Tag Archive | Systems

Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)

PKM is a system for externally organizing knowledge. A good system allows you to get everything out of your head (external scaffolding), which minimizes cognitive burden.

Your brain is for having ideas, not for holding them. (David Allen)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) means creating structure.

In practical terms, that means creating a conceptual tree that organizes your external knowledge. The tree acts as an information filter, and its branches should accommodate every type of relevant information you encounter.”

“What does your tree look like?”

“Like this:

The PKM Tree

I regard Questions and Models (QM) the fundamental tools of Thinking. I collect and create Questions and Models.

Learnings is the input.
Writings is the output.”

“What is the most important aspect of PKM?”

Creative Output.

On Burpees and Meaning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I get to 100 burpees every day like Brian Johnson does?”

“Understand that it’s as much mental as it is physical. You have to make it meaningful.

Deeply internalize that Energy is your most important resource. It’s an enabler for everything you do. Movement is one essential aspect of Energy – and your overall well-being –, next to Sleep, Eating, and Oscillation.

The most important systems of personal-meaning are your Identity and your Values. You have to integrate Movement into both of these systems.

Embrace your identity of Mover / Athlete.
Embrace Movement as one of your primary Values.

In strategic terms, do them in small sets, and spread them out throughout the day. To ensure consistency, have a system for it.”

“What does your system look like?

“I use the following terminology:

Micro-Unit = 1 burpee (the floor)
Unit = 5 burpees
Macro-Unit = 2 x Unit = 10 burpees (the ceiling)

I like multiples of 5 because they’re easier to count. 

The key to consistency I found is connecting the burpee habit with other activities.

More specifically, with my work-time. I do 3 units (3 x 5) during every work-hour: one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end. If for any reason I skip one, I do a macro-unit (10) next time.

The beauty of this system is that, once it becomes a habit, you don’t need to track your overall daily progress. You know that if you’ve worked 6 hours, you’ve done 90 burpees.”

“What if I can barely do 5 burpees? How can I build up to it?”

To build up to it, adjust the unit. 

Start with the micro-unit – 1 burpee. This is the habit-seed [<medium; short read]. 
Stay at 1 burpee until it feels easy, then add another one. This becomes your new unit.

Whenever the unit feels easy, add another rep.

Whenever you feel tired during the day and feel you can no longer sustain the volume, gradually scale down the unit for the day, all the way to the micro-unit if need be. It’s more important to maintain the habit – three units per hour, however small the unit – than to reach 100.

Focus on Quality. (Perfect/Quality-Reps

Think of every burpee session as a micro-meditation. Start every single one by taking a deep breath and connecting with yourself (Centering). 

In terms of feedback, use sound and markings on the floor to assess quality. The less sound you make – this is called Stealth in Parkour –, and the more precise your hand and foot placement, the better the quality of the rep.

You can also add Variety from time to time and experiment with various types of burpees.”


Definition (Programming)
– Restructuring the non-functional attributes of existing computer code while preserving its functionality.
– Making code clearer, cleaner, simpler, and elegant.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What is refactoring?

It’s a model from Programming which can be extended to life systems more generally.

Refactoring is a kind of optimization.

I like to make a distinction between structural optimization and functional optimization.

Functional optimization improves the output of a system. (Functionality)
Structural optimization improves the experience of using the system. (Usability)

Both are important.

So refactoring is structural optimization.


Systems have a tendency to become overly complex. (Creeping Complexity)
This produces friction, and a diminishing desire to engage with the system.
Refactoring reduces friction.

There’s also an aesthetic aspect to it.
The more beautiful an experience, the more likely you are to want return to it.

Tracking Presence

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“To efficiently practice Presence, I find it useful to track it.”

“How do you track it?”

“I have a system for tracking Deep Work. At some point, I had the idea to use it to also track Presence.

I track Deep Work (DW) using a pencil.

1. A pencil-dot in the middle of a square represents 30 minutes of DW. (short DW block)
2. Two joined pencil-dots represent 1 continuous hour of DW. (long DW block)
3. If two pencil-dots are not joined, it means there’s a break in between.
4. If more than two pencil-dots are joined, it means I lost balance. (Feedback)

I track Presence using a pen.

5. A pen-dot on the line between two squares represents a 5 minute micro-meditation.
6. A pen-dot over a pencil-dot means I started the DW block with a Centering micro-meditation.”

On Thinking and Systems 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I become a better thinker?”

“Let’s think of thinking as a system.

What is the essential highest-order output of the system for you?”

“Creative output.”

“To become a better thinker you need to become better at generating creative output.

The quality of the output depends on the quality of the input.

To optimize the output, you need to optimize the input.

What are the main subcomponents of this system?”

“I’m thinking they’re three in number:

– The information system
– The querying system (conscious process)
– The retrieval system (subconscious process)”

“You’re using a database metaphoric model.”

“I guess I am.”

“The retrieval system works the same for all of us. We all have the same potential. That’s a constant.

The information and querying systems are variable. These two systems are what differentiates the better thinker from the rest.

So better thinking depends on two things:

– Information quality
– Querying quality

We can metaphorically think of information as the materials for thinking, and of querying as the manufacturing of creative thought.

Quality information is what we call knowledge. By that I mean content quality and organization quality.” 

“What do you mean by organization?”

“Organization is a measure of how interconnected the information is, and how it’s structured. For instance mental models are a beautiful means of structuring information, which makes it more retrievable and usable.”

“Does quality querying mean asking the right questions? 

“Ultimately, thinking is a dance between the conscious and the subconscious.

Besides asking the right questions, querying means creating optimal conditions for the subconscious to do its magic.”

Beautiful Systems: (Practical) Oscillation

To turn it on, learn to turn it off. (Josh Waitzkin)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by oscillation? It makes me think of waves, and breathing.”

“I mean a regular rhythmic pattern of alternating between two things.”

“So a dichotomy pattern.”

“Yes. The notation I like to use is ‘A/B’, where A and B are variables.”

“So something like Up/Down, High/Low, In/Out, On/Off?”


I’m focusing on four areas in particular, where oscillation has practical application: 


As concerns Energy, the basic oscillation pattern is On/Off.

On/Off Oscillation => Quality of performance

The optimal oscillation pattern – where peak performance happens – is Full Engagement/Full Disengagement. Deep work, followed by equally deep rest. Being either 100% On, or 100% Off.

Now, 100% Off means total disengagement from the work, not being totally passive. Some activities and settings can help you actively recover energy faster. Things like movement, nature, movement in nature, napping, etc.

So, adding a bit more nuance to it, the optimal oscillation pattern is Deep Focus/Active Recovery.

As concerns Growth, the basic oscillation pattern is Stress/Recovery.

Stress/Recovery Oscillation => Rate of growth

Venturing past the limits of your comfort zone, breaking through a homeostatic plateau, produces a stress response. By taking time to recover afterwards, growth occurs. 

In physical training this process is called supercompensation. Muscles break down after intense training, and given time to rest, they become stronger. 

If stress is not followed by recovery however, if it’s not flushed out of the system, so to speak, it adds up and becomes chronic, which produces negative results.

As concerns Learning, the basic oscillation pattern is Input/Output. Alternating between absorbing knowledge and acting on the knowledge.

Input/Output Oscillation => Quality of learning

That may mean reviewing what you’ve learned (active recall), or testing your understanding by explaining what you’ve learned to yourself (constructive learning), or to others (interactive learning).

That may mean reflecting on an experience afterwards to extract the lessons within (learning cycles).

That may mean taking steps towards implementing what you’ve learned, by engaging in habit design. For instance through the creation of drill-games for practicing specific skills, or the creation of specific behavior patterns (behavior design). 

As concerns Creativity, there’s two basic oscillation patterns: Focused/Diffuse, and Generative/Evaluative

The Focused/Diffuse oscillation refers to the two modes of thinking:
Focused mode, when you’re consciously engaged in a mental activity.
Diffuse mode, when, after disengaging from the activity, the subconscious continues to work on it in the background.

Focused/Diffuse Oscillation => Creative insights

“So it’s the same engagement/disengagement pattern.”

“Yes, it’s the same pattern, used for different ends.

In the energy context, it’s used to recover energy.
In the creativity context, it’s used for making creative leaps.

The Generative/Evaluative pattern refers to the two stages of the creative process: generating creative output, and sifting through it to discover value. We can metaphorically think of it as Expansion/Contraction.

Generative/Evaluative Oscillation => Conversion of creative output into useful output

I call all these oscillation patterns combined, the oscillation system.”

Carpe Diem

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What does carpe diem mean to you?”

“I like to express it in terms of density [link; short read].

For me, carpe diem means maximizing life-density.

Maximizing experiential-density.
Maximizing fun-density.
Maximizing creative-density.
Maximizing learning-density.
Maximizing movement-density.

It means ZERO wasted time, and maximizing productivity.

I love Ali Abdaal‘s [<link] definition of productivity:

Productivity = (Useful Output / Time) * FF

FF is what he calls the ‘Fun Factor’.

The goal is not to just be productive, but also to have fun in the process.

Carpe diem means creating a beautiful antifragile structure for the day. 

I’m constantly optimizing it.”

“What’s the latest optimization?”

“Viewed as a template [<link; medium read], I know I want the day to have three parts: beginning, middle, and end. The beginning and end – the AM and PM bookends, as someone called them – are fixed, because those are the parts you have most control over. The middle is variable.

My previous structure looked like this:

AM Bookend
Activation [
warming-up, preparing for the day]

Deep Work
Deep Work 1 [
Deep Work 2
Deep Work 3

PM Bookend
De-Activation [
warming-down, preparing for sleep]

The first deep-work-block is always dedicated to writing.
The second is always dedicated to learning.

This is my most important work. Since these are so important to me and I want to do them every single day, I asked myself:

What if I made them part of the AM bookend?

This is exactly what I did.

The optimized structure looks like this:

AM Bookend
Writing 1
Deliberate Learning 1

Deep Work
Deep Work 1 [
MIT (Most Important Thing)]
Deep Work 2
Deep Work 3

PM Bookend
Writing 2

Thus, even if ‘life happens’ and I can get no deep work done in a day, I always do my most important work.”

On Learning 3

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“On my Quest to master Learning, I set to reading every book about it. Well, not quite every book. I’m focusing on identifying the 20%.

As I’m reading about learning, I’m also practicing Meta-Learning (learning how to learn).”

“Can you give an example?”

“I’m currently reading Jim Kwik’s beautiful book Limitless. In the book, Jim outlines his learning framework, which has the acronym FASTER.


Forget refers to eliminating distractions, upgrading your learning mindset by forgetting about your perceived limitations, and suspending what you think you know about the topic, approaching it with a beginner’s mind.

Act refers to approaching learning actively, as opposed to passively.

A really big idea in the book is that,

All learning is state dependent.

State refers to getting yourself in an optimal state for learning, an energized state of curiosity and excitement.

Teach refers to learning with the intention of teaching it to someone else.

Enter refers to making time for learning by scheduling it in your calendar.

Review refers to learning by testing yourself on your acquired knowledge (active recall) over multiple spread-out sessions (spaced repetition). 

The framework itself is not important. Any framework is just one perspective. What’s important are the principles. By extracting the principles, you can integrate them into your own framework.

For instance, scheduling and eliminating distractions, while important life skills, are not learning-specific.”

“What are the principles here?”

Learning Mindset [Related: Learning as Primary Value, Belief System, Belief Optimization, Limiting Beliefs, Empowering Beliefs]

Optimal State [Playfulness, Curiosity, Fun, Excitement, Joy, Pleasure, Priming Ritual]

Beginner’s Mind [Emptying the Cup, Humility, ‘I don’t know‘]

Active Learning [Deep Engagement, Creative Learning]

Learning by Teaching [Feynman Technique, Brevity, Simple Language, Images, Analogies, Diagrams]

Active Recall / Spaced Repetition [Testing, Forgetting Curve]

Learning Mindset refers to learning as a value, and to your beliefs around learning. The practice here is turning learning into a primary value, identifying your limiting beliefs around learning and replacing them with empowering beliefs.

Optimal State is the practice of consistently activating the state. For instance by creating a pre-learning priming ritual which energizes you and activates the Learning Mindset. As someone put it,

You must be in a state of questing for knowledge.

Activating the Beginner’s Mind could also be part of the ritual, putting yourself in a state of openness and receptivity.

Active Learning refers to your level of engagement in the learning. Engaging in it as a creative act, rather than as an observer sport.

Learning by Teaching refers to explaining it in simple terms, as if to someone who knew nothing about the subject, by employing analogies, images, or diagrams.

Active Recall / Spaced Repetition refer to setting up a system for reviewing what you learned to maximize retention.

I like to think of learning as a system. These are some of the components of it. As I see it, learning is not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about constantly optimizing the learning system itself.”

On Magic and Models 6

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are the most useful mental models you’ve learned from Magic the Gathering?”

“Two of them especially stand out: Modularity, and Synergy.”

“What is the essence of Modularity?”

“The basic elements that make up the game of Magic can be combined in a variety of ways. The fact that they can be combined can be thought of as an inherent property of those elements. I call this inherent property, Connectivity. I call the elements that have this property, modular-elements.

Some modular-elements can connect with more elements than others. We might say each modular-element has a certain connectivity-potential.

Now, imagine that you find some Magic cards without knowing the rules of the game. Would you be able to combine them?” 

“I guess not. The cards can be combined only within the context of the game.”

“Magic is a modular-system. The modular-elements that make up the system can be combined only within the system. I call these, contextual modular-elements.”

“Can you give some examples of modular systems?”

“One classic example is Lego. Another, less obvious example, is language. The most profound example is the Universe. Everything in the Universe is made up of combinations of the same basic building-blocks. The chemical elements are modular-elements. What we call “reality” is a modular-system.

“What is the essence of Synergy?”

“Modularity refers to a certain kind of elements – modular-elements.
Synergy refers to a certain kind of connections between those elements – I call these, synergistic-connections. In Magic terminology, a synergistic-connection is called a Combo.

The essence of synergistic-connections is Emergence. Two elements synergistically combined produce a higher-order structure or effect that is different than the sum of its parts. Viewed in terms of value, I call this, emergent-value.

We’ve talked a while ago about my love of playing with making connections between things – what I called the Connections Game [<link; short length]. We might say the essence of the Connections Game is the discovery of emergent-value.”

Note-taking as Art 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I think of my note-taking as an art [<link; short length]. A kind of calligraphy.

I don’t seek perfection of execution, but balance. 
Balance between functional and aesthetic beauty. 
Balance in the use of space.

I also like to think of it as a system.”

“Why think of it as a system?”

“Because it allows me to optimize it more effectively. Creativity is one of the central values of my life, and Optimization is an essential component of it. For me Optimization is a value in itself – and another venue for self-expression.”

“You mean life optimization?”

“I’m a Designer. I like to optimize EVERYTHING. However, life optimization is indeed my main focus. And that is, essentially, systems optimization.”

“What’s one notable component of the note-taking system?”

“I’m using three sizes of notes, created from A4 pages.

My three types of notes

I cut the A4 page in four. This is the largest note size (L-notes).
By cutting the L-notes in two, I get the medium notes (M-notes).
By cutting the M-notes in two, I get the small notes (S-notes).”

“Why are you using three sizes of notes?”

“Each size serves a different function.

L-notes are for general note-taking purposes, idea capture, and to-dos.
M-notes are for mind-mapping.
S-notes are for implementation.

The size ensures I can tell which is which at a glance.”

“Why don’t you use the large ones for mind-mapping?”

“I sometimes do. But the smaller space forces me to be more focused. Smaller mind-maps are more usable

Everything I write starts as a mind-map. I take the idea-seeds, which I collect in a digital document, and develop them through mind-mapping. Once they gain enough definition, I start writing.

I have a growing stack of M-notes, for upcoming articles.”