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Doing Something About It & Thinking Like Holmes

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen


Use next actions list to organize things that you need to get done ASAP.

Use your calendar for appointments and day/time specific action-items. Use your incubator file (someday/maybe list) for things you may get around to someday, but are unsure/undecided about.

Organize your next actions list according to the categories of action you need to perform. Instead of having one big miscellaneous list, parcel things out (ie. calls list, things to do at home list, errands list, things I need to read/review list, etc).


“Over many years I have discovered that the best way to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action—that is, either the tool or the location or the situation needed to complete it. For instance, if the action requires a computer, it should go on an At Computer list. If your action demands that you be out and moving around in the world (such as stopping by the bank or going to the hardware store), the Errands list would be the appropriate place to track it. If the next step is to talk about something face-to-face with your partner, Emily, putting it into an “Emily” folder or list makes the most sense. ”

“How discrete these categories will need to be will depend on (1) how many actions you actually have to track; and (2) how often you change the contexts within which to do them. ”

“If you are that rare person who has only twenty-five next actions, a single Next Actions list might suffice. It could include items as diverse as “Buy nails,” “Talk to boss about staff changes,” and “Draft ideas about committee meeting.” If, however, you have fifty or a hundred next actions pending, keeping all of those on one big list would make it too difficult to see what you need to see; each time you got any window of time to do something, you’d have to do unproductive re-sorting. If you happened to be on a short break at a conference, during which you might be able to make some calls, you’d have to identify the calls among a big batch of unrelated items. When you went out to do odds and ends, you’d probably want to pick out your errands and make another list. ”

“Another productivity factor that this kind of organization supports is leveraging your energy when you’re in a certain mode. When you’re in “phone mode,” it helps to make a lot of phone calls—just crank down your Calls list. When your computer is up and running and you’re cruising along digitally, it’s useful to get as much done online as you can without having to shift into another kind of activity. It takes more energy than most people realize to unhook out of one set of behaviors and get into another kind of rhythm and tool set. ”

“The Most Common Categories of Action Reminders You’ll probably find that at least a few of the following common list headings for next actions will make sense for you: Calls At Computer Errands At Office (miscellaneous) At Home Anywhere Agendas (for people and meetings) Read/Review .”

“Think carefully about where and when and under what circumstances you can do which actions, and organize your lists accordingly. ”

“We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.” —John Gardner

“Simplifying your focus on actions will ensure that more of them get done. ”

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.” —Jean de La Bruyère

Resource: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: Lessons in Mindfulness and Creativity from the Great Detective
Description: Tips for improving our thinking by Sherlock Holmes


The mind is like an empty attic. The concepts housed in our mind are like the furniture.

Selective attention is a major key to developing our mental faculties. We need to be careful about what we choose to focus on because the act of paying attention is analogous to the process of moving conceptual furniture into our mental house.

Thinking like Sherlock Holmes is about noticing more, paying attention to more. But “more” needs to be understood qualitatively not quantitatively. If you pay attention to everything without filtering anything out, you’ll essentially end up paying attention to nothing. Decide what you want to be good at noticing. Decide what areas you would like to be good at. Then practice tuning in to those things.

The mind was made to wander. Our natural default “resting” state is that of wandering. Thus, it takes considerable effort and practice to develop your ability to pay attention.


“The habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.” -James Webb Young

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. … An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” -William James

“In recent years, studies have shown that meditation-like thought (an exercise in the very attentional control that forms the center of mindfulness), for as little as fifteen minutes a day, can shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that has been associated with more positive and more approach-oriented emotional states, and that looking at scenes of nature, for even a short while, can help us become more insightful, more creative, and more productive. We also know, more definitively than we ever have, that our brains are not built for multitasking — something that precludes mindfulness altogether. When we are forced to do multiple things at once, not only do we perform worse on all of them but our memory decreases and our general wellbeing suffers a palpable hit.” -Maria Konnikova

“mindfulness, and the related mental powers it bestows upon its master, is a skill acquired with grit and practice, rather than an in-born talent or an easy feat attained with a few half-hearted tries:” -Maria Popova

““I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.” -Sherlock Holmes

““I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose,” Holmes famously remarked. Indeed, much like the inventor’s mind, the problem-solver’s mind is the product of that very choice: The details and observations we select to include in our “brain attic” shape and filter our perception of reality.” -Maria Popova

“Observation with a capital O — the way Holmes uses the word when he gives his new companion a brief history of his life with a single glance — does entail more than, well, observation (the lowercase kind). It’s not just about the passive process of letting objects enter into your visual field. It is about knowing what and how to observe and directing your attention accordingly: what details do you focus on? What details do you omit? And how do you take in and capture those details that you do choose to zoom in on? In other words, how do you maximize your brain attic’s potential? You don’t just throw any old detail up there, if you remember Holmes’s early admonitions; you want to keep it as clean as possible. Everything we choose to notice has the potential to become a future furnishing of our attics — and what’s more, its addition will mean a change in the attic’s landscape that will affect, in turn, each future addition. So we have to choose wisely. ” -Maria Konnikova

“Choosing wisely means being selective. It means not only looking but looking properly, looking with real thought. It means looking with the full knowledge that what you note — and how you note it — will form the basis of any future deductions you might make. It’s about seeing the full picture, noting the details that matter, and understanding how to contextualize those details within a broader framework of thought.” -Maria Konnikova

“As neurologist Marcus Raichle learned after decades of looking at the brain, our minds are wired to wander. Wandering is their default. Whenever our thoughts are suspended between specific, discrete, goal-directed activities, the brain reverts to a so-called baseline, ‘resting’ state — but don’t let the word fool you, because the brain isn’t at rest at all. Instead, it experiences tonic activity in what’s now known as the DMN, the default mode network: the posterior cingulate cortex, the adjacent precuneus, and the medial prefrontal cortex. This baseline activation suggests that the brain is constantly gathering information from both the external world and our internal states, and what’s more, that it is monitoring that information for signs of something that is worth its attention. And while such a state of readiness could be useful from an evolutionary standpoint, allowing us to detect potential predators, to think abstractly and make future plans, it also signifies something else: our minds are made to wander. That is their resting state. Anything more requires an act of conscious will.” -Maria Konnikova

“We pay attention to everything and nothing as a matter of course. While our minds might be made to wander, they are not made to switch activities at anything approaching the speed of modern demands. We were supposed to remain ever ready to engage, but not to engage with multiple things at once, or even in rapid succession.” -Maria Konnikova

“Attention is a limited resource. Paying attention to one thing necessarily comes at the expense of another. Letting your eyes get too taken in by all of the scientific equipment in the laboratory prevents you from noticing anything of significance about the man in that same room. We cannot allocate our attention to multiple things at once and expect it to function at the same level as it would were we to focus on just one activity. Two tasks cannot possibly be in the attentional foreground at the same time. One will inevitably end up being the focus, and the other — or others — more akin to irrelevant noise, something to be filtered out. Or worse still, none will have the focus and all will be, albeit slightly clearer, noise, but degrees of noise all the same.” -Maria Konnikova

” If you learn first how to be selective accurately, in order to accomplish precisely what it is you want to accomplish, you will be able to limit the damage that System Watson can do by preemptively teaching it to not muck it up. The important thing is the proper, selective training — the presence of mind — coupled with the desire the motivation to master your thought process.” -Maria Konnikova

“No one says it’s easy. When it comes right down to it, there is no such thing as free attention; it all has to come from somewhere. And every time we place an additional demand on our attentional resources — be it by listening to music while walking, checking our email while working, or following five media streams at once — we limit the awareness that surrounds any one aspect and our ability to deal with it in an engaged, mindful, and productive manner.”

“attention is analogous to a muscle that can get strained, but can also be bolstered with training and purposeful repeat use.” -Maria Popova

“Our vision is highly selective as is — the retina normally captures about ten billion bits per sec of visual information, but only ten thousand bits actually make it to the first layer of the visual cortex, and, to top it off, only 10 percent of the area’s synapses is dedicated to incoming visual information at all. Or, to put it differently, our brains are bombarded by something like eleven million pieces of data — that is, items in our surroundings that come at all of our senses — at once. Of that, we are able to consciously process only about forty. What that basically means is that we ‘see’ precious little of what’s around us, and what we think of as objective seeing would better be termed selective filtering — and our state of mind, our mood, our thoughts at any given moment, our motivation, and our goals can make it even more picky than it normally is.” -Maria Konnikova

“We want to learn to pay attention better, to become superior observers, but we can’t hope to achieve this if we thoughtlessly pay attention to everything. That’s self-defeating. What we need to do is allocate our attention mindfully. And mindset is the beginning of that selectivity.” – -Maria Konnikova

“When we are engaged in what we are doing, all sorts of things happen. We persist longer at difficult problems — and become more likely to solve them. We experience something that psychologist Tory Higgins refers to as flow, a presence of mind that not only allows us to extract more from whatever it is we are doing but also makes us feel better and happier: we derive actual, measurable hedonic value from the strength of our active involvement in and attention to an activity, even if the activity is as boring as sorting through stacks of mail. If we have a reason to do it, a reason that engages us and makes us involved, we will both do it better and feel happier as a result. The principle holds true even if we have to expand significant mental effort — say, in solving difficult puzzles. De- spite the exertion, we will still feel happier, more satisfied, and more in the zone, so to speak. ”

“What’s more, engagement and flow tend to prompt a virtuous cycle of sorts: we become more motivated and aroused overall, and, consequently, more likely to be productive and create something of value.”

“Psychologist Yaacov Trope argues that psychological distance may be one of the single most important steps you can take to improve thinking and decision-making. It can come in many forms: temporal, or distance in time (both future and past); spatial, or distance in space (how physically close or far you are from something); social, or distance between people (how someone else sees it); and hypothetical, or distance from reality (how things might have happened). But whatever the form, all of these distances have something in common: they all require you to transcend the immediate moment in your mind. They all require you to take a step back.”

Resource: On Doing Something About It by Frank Chodorov
Description: Chodorov’s concept on how to do something about the tyrany of the state.


Without a regard and respect for private property, slavery is the only option.

Freedom can only exist if individuals are recognized as having the right to their own bodies, wills, labor, and fruits of their labor.

By thinking of society or the state as anything other than a group of individuals, we create a mythical surpahuman entity that masks a fundamental fact: everything that happens occurs because of the choices of specific individuals who are morally responsible for their actions.

Politics does not work because the incentive structure that determines political action makes it impossible to consistently act in accordance with principle. In the realm of politics, even the best of men are forced to succumb to powerful special interest groups and majority interests whose approval is necessary for their continued political relevance. In order to keep playing the political game, you have to honor the rules of system that is rigged against the success of principle.

In spite of all the fancy rituals, titles, and ceremonies that accompany politics, political leaders are nothing more than ordinary people who make their living on a system of taxation that preys on hardworking people who create their wealth through honest means. When we give our attention and adoration to politicians we reinforce the illusion of their relevance. The best thing we can do to undermine the state is to ignore it, to continually remind it of its nothingness.

Don’t wait for an organization to give you the permission to respect your voice. You are most powerful as an individual, not as a member of some collective.


“If a man cannot enjoy the fruits of his labor, without let or hindrance, he is enslaved to the one who appropriates his property; a slave has no property rights.”

“At an early age I developed a distaste toward “doing something about it” — that is, toward organizational and forceful reorienting of society into an image of my own making. I have never been a dues-paying, card-carrying member of any organization, am revolted by any attempt to channel my thinking, and am constitutionally opposed to political action.”

“I should, of course, like to see society organized so that the individual would be free to carry on his “pursuit of happiness” as he sees fit and in accordance with his own capacities. That is because I assume that the individual is endowed at birth with the right to do so. I cannot deny that right to my fellow man without implying that I do not have that right for myself, and that I will not admit. I claim for myself the prerogative of getting drunk and sleeping off my condition in the gutter, provided, of course, I do not interfere with my neighbor’s right to go to the opera; that is my, and his, way of pursuing happiness. How can a third person know that getting drunk or going to the opera is not “good” for either of us? He, or society, or a majority may claim that we, my neighbor and I, have “wrong” values, and might try to tell us so, but the imposition of force to get us to change our values is unwarranted; such use of coercion stems from an assumption of omniscience, which is not a human quality. The best that society can do in the circumstances is to see that one’s way of pursuing happiness does not interfere with that of another’s — and then to leave us all alone.”

“most people are more concerned with making the best of life in the here and now than they are in rewriting the rules for the social order. Only a comparatively few are interested in reform.”

“Meanwhile, strategy has to be considered. The historic pattern for doing something about it is to confront political power with organized opposition, which, again, is political power. While vengeance is sometimes served by this head-on collision of forces, the record shows that principles remain exactly as they were before the collision. And this is so whether the conflict takes on the form of a violent revolution or of a ballot-box battle. The reason for this invariable outcome is found in the necessary technique of political action; there must be a leader, for without one an army is but a mob, easily dispersed. I nominate myself for the job, not because of any particular qualifications I may have, but because my devotion to the idea entitles me to that distinction. Well, then, under my guidance we roll up a sizable vote — for me and presumably for my idea. But, while heretofore I was a teacher, a propagandist, and an organizer, I am now as a legislator confronted with the practical problem of making law. Parliamentarianism blocks my way. And I meet up with conditions and interests that make the changing of law difficult. I find, for instance, that powerful groups have a vested interest in taxation; the veterans are for it and so are the farmers living on subsidies, as are the industrialists whose operations are geared to government income, while the owners of government bonds are most vociferous in opposing my idea. I soon learn that politics is the art of the possible, and it is simply impossible to change the tax structure of the country. So, I think of compromise, consoling my conscience with the thought that the compromise is merely temporary, and then when conditions are ripe for it, taxation as a whole will be abolished. Besides, I am human and succumb to the temptation to perpetuate my position of prominence; the honorifics of office are most alluring, and I agree to the compromise in return for the promise of support from the opposition.”

“The expediencies of politics plus the frailties of political leaders rule out the possibility of using the political method of putting principle into law.”

“The expediencies of politics plus the frailties of political leaders rule out the possibility of using the political method of putting principle into law. The social order must look after itself; politics and the law will follow the dictates of society, once society knows what it wants and acts as if it wants it. Therefore, to “do something about it” one should concentrate on society and leave politics severely alone; which means education and more education, and ignoring the politician altogether.”

“The weakness of the State lies in the fact that it is but an aggregate of humans; its strength derives from the general ignorance of this truism. From earliest times the covering up of this vulnerability has engaged the ingenuity of the politician; all manner of argument has been adduced to give the State a suprahuman character, and rituals without end have been invented to give this fiction the verisimilitude of reality. The divinity with which the king found it necessary to endow himself has been taken over by a mythical 51 percent of the electorate, who in turn ordain those who rule over them. To aid the process of canonization, the personages in whom power resides have set themselves apart by such artifices as high-sounding titles, distinctive apparel, and hierarchical insignia. Language and behavior mannerisms — called protocol — emphasize their separateness. Nevertheless, the fact of mortality cannot be denied, and the continuity of political power is manufactured by means of awe-inspiring symbols, such as flags, thrones, monuments, seals, and ribbons; these things do not die. By way of litanies a soul is breathed into this golden calf and political philosophy anoints it a “metaphysical person.”

“Having fixed in our minds the fact that the State consists of a number of people who are up to no good, we should proceed to treat them accordingly. You do not genuflect before an ordinary loafer; why should you pay homage to a bureaucrat? If a prominent politician hires a hall to make a speech, stay away; the absent audience will bring him to a realization of his nothingness. The speeches and the written statements of a political figure are designed to impress you with his importance, and if you do not listen to the one or read the other you will not be influenced and he will give up the effort. It is the applause, the adulation we accord political personages that registers our regard for the power they wield; the deflation of that power is in proportion to our disregard of these personages. Without a cheering crowd there is no parade.”

“You are ineffective alone? You need an organization to help you? Only individuals think, feel, and act; the organization serves only as a mask for those unable to think or unwilling to act on their own convictions. In the end, every organization vitiates the ideal that at first attracted members, and the more numerous its membership the surer this result; this is so because the organizational ideal is a compromise of private values, and in an effort to find a workable compromise the lowest common denominator, descending as the membership increases, becomes the ideal. When you speak for yourself you are strong. The potency of social power is in proportion to the number who are of like mind, but that is a matter of education, not organization.”

“So, let’s try social ostracism of politics and politicians. It should work. Reform through politics only strengthens the State.”

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