Issue 01 - What Knowledge Workers Can Learn From Professional Athletes

Hello, fellow workers of the mind.

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Superpowered Self, the premier newsletter for those who work with their mind.

This is a project that’s been brewing inside my head for quite a while, and I am finally ready to share it with the world - that means you!

The core idea is simple: We no longer work with our hands, but with our minds, and with that comes challenges.

The work that we do is complex. There often is a lot of it, and the systems that we use to manage it are a hodge-podge of practices that we taped together on the spur of the moment.

Moreover, working with the mind is hard. Really hard. It requires focus and attention and working against a world that is continuously trying to undercut both. We are constantly learning new things, things of increasing complexity, and we must do so without delay.

Superpowered Self exists to help you make the most of your mind.

Without further ado, let’s become superpowered.

Using Notion as Your Life’s Operating System

Life is like a computer running low on memory. We have too many programs open all at once. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get it under control once and for all?

That’s where today’s video comes in. Notion expert August Bradley dives deep into how he uses Notion to create what he calls his life “operating system”.

His system is centered around three key concepts:

  • Pillars, which are the support beams that hold the roof - his life - up
  • Pipelines, which are the databases that track actions and progress
  • Vaults, which store the knowledge from which you draw from to execute on your Pillars and Pipelines.

As you can imagine, Bradley’s system is quite an advanced use of Notion and he readily admits those new to Notion should not attempt to build a system like his straight away but instead focus on building the most important pages, like the master task list.

Personally, Notion has never clicked with me, but this video has a lot of ideas I think with some adaptations would fit well with my own digital life. For example, one thing Bradley talks about is how with Notion you can set up a way for tasks to be connected with one another such that you can track which tasks precede which and which follow after. Traditional task management software like Todoist, which I use, offers no way to do this, subscribing to a view where tasks are independent of one another.

Organize Your Research With Roam Research

Roam Research has quickly taken up the notetaking world by storm and the world is still reeling from the shock. Away goes the filling cabinet approach to information structure to be replaced by the unruly networked and hyperlinked approach. The future will never be the same.

In this article, UX designer Heiki Adkisson shares how she’s been using Roam to manage the information she gathers in hef qualitative research. Using a fictional study, we see how marries the top-down structure imposed by the nature of the work with the formlessness of Roam to create a powerful synthesis of both.

Even if qualitative research is far away from the work you currently do, there is much in here that you can take away from. Even if you do not adopt her particular approach, it can still serve as useful inspiration as you refine your own.

One important takeaway which shows the power of Roam is how the author notes that the work she put in organizing her research, rather than being busywork, _“forced [her] to actively engage and think about the findings” _in a way that she wouldn’t in other notetaking approaches. I relate to this in my use of Roam and I believe it stems from the fact that in Roam the structure of your notes is bottom-up rather than top-down, that is, the structure emerges as you create your notes instead of forcing your notes to fit into the structure you built beforehand.

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    What is the Zettelkasten Method Anyway?

    Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist who, by all accounts, was highly productive. How productive was he? Not only did Luhmann publish 50 books and over 600 articles, but over 150 unfinished manuscripts were left in his estate after his passing, one of them with over 1000 pages. Would that we were a quarter as productive as he was.

    However, Luhmann did not work alone. He had a partner alongside him throughout his life: his Zettelkasten.

    German for slip-box, a Zettelkasten is a system for connecting index cards in such a way as to produce a tool with which to think. Roam, which we talked about before, is heavily inspired by Luhmann’s ideas and it shows.

    In this article, you will learn the basics of what this notetaking, slash thinking aid, slash productivity partner was all about.

    What Knowledge Workers Can Learn From Professional Athletes

    We should all look up to professional athletes as a model on how to manage the many aspects of our lives.

    Think about it. Professional athletes deliberately structure their lives to achieve their goals of performing at the highest level in the sport they practice. Nothing is left to chance. From the moment they wake up to when they go to sleep, they have a plan that’s been purposefully designed for them to become better at what they do.

    This article by self-diagnosed productivity nerd James Stuber explores one of the facets underlying the deliberateness with which athletes manage their efforts: periodization.

    As Stuber explains, periodization “is a method of organizing an athlete’s training to balance different aspects of performance”. In broad strokes, what this means is that instead of trying to improve everything at once, you block periods where you single-mindedly focus on improving one aspect of your life.

    Where should you focus on first? It depends on what your goal is. Olympic weightlifters want to lift heavy weights so that’s where they focus their training. Swimmers want to swim fast, so they work on that. Your training follows from what your goal is, what it is that you want to get better at.

    After identifying your goal you build out a practice schedule that progressively ramps up in difficulty as your skills become better.

    If your goal is to write a book, you can first start by writing blog posts for a few weeks until you get the hang of it. Then you can start submitting longer-form articles to publications until you understand what editors want. Once you get the hang of that, you can start your book.

    The analogy to professional athletes has a lot of insight for knowledge workers, and something tells me this piece is but the tip of the iceberg on what we can learn from how professional athletes work.

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