Tag Archive | Systems

Masterpiece Days 3

Make each day your masterpiece. (John Wooden)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Live your masterpiece day every day of your life.“


“Make it depend only on things within your control. And make it antifragile.

In terms of structure, you have most control over the beginning and end of the day – the AM and PM bookends, as someone called them. Treat the bookends as sacred time and endlessly optimize them. Make the bookends the first and last win of the day regardless of how the rest of the day went.

In terms of content, gain clarity on the things that are most meaningful to you, those things that make you feel most radiantly alive. 

What are those things so meaningful that you see yourself doing them every day for the rest of your life? 

Those are your daily life-quests. Treat them as sacred and make it a habit to do them every single day regardless of circumstances.

The Deliberate-Practice System

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I optimize deliberate practice?

There are two aspects to deliberate practice:

Skill-Specific Practice
The Deliberate-Practice System

The former varies with every skill; the latter stays the same regardless of skill.

Gain clarity on and endlessly optimize the deliberate-practice system.” 

What are the components of the deliberate practice system?

I’ve identified the following:

Deconstructing Skills

Every skills is a bundle of sub-skills. To deliberately and efficiently practice a skill, you need to identify its highest-leverage sub-skills – the fundamentals. Practice the fundamentals until they become second nature.

Identifying Principles

Principles are essentially mental models. They are meaningful, abstract patterns that are transferable across disciplines.

The Practice Loop (Scott H. Young)

Repeatedly performing a skill with the intention of improving it. Deliberate practice is a feedback loop. The purpose of the loop is two-fold:

– identifying and fixing weaknesses
– identifying and internalizing quality


The most efficient way to practice is by having access to a coach. In the absence of a coach, you need to become your own coach. In this process, writing is invaluable. It helps you gain clarity on your practice, it allows you to track progress, and it helps you gain self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge? Are you still talking about deliberate practice?

All practices, regardless of form, converge on the same Path: The Path of Wisdom and Mastery.”

The Art of Asking Questions 4

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you deliberately practice questioning?”

“I have a system for it. I’ve even created my own terminology.

The system has several components:

  • QuestionCollecting (QCollecting)
  • QuestionGeneration (QGeneration)
  • QuestionEvaluation (QEvaluation)
  • QuestionOptimization [<link; very short read] (QOptimization)
  • QuestionTemplating [<link; medium read] (QTemplating)

QCollecting is exactly what it sounds like. I collect questions to use as tools and to learn from them. Key to this process is collecting not only good questions but also bad ones – they help you identify error patterns.

QGeneration and QEvaluation are complementary practices.

QGeneration is the practice of generating multiple alternative questions. One component of it is a practice I call QStorming [<link; short read], which is essentially BrainStorming with questions. You start with a central point of focus (QFocus), which can be a theme or a problem you’re trying to solve, and you generate questions based on that focus.

QEvaluation is the practice of narrowing down the generated questions to discover the best ones. Another aspect of it is a practice I call QAnalysis: deconstructing questions with the purpose of learning from them.

QOptimization is the practice of optimizing questions. Taking a bad question and turning it into a good question. Taking a good question and turning it into an optimal question – or set of questions.

QTemplating is the practice of turning repeated question patterns (QPatterns) into question templates (QTemplates). This means, whenever you notice multiple questions with the same structure, keeping the fixed part of the questions and replacing the changing part with variables:

How can you optimize Learning?
How can you optimize Writing?
How can you optimize x? (QTemplate)

What ties everything together is a practice I call Meta-Questioning: the process of asking questions about asking questions – I call this type of questions Meta-Questions [<link; short read] (MQ).

Can you ask a better question? (MQ)
Can you ask a bigger question? (MQ)
Can you ask a x question? (MQTemplate)
Can you ask this question better? (MQ)


‘Everything is Figureoutable’ is like the master-key belief.

You don’t have to play Sherlock Holmes and go searching in every corner of your consciousness for every limiting small belief you have. I’m sure I still have tons of limiting beliefs. But they don’t stop me because of that one master meta-belief that envelops my whole existence.

(Marie Forleo)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“That is a huge idea. Instead of rooting out limiting beliefs, focusing on overriding them with a few powerful meta-beliefs.”

“How would you implement it?”

Think of beliefs as a system, and of meta-beliefs as a sub-system.
Think of your identity as a system, which is part of the meta-beliefs system.

Think of yourself as a Designer.

This is the (meta-)framework.

Become a creator and collector of meta-beliefs. 

Reflect on those meta-beliefs often until they become your reality.”

“Can you give some examples of meta-beliefs you’ve created or collected?”

“Here’s a few:

Every moment is a fresh beginning. (T. S. Eliot)

Happiness is your very nature. It lies at the heart of yourself, in all conditions and under all circumstances. It cannot be acquired; it can only be revealed. (Rupert Spira)

I am Love.
I am Play.

It can only ruin your life if it ruins your character, otherwise it cannot harm you, inside or out. (Marcus Aurelius)

Life happens for me, not to me. (Tony Robbins)

Everything is a Gift.
Everything is a Miracle.

Success is inevitable. (Thibaut Meurisse)

The best is yet to come.

The past lives within.

There is something inside you that’s never been lost: your childhood. (Fred Rogers)

There is no age.

I am renewing every day.
I am renewing with every breath.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. (Victor Hugo)


My System for Tracking Deep Work

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Why do you track deep work?

Deep work is an essential component of my day. I no longer conceive of a day without deep work.

Tracking allows me to continuously optimize my work day. Deep work is actually an oscillation between work and rest. By tracking it, I can assess the quality of the oscillation at a glance.

What do you track?

You’re familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix:

Important / Urgent – Important deadlines and crises.
Important / Not Urgent – Long-term development.
Not Important / Urgent – Distractions with deadlines.
Not Important / Not Urgent – Frivolous distractions.

I track only what’s important.

How do you track it?

I have a system for it. I use math paper, a pencil, and a pen.

My system at a glance

A dot represents a pomodoro – half an hour of deep work. This is my deep-work unit.
A pencil dot represents a regular pomodoro.
A pen dot represents a high-leverage pomodoro – a pomodoro of doing the things that have the biggest impact on my life.
A circled dot represents the end of the work day – for me it’s usually around 6pm. It’s important to have a ‘shutdown complete’ ritual, as Cal Newport calls it, to close the work mental process [<link; short read]; otherwise, your mind may remain stuck in work mode.

Two separate dots represent pomodoros with a break in between. I take a 10 minute break after every pomodoro, in which I seek to move as much as possible.
Two joined dots represent pomodoros without a break in between. This is a situation I try to avoid. Whenever this happens is a sign I may have lost balance.

Four dots in a row represent a work-block. After a work-block, I take a longer break – 30+ minutes long. If a work-block exceeds four pomodoros, this is another sign I may have lost balance.
A new column indicates that I’ve taken a longer break.

That’s it. Simple and elegant.

Can you give an example?

A work day might look like this:

At the end of the day, I can tell how the day went at a glance.

11 pomodoros of deep work (5.5 hours) in total, of which 8 high-leverage pomodoros (4 hours).

I lost balance three times, two times by not taking a break between pomodoros (the joined dots), and once by exceeding four pomodoros in a row (the second column).

As an additional optimization, I started adding a small I (Input) or O (Output) next to each dot. I have a tendency to have too much input. The I and O symbols allow me to assess my input/output ratio at a glance at the end of the day.

Input/Output Oscillation

The 50/50 Rule: Learn for 50% of the time and explain what you learn for 50% of the time. (Thomas Oppong)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the optimal input/output ratio [<link; short read] for learning?”

“Which is more important, the input or the output?”

“The output – processing information, implementation/experimentation, explaining what you’ve learned, deliberate practice.”

“Our tendency is to lean towards the input because it’s easy. Spending a few hours absorbing information gives you the illusion of learning. But your efficiency is so low that you’d have been better off using that time elsewhere.

The main principle of Essentialism applies here as well:

Less, but better.

The input/output ratio is a useful metric to get a general sense of how well you’re doing. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Efficiency emerges from the structure of the learning process.

Let’s compare two structures:

(1) Half the day input, half the day output.

(2) Alternating between a pomodoro (30m) of input and a pomodoro of output, for the same total duration.

Both amount to the same input/output ratio at the end of the day, but in terms of efficiency, (2) is vastly superior.”

“Why is it superior?”

“Because it integrates the input with the output into one structure. You no longer conceive of input without immediate output. The input and the output together form a learning cycle.

Learning Cycle = Input + Output

Also because you get faster feedback. Feedback on what you’ve just learned, but also on the efficiency of the learning process itself.” 

“So every learning cycle is also an optimization cycle.”


To increase efficiency, decrease the distance between input and output. Get more cycles in.

It can be 1 pomodoro of input / 1 pomodoro of output.
It can even be 1/2 pomodoro of input / 1/2 pomodoro of output.”

“Does it have to be 50/50?”

“That’s a useful guideline. But don’t take it as gospel. Experiment, see what input/output ratio works best for you.”

The most important aspect of note-taking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the most important aspect of note-taking?”

Processing the information.

There are two types of note-taking:

Passive note-taking – saving information by copy/pasting it; effortless, and low value.

Active note-taking – processing information before saving it; effortful, and high value.”

“I noticed I have a tendency toward passive note-taking.”

“We all do. The path of least resistance is our default. An important aspect of the growth process is countering this tendency. The best way to counter it is by putting systems in place.

In the case of the note-taking process, you can insert an intermediary step, a mandatory processing stage.”

“So passive note-taking has two stages: A => B
Active note-taking has three stages: A => P => B”


Just like in passive note-taking, you copy/paste the information in the processing area. 
Unlike passive note-taking, the information leaves the area only after you’ve processed it.”

“What is the output of processing?”

Think of processing as an opportunity to practice multiple skills in a short time-framelife-stacking [<link; medium read] style. 

You can practice editing/proofreading. Copy the text as is, and look at it with the editing eye. Do a structural and stylistic analysis, and think of ways to improve it.

You can practice meta-thinking [<link; short read]. Do a meaning analysis, deconstruct the meaning and identify the units of meaning –  models, metaphors, mental operations, underlying assumptions.

You can practice writing. Express the information in your own words (paraphrasing) and in as few words as possible (brevity). Start developing and integrating the ideas by asking questions (questioning) and connecting them with your prior knowledge and experiences.”

On Writing and Systems

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How do you decide what to write about each day?”

“I have a system for it.

I start every day by being creative before reactive. I start every day with writing.

The first phase is playing with ideas. This is essentially free association, mind-mapping style.

I start with something that’s on top of my mind [<link; short read], and/or with some random stimulation, and expand in all directions.”

“What sort of random stimulation?”

“Random quotes. 

As you know, I use quotes as a resource [<link; short read]. In my CommonBook [<link] I have a selection of quotes tagged ‘reflectional‘. These are quotes that stimulate my mind – I call this type of quotes, puzzle quotes. I generate two random reflectional quotes, and use them as a starting point in my exploration.

If I can’t discover my piece for the day this way, I proceed to the second phase: developing ideas.

I have all my writing ideas – ideas about things I want to write about – saved in the CommonBook. I shuffle them (display them in random order), and casually go through them, fleshing them out a little bit more.”

“So instead of going deep on a saved idea, you go wide, developing multiple ideas a little bit.”


We can metaphorically think of ideas in terms of stages of development, like a plant.

Ideas start as seeds.

As you develop them, they turn into seedlings. The bigger the seedling, the more enticing it becomes to write about.

Writing is the process of turning seedling ideas into evergreen ideas.”

Levels of Organization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What do you mean by levels of organization? How are they different from levels of magnification [<link; medium read]?

Levels of magnification are based on scale.
Levels of organization are based on systems.

Every aspect of reality can be thought of as a series of nested systems. Systems within systems within systems.

Like those matryoshka dolls?


The smallest elements combine to form larger elements, which combine to form larger elements, which themselves combine to form larger and larger and larger elements.

I call this process Chunking

Every level of organization can be metaphorically thought of as a ‘chunk‘. A chunk is an emergent higher-order level that contains all lower-order levels.

I call the capacity of the elements to combine and form new configurations of elements with emergent properties, Modularity.

Some elements make better combinations than others. We might think of them as having a connectivity potential. I call this potential, Synergy.


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“A few years ago, I used to have a beautiful little practice. Every day, I used to draw a little sun in a corner of the page with Love written inside it.

Love is the central value of my life. I metaphorically think of it as the Sun of my life. The drawing served as a little visual reminder. 

But then, one day I forgot to do it. 

And the next day. And the next… And the practice was lost.

Until now.”

“How did you remember it?”

“I didn’t. If I hadn’t kept some of my old notes – that had been waiting for me to process them for a long time –, I wouldn’t have.”

“But you did rediscover it.


Prolonged absence makes the joy of rediscovery all the sweeter.”

“Still, I don’t want to lose it again.”

“Then do some system optimization to make it a reality.

Process your notes the same day instead of letting them pile up. And keep yesterday’s note at hand as a reminder.”

“The funny thing is, I used to do that. But then I forgot about it.”

“Then maybe you need to document your systems. Have them written down.

Think of it as entropy insurance.”