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Keeping a Notebook, Teaching Through Storytelling, & Setting up Your GTD System

Resource: Joan Didion on Keeping a Notebook
Description: Didion’s reflections on the value and aim of keeping a notebook


A notebook (diary, journal, collection of one’s private thoughts/experiences) is a way of keeping in touch with yourself. We not evolve over time, but we easily overlook and quickly forgot many of the iterations of self that come and go.

A notebook isn’t about factual accuracy. It isn’t about creating a historical record for others to read and admire. It’s a highly subjective effort to understand your self and perhaps retain yourself through the practice of capturing what stands out to you in the moment.

It takes a certain kind of personality to care about things like notebooks. Some people are able to take in what life gives them without feeling the need to document it.

While the content of a notebook seems to be about other people, it’s really about the writer.


“How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook. I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there.” -Joan Didion

“I imagine, in other words, that the notebook is about other people. But of course it is not. I have no real business with what one stranger said to another at the hat-check counter in Pavillon; in fact I suspect that the line ‘That’s my old football number’ touched not my own imagination at all, but merely some memory of something once read, probably ‘The Eighty-Yard Run.’ Nor is my concern with a woman in a dirty crepe-de-Chine wrapper in a Wilmington bar. My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” -Joan Didion

“And so we do. But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.” -Joan Didion

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.” -Joan Didion

“It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.” -Joan Didion

Resource: An intergalactic guide to using a defibrillator | Todd Scott

Using the Star Wars films for examples, Todd Scott talks about how to use an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) in various circumstances. From defining what it is (a device that’s used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm during cardiac arrest — his friend calls it “the hearty shocky thing) to where it’s placed (upper right, lower left) and precautions to take (removal metals, make sure person isn’t wet, etc), Scott introduces some very basic (I still don’t know how to use an Automatic External Defibrillator) concepts in a comedic way by describing what to do if various characters from Star Wars had cardiac arrest. What’s most noteworthy to me was how he was able to inject such serious and “boring” content into the discussion by appealing to our love for stories and humor. He provides a very practical template for getting people’s permission to talk about anything you want if you use the right things.

Resource: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen 
Description: Getting Started


The key to consistency and change is learning how to use “tricks.”

You have two selves: a smart self and a not-so smart self. The smart self knows what you need to do. The not so smart self is to distracted to do that. a “trick” is a scenario that your smart self sets up in order to fool your not so smart self into doing what needs to be done. Sitting something in front of the door, for instance, in order to remind yourself to take it with you is an example of this. As you go through the GTD system, look for tricks (ie the two minute rule) that can help ease the intimidation we feel towards integrating the system into our lives.

Set aside time to build your system. Don’t try to build as you go. Step back and focus on this. Once the foundation has been laid, you can refine and revise as you go.


“To a great degree, the highest-performing people I know are those who have installed the best tricks in their lives. I know that’s true of me. The smart part of us sets up things for us to do that the not-so-smart part responds to almost automatically, creating behavior that produces high-performance results. We trick ourselves into doing what we ought to be doing. “

“The big secret to efficient creative and productive thinking and action is to put the right things in your focus at the right time. “

“Much of learning how to manage workflow in a masterful way is about laying out the gear and practicing the moves so that the requisite thinking happens more automatically and it’s a lot easier to get engaged in the game. “

“Much of learning how to manage workflow in a masterful way is about laying out the gear and practicing the moves so that the requisite thinking happens more automatically and it’s a lot easier to get engaged in the game. “

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” —David L. George

“I recommend that you create a block of time to initialize this process and prepare a workstation with the appropriate space, furniture, and tools. If your space is properly set up and streamlined, it can reduce your unconscious resistance to dealing with your stuff and even make it attractive for you to sit down and crank through your input and your work. “

“Implementing the full capturing process can take up to six hours or more, and clarifying and deciding on actions for all the input you’ll want to externalize and capture in your system can easily take another eight hours. “

“I don’t recommend using after-hours for this work. It usually means seriously reduced horsepower and a big tendency to get caught up in “rabbit trails.” “

“Dedicate two days to this process, and it will be worth many times that in terms of your productivity and mental health. “

“For many of the executives I work with, holding the world back for two contiguous days is the hardest part of the whole process—the perceived necessity to be constantly available for meetings and communications when they’re at work is difficult for them to let go of. “

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