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Axle
Stream annotations from your PDF reading sessions with DEVONthink Use this script and DEVONthink 3 to stream your PDF annotations into your notes. Apr 27, 2022 automation & note-taking & pkm & DEVONthink & PDF & articles
Stream annotations from your PDF reading sessions with DEVONthink Apr 27, 2022 automation, note-taking, pkm, DEVONthink, PDF & articles Use this script and DEVONthink 3 to stream your PDF annotations into your notes. ⟐
 → There is only one next action for any project Jan 24, 2022 getting things done & knowledge innovation & productivity & highlights

In Getting Things Done, a “next action” is a specific idea. Morten Røvik defines it like so:

a physical, visible action, somebody can see you do, that you can do in one sitting and where you have everything you need.

A project is any outcome that needs you to complete more than one next action to realize it.

In the past, when thinking about a project, I generally planned out next action_s_. I tried to think of everything all of the time, robustly listing out the tasks it would take to get a project from start to finish. Naturally, this leads to impressive lists of things to do. It’s a great way to feel busy. But is it a great way to be productive?

In the past year, I’ve come to realize that this “what are my next action_s_?” habit is probably bad practice. These next action_s_ lists are both a deterrent to actually getting things done, and they’re a waste of time to boot.

They deter productivity because—at least for me—these lists were often intimidating. The project “publish paper” would end up having a half-dozen mini-projects embedded inside it, each with dozens of tasks (and possibly other sub-projects). Pulling up these lists easily overwhelmed me, and the resulting anxiety was always tough to deal with.

Perhaps worse than being intimidating, though, is that these lists of next action_s_ were never as useful as I thought they’d be. In knowledge innovation, what you do later depends on what you do next. Projects change over time—especially big projects. You can guess at what the work will look like, but you will probably be wrong. At least, I was often wrong. As a result, the time I spent planning too far ahead was often a waste.1

What’s the takeaway? Take away the plural!

I am going to try not to worry about next action_s_. Instead, for any given project, I will only identify one thing: what the next action is. There’s only one. Once I decide what that is, I can do it, and then decide what the next action is after that. This incrementalism will make it easier to engage with the big, messy work I’m doing, and it will prevent me from wasting time with premature optimization.


  1. It is important to differentiate between project planning and checklists, here. For example, most scientific articles have the following sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion. So, you could create a “Write paper” project with the next actions “Write Introduction,” “Write Methods,” “Write Results,” and “Write Discussion.” But this isn’t actually a useful action list: it’s a checklist. You’re pattern-matching a template against what you’ve done to make sure you did everything you’re supposed to do. It can be handy to have checklists, but they don’t really support knowledge innovation, because it isn’t surprising or unexpected for you to do those four tasks. The work of knowledge innovation is, of course, figuring out what to write in those four sections. That’s the real task. Moreover, you can’t figure out what you’re going to write in one until you have some sense of what you’ll write in the others! So, this sequential approach to writing is ill-advised. The real next action is probably something like “Identify key contributions of paper.” Once you know what those will be, you can go from there.↩︎

A systems model of anxiety-driven procrastination Jan 11, 2022 procrastination, anxiety, systems & articles Examining my procrastination problem through a systems lens—with some ways to make progress! ⟐
Personal automation for augmenting intelligence: A shortcut to stay on task Nov 3, 2021 articles, automation, augmented intelligence & Shortcuts Some ideas on how to use personal automation for augmenting intelligence—with an example using Shortcuts. ⟐
An Obsidian Homescreen for iPhone and iPad Oct 13, 2021 shortcuts, automation, Obsidian & articles Here's a set of shortcuts and widgets based on Obsidian that create a functional, dynamic, data-driven homescreen for iPhone and iPad. ⟐
Obsidian, Roam, and the rise of Integrated Thinking Environments—what they are, what they do, and what’s next Aug 9, 2021 articles, Integrated Thinking Environments, Obsidian, knowledge innovation, information systems & data What do Obsidian, Roam, DEVONthink, and Notion have in common? No, it's not hype—these apps are all Integrated Thinking Environments. Here's what that means. ⟐
An Integrated Qualitative Analysis Environment with Obsidian Aug 8, 2021 articles, research, qualitative analysis, data, Obsidian, Integrated Thinking Environments & projects Use this downloadable Obsidian vault to conduct Grounded Field Theory-based analysis of qualitative data. ⟐
Your Notes are an Information System: Lessons from Information Systems for Personal Knowledge Management Aug 8, 2021 articles, personal knowledge management, productivity, Information Systems, research & projects A presentation at the MUN Graduate Students' Union's 2021 Aldrich Conference. ⟐
DEVONlink - Integrate Obsidian and DEVONthink Mar 16, 2021 Obsidian, DEVONthink & PKM Use this Obsidian plugin and an AppleScript to integrate Obsidian and DEVONthink ⟐
DEVONsave v3: A shortcut to help you clip articles to clean PDFs in DEVONthink To Go 3 (and DEVONthink 3) Feb 11, 2021 shortcuts, DEVONthink, automation & reading An update to my perhaps-popular shortcut for getting nice PDFs of articles on the web into DEVONthink. ⟐
Connect DEVONthink PDFs, Bookends references, and Obsidian summary notes with this script Jan 27, 2021 automation, note-taking, pkm, apps, guide, articles & Obsidian Extract annotations/highlights from PDFs and link DEVONthink and Bookends items, all in one script. ⟐
 → Cross-post: Intuition is confident abductive-inferential thinking Nov 7, 2020 creativity & logic & philosophy & highlights

Intuition is really just confident, logical thinking.

 → Note titles as API calls Oct 30, 2020 highlights & knowledge management

i saw someone say that note titles should be like API names (from @davestridsr on the Obsidian Discord)

It was Andy Matuschak.

An app adds an API when its developers want other developers to be able to extend and work with the app’s functions, e.g., to develop other features or to let services interact with one another.

Some “good” features of an API in software development might be that the API is: (1) deep (you can get at as many functions of the underlying app as are useful), (2) expressive (you can fine-tune interactions between your extension and the app), and (3) intuitive (by looking at an API function’s title and parameters, it’s pretty easy to guess what it allows you to do).

Andy’s saying that a good note title fits those parameters too. The metaphor goes: you “extend” an atomic evergreen note by invoking its title in a new note. By doing so (and if done right), you can grasp the details of that note easily while, at the same time, you can reinterpret it in its new context.

Why and how to use Obsidian and NotePlan together Oct 27, 2020 Obsidian, NotePlan, PKM, apps, guide & articles A quick tutorial on using Obsidian and NotePlan 3 together. ⟐
The best of both worlds: One-click reference metadata for Bookends with Zotero Oct 22, 2020 automation, apps, academia, Zotero & Bookends Use Zotero as a speedy reference "inbox" for Bookends. ⟐
Distraction Deterrent Apr 18, 2020 shortcuts & productivity Use this simple automation to defend against the distraction of infinite-content apps. ⟐
Today’s Plan: A shortcut for planning your day with a text-based list and Fantastical Apr 12, 2020 shortcuts, planning & productivity The Today's Plan shortcut converts a list of items and tasks to a daily plan in your calendar and reminders. ⟐
DEVONsave: A shortcut to help you clip websites to DEVONthink To Go quickly and cleanly Apr 4, 2020 shortcuts, DEVONthink, automation & reading Use these shortcuts to quickly get references found on the web into DEVONthink in a clean HTML or PDF format. ⟐
Fulcra → A turn of events Mar 30, 2020 meta & highlights

Welcome to Axle.

I probably don’t need two blogs, but I have found myself hesitating to publish a variety of ideas on Fulcra because I wasn’t sure that those who read that blog for the systems/design thinking or social change focus would care about my thoughts on productivity, practice, and personal development.

So that’s what this place is for.

While my writing on Fulcra will (continue to) explore how the world changes, Axle is about how we change. In particular, I’m interested in “augmenting cognition”: how information systems and systemic design can help us think, do, and be better. I’ll also be writing about the different techniques and tools I use in my own work, as well as publishing resources that you might find useful.

What’s in the name? Well, while Fulcra emphasizes the search for leverage points in complex systems change, Axle is centred on the core of that change. That’s us—the people driving it. We try our best to amplify the forces of the world in order to shift something that matters to us. We roll with our changing worlds—and we are also in constant motion (and transformation) ourselves.

Welcome!

Systemics and design principles in support of Tiago Forte’s PARA framework Mar 30, 2020 articles, personal knowledge management, productivity, systemics & design Tiago Forte's PARA system is a popular new approach to organizing your digital materials. I explain its usefulness with reference to some principles from systemic design. ⟐