a solution. A solution, often, to a problem that really isn't a problem.

Don't stress about not being able to do something like a pro. Chances are, you don't need to. The way you're doing something is probably fine.

People tend to view methods, goals, motivation, and commitment through the filter of their own experiences. Through the lens of our their motivations, our their goals, and our their needs. But those experiences, motivations, goals, and needs aren't the same for everyone.

Let's say you're not doing something to the same level as someone else. What you're doing, and how you're doing it, doesn't invalidate it. And you shouldn't let the opinions and scorn of others cloud your goals.

Yes, I wrote scorn in the previous paragraph. There's a lot of that in the online world. The offline world, too. Far too often I've read comments like If you're not doing xyz for three hours or more a day, you're not serious about it. Maybe not. But does that mean you shouldn't do xyz? Of course not!

Take, for example, language learning. It's not something I'm all that interested in. Sometimes, though, I need to gain some level of ability with a language. My goal in that case is to pick up some situational knowledge. I don't want or need to become fluent in a language.

Instead, I go with the minimum viable amount of the language I need to get by. I actively listen and try to speak immediately. I don't worry about being able to read a novel or a newspaper. I don't worry about understanding a movie or a TV show. I try to learn the words and phrases that that will help me get by, to learn to read signs at stations and airports, to read a menu. That sort of thing.

In that respect, I follow something akin to the philosophy behind the audio-lingual method. That method probably isn't the best for learning a language to fluency or mastery, but it's great for quickly learning the basics. It fits in with my goals, which differ from the goals of others.

And there's nothing wrong with that. This applies to fitness, coding, reading, or any pursuit: think about yourself and your goals. No one else's.

Do what you need to do to fulfill your goals, to do what you need and want to do. Don't adopt or internalize the goals and attitudes of others. Those goals probably aren't for you, anyway.

Whether we realize it or not, most of our lives are cluttered. That clutter isn't just physical. It can be digital, too.

Whether it's having too many possessions, too many apps or RSS feeds, too much software or hardware, clutter makes your life more difficult. It increases your stress and forces you to spend more time and expend more energy dealing with more things in your life than you should.

Eliminating that clutter can help you simplify your life — whether physical or digital. You just need to boil everything down to the essentials.

Eliminating what's not essential is difficult. I know this from experience. Before moving overseas in 2021, my wife and I had to get rid of almost all of our possessions. It was easy to decide to get rid of a lot of it. Other things, though, were a lot harder to part with. It took a lot of time and a lot of thought to do that. Even then, I think we hauled more than we needed with us.

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