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The 3 Ways to Spend your Day

There are three ways to spend your day working in the knowledge economy.

The first day is to spend it trending. Follow the popular topics on Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. This is good for serendipitous moments of discovery, awareness of the world, and to ‘keep-up’ with what the external algorithms suggest.

The second way to spend your day is to spend it in the feed. Cultivated email, RSS, and perennial podcasts. An infovore knows what they like and has is delivered. Often it will be confirmatory information from familiar sources, that’s okay if you’re honest about it.

The final way to spend your day is in search. There’s something to be curious about and you intend to do just that. Google offers the broadest service but new entries like Listen Notes and Twitter search modifiers have started to index novel parts of the internet.

There’s no ‘best practice’ for the 3 Ways to Work, rather the work of the day dictates the way.

Much of what we call knowledge work focuses on decision making and much of this is a cycle between the exploration of the new and application of the familiar. It’s a balance between finding new things and digging into curio-seams.

Tyler Cowen is an example. His feeds at Marginal Revolution and Twitter offer the day-to-day goings-on, but searches on Listen Notes, YouTube, and the blog allow someone to figure out ideas like mood affiliation (my notes here), which is one way we make mistakes.

For example: Are plastic bags more harmful than paper? Are bag-bans beneficial? What’s the metric? We’ve already noted another Cowen-ism about solving for the equilibrium, but without search, we’d have missed the idea about mood affiliation. Cowen told Russ Roberts:

“Plastic is often more environmentally friendly than having a paper bag because it takes less energy to make and dispose of. Plastic is better for the world and can even be better than those reusable cloth bags unless you use them two-hundred times and up but that’s hard to do and that’s the break-even point. The environmental virtues of plastic compared to a lot of other alternatives is underrated.”

The question of bag bans for me was pure mood. Us good, them bad. I didn’t consider transport costs (paper is much heavier) and production costs (efficiency figures). Instead, I took the easy route of WYSIATI: what you see is all there is, and all I see in my laundry cupboard is plastic bags.

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Tools for the internet

One of the challenges of an internet world is reading enough (and the right stuff), missing out, or failing to find that one thing. One solution is to maximize volume. Be online. Enable push notifications. Refresh.

One framing for our internet world is the world of Thoreau. Cal Newport advocates for Deep Work. This approach asks questions like are smartphones necessary anymore and argues for individual focus.

Vekatesh Rao writes against ‘waldenponding’ and explained the idea to Russ Roberts:

“but somewhere on the spectrum of being very online to being completely offline by Waldenpond, any measure of retreat along that axis is what I call Waldenponding. And the pieces I have been sort of developing as sort of a critical pieces advocating against that. There, I argue that Waldenponding is actually a bad thing and it’s sort of a misframing of a problem. It’s the wrong response to the, whatever is going on there; and there’s more effective ways of engaging with digital technology.”

Where you fall between the Newport/Venkat poles depends on your location, situation, disposition, and tool collection.

To combat my FOMO for missing interesting stories and internet advice here some of my favorite tools for balancing Deep Work with Against Waldenponding.

Google scholar, new citations. Books don’t update their results except for mostly small changes in the paperback edition. What works better is to find a bit of research on Google scholar and follow new citations. Read the abstract only.

IFTTT, Reddit. Reddit is the most helpful but least understood part of the internet. Using the IFTTT (free) service, anyone can create recipes to automate content delivery. My favorite is “r/science, flair:social science”. This means that when a piece of social science research is published in the science Reddit, I get an email with a link.

IFTTT, Twitter. Much like above, only for Twitter. Most tweets are sent by a minority of people. Twitter follows the pareto principle. IFTTT can create digests for never missing those rare-but-relevant people.

Twitter, from:@. Founded in 2006, Twitter has a nice history of information—if you can find it. Using this search operator a searcher can use ‘there’s always a tweet’ to their curiosity advantage. While Google offers generous and wide results, Twitter is a thornier haystack to search.

YouTube, -football, -pastor. The video site has a lot of great content with mostly good results. Sometimes however the person you’re looking for shares a name with a church pastor or high school recruit who uploaded all of their game footage. The ‘-‘ operator removes those items. This also works in many other search fields.

Google alerts, -car, -accident. A timely option. For one bit of writing, I wanted information on median and average comparisons. There was a lot of good median data but it was mostly about car accidents. Part of this research led to the note that average temperatures are higher in Phoenix than Tuscan, though the latter is one-hundred miles south of the former.

Thanks for reading. 

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Tools for 2020

Recently I had to take our family golf cart in for service.

That seems odd, but we live adjacent to the largest retirement community in the United States. There are over 100 miles of ‘multi-use paths’ for walkers, runners, bikers, and golf-cart-drivers. Have you ever gone to dinner, the library, or home from elementary school on a golf cart? It’s awesome.

The service station was three miles from our house and so I ended up walking home. As I strolled, cars and carts zoomed past and I marveled at the efficiency of an internal combustion engine.

Later that same day I read this from The History of the Future:

“With web forums, chat rooms and a motto of “Learn, Build, Mod,” ModRetro sought to attract the world’s best, brightest and most curious portabilizers. And for the most part, Luckey’s community achieved that objective.”

Toward the end of 2019 on Twitter there was a thankfulness on the platform. I’ve met some of the most thoughtful, kind, insightful people. It’s really amazing.

Both the engine and the internet increased productivity.  Throw in some other major changes and we get a picture of the growth.

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 6.18.41 AM.png

That low hanging fruit has been picked, sorted, canned, jammed, and consumed. But here are some ideas for tools for 2020 and beyond.

  1. Your health. It’s amazing how much more someone can do when they optimize their physical and mental health. Some new tools will be easier than others because they’re adjacent to the things we already do but this is one area where anyone can develop and deploy better tools.
  2. Your writing. There’s something to writing that forces someone to think about an idea. Even superficial writing — I have an idea! — can be valuable because it creates a dot on an idea graph.
  3. Your technology. Those engines that zipped past me required some level of skill, so too does the technology in our lives. From no-code to real code, tweeting to a/b tests, technology is a tool to worth improving.

These three tools are guaranteed to help because there’s nothing here to sell. It doesn’t matter which health program, plan, or path. There’s no software for writing or specific code for technology.

I’m a sucker for the shiny new app, service, or technique for X. But the best results may come from the compounding of all the things we already do.