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Tickler Files, Building an Antilibrary, and Showing Your Work

Resource: Getting Things Done
Description: Tickler files and checklists


A tickler files is a system that allows you to make sure something physically shows up in front of you on the date you need to see it or think about. It’s a way of “mailing” things to yourself

Checklists are lists that provide reminders, shortcuts, and frequently used tips for a specific category of concern (ie. Travel checklist, exercise routines, etc).

Tickler files and checklists are key parts of your external brain. Don’t rely on memory to do the work that your checklists and tickler files can do for you.


“Essentially the tickler file is a simple file-folder system that allows you to distribute paper and other physical reminders in such a way that whatever you want to see on a particular date in the future “automatically” shows up that day in your in-tray. If you have a secretary or assistant, you can entrust at least a part of this task to him or her, assuming that he or she has some working version of this or a similar system. Typical examples would be: “Hand me this agenda the morning of the day I have the meeting.” “Give this back to me on Monday to rethink, since it applies to our board meeting on Wednesday.” “Remind me about the Hong Kong trip two weeks ahead, and we’ll plan the logistics.”

“Bottom line: the tickler file demands only a one-second-per-day new behavior to make it work, and it has a payoff value exponentially greater than the personal investment. It represents a unique executive function: deciding not to decide until a certain point. “

“Many years ago Alfred North Whitehead cogently observed, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

“whenever you have to think about anything, either because of some regularity of a refreshed view (“At the end of every calendar year, I want/need to . . .”) or a specific situation that requires more detail than you can easily recall (“Before I deliver a seminar, I need to . . .”), you should entrust those jobs to your “external mind”—your management system that holds the details you need to engage with at appropriate times.*

“Capability and willingness to instantly make a checklist, accessible and used when needed, is a core component of high-performance self-management.”

“If in fact you have now captured everything that represents an open loop in your life and work, clarified and processed each one of those items in terms of what it means to you and what actions are required, and organized the results into an intact system that holds a current and complete overview—large and small—of all your present and “someday” projects, then you’re ready for the next step of implementation in the art of stress-free productivity: the reflection process.”

Resource: Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary: Why Unread Books Are More Valuable to Our Lives than Read Ones
Description: The power of what we do NOT know


An antilibrary is the collection of books you haven’t read. This term was coined by Nassim Taleb who described Umberto Eco as a man that valued his unread books more than his read ones.

The books in your library aren’t there to showcase how much you know. They’re there to summon you to know more.

Your antilibrary is a constant reminder of how much more you need to learn.

You should fill your personal library with as many books from your wishlist as you can afford.

The value isn’t in what we know. It’s in what we don’t know. Unread books are more valuable than read ones.


“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.” -Nassim Taleb

“We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.” -Nassim Taleb

“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books, and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a skeptical empiricist.” -Nassim Taleb

Resource: Nuts and Bolts: How (and Why) to Show Your Work by Jane Bozarth
Description: The value of showing your work


Showing your work helps you learn. By strategically broadcasting your creative process, you alert other people with similar interests and superior experience.

Showing your work isn’t just about capturing information, it’s about walking people through the process of how you actually got things done given your particular set of challenges and constraints.

Find opportunities for sharing your work from within your existing workflow. Get started by following the path of least resistance. Don’t pressure yourself to download a bunch or new apps or learn a bunch of new tools. Capitalize on what you already know how to do. Just let people watch and listen while you work.


“One of the best reasons for showing your work is that it ultimately helps you.” -Jane Bozarth

“You find out after a project is finished that someone in another building already did something just like it, or a key person leaves and no one can step in. Or you struggle to self-learn enough to complete a project and later run into someone at the office holiday party who, it turns out, has a degree in the thing you struggled to learn last spring. We are constantly documenting procedures while learning and relearning to handle exceptions to them, often keeping that data in our own heads.” -Jane Bozarth

“Working efficiently and effectively isn’t just about capturing “information.” We need to do better, not at documenting what people do, but how they get things done. This will help our organizations, our coworkers, and others who engage in our practice. It will support your credibility and establish or strengthen your brand. And it’s how we help each other learn.” -Jane Bozarth

“What does it mean to show your work? It means telling others at a meeting, or blogging, or making a video on your phone, or sketching on a chart pad, or drawing on a wall, or tweeting pictures, or uploading a document to SharePoint. Or perhaps, mentioning on Yammer something like: How I learned that. Where I got that idea. My problem and how I solved it. Before-and-after examples. What we did in class today. My slide deck from the big sale last week, with notes about how I handled objections. An obstacle and how I overcame it. How I spent my day. What was hard about that? Why we did it that way.” –Jane Bozarth

“Want to share your work or help others share theirs? This shouldn’t be hard, or involve big launches or implementations of platforms, or require the use of tools with a long learning curve. Pay attention to where it could fit into your workflow. Look at your existing systems and channels. When considering how to show your work, or encourage others to show theirs, Charles Jennings reminds us: ‘The point is to extract learning from work, not create more work.'” -Jane Bozarth

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