Tag Archive | Systems

The most productive week of my life

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can you measure progress?”

“There are many metrics you can use. One of them is Productivity.

How productive are you in the things that matter most?

In my case for instance, this was the most productive week of my life. 

The deep-work hours can be seen in the bottom right

Granted, I’m between jobs, so I have more time to dedicate my work than I would otherwise. What’s important however is the persistent structures I have set in place, which will stay with me for the rest of my life. They’ve become part of who I am.”

“What’s your secret?”

“There is none.

I like to think of Productivity as a system. I’ve been optimizing it for a long time now, and I will continue to do so indefinitely. The system has four components:


I call the capacity to maintain Attention on ONE thing Deep-Focus. This essentially means the capacity to deal with distractions, both internal and external.
You can train to deal with internal distractions through Meditation.
As for external distractions, you can deal with them in two ways: eliminating distractions, and building resilience to them.

The heroic level here is being able to maintain Deep-Focus despite distractions.

The Energy system is one of the most important systems of your life. It’s an enabler, which impacts EVERY area of your life. The system has four components:


Energy management is the reason why I track my work/rest oscillation every day [<link; medium length].

Effectiveness means being productive in what matters. This is a matter of gaining clarity on what matters, prioritization, and sequencing [<link; short].

Efficiency measures your actual productive-output. Optimizing productive output with the goal of maximizing productive-density [<link; short] is what I’m focusing on at the moment.

Then there’s also wasted-time minimization. We might think of wasted time as dead time, to use Robert Greene’s vivid terminology, which he contrasts with alive time. Dead time has a hidden opportunity cost because it steals time away from alive time. Although you may not see it in the moment, dead time compounds, and over the course of a lifetime, it amounts to a LOT of time.

The heroic level here is eliminating wasted time entirely.”

“Don’t you take any days off?”


If you manage your energy properly, you don’t need to.
If you work on what’s most meaningful, why would you want to?”

Beautiful Systems: Defaults

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the Defaults Life-System?”

“Think what a default is in computer use. Let’s say you have a menu with several options. Whenever you open the menu, one of them is always initially selected. That’s the default option.

Now, let’s say you use one of those options much more than the others. Ideally, you’d be able to change the default option, to turn the option you use most into the default option.

The same in life. We have a default option for all kinds of things, which serves as a cognitive shortcut.

I call all the default options in our life combined, the Defaults System.

One function of the system is to conserve energy and save time. This can work for or against us, depending on the nature of the default option and the context. By taking control of the system, you increase the likelihood that the system works in your favor.

There’s two aspects to it:
– examining and optimizing the existing defaults
– creating new defaults

As concerns the former, this means taking inventory of your defaults and eliminating those that do not serve you, or serve you too little. This requires self-examination and discipline.

As concerns the latter, you’re turning the system into a compass such that, in any moment, you know what you have to do.

For instance, you can ask yourself:

What’s the default macro-practice?

For me, it’s Loving Presence.

What’s the default micro-practice?
What are the details of the practice?

What is the mental component?
What do you want to think?

What is the behavioral component?
What do you want to do?

What is the representational component?
How do you want to think about it, to mentally represent it?”

On Wisdom

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“The four virtues of Stoicism (in Brian Johnson’s interpretation) are:


The four virtues of Buddhism (which I also learned from Brian) are:

Loving Kindness

Interestingly, Wisdom is not among them.”

“What is Wisdom?”

“It’s one of those things that seem obvious. You think you have a firm grasp of them, but once you take a closer look, they start to slip through your fingers like sand. I call these, slippery concepts.”

“What do you mean by it?

Let’s take the virtues of Stoicism and those of Buddhism as reference points.

Where does Wisdom stand in relation to those virtues?”

“In my view, Wisdom is not a virtue, but all virtues.

Wisdom is a system of meaning.

Visually, it looks something like this:

A small part of the Wisdom system of meaning

On Beauty and Templating

Regain the freedom to create like a child. (Josh Waitzkin)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I beautify any day?”

“The day is but a string of moments. Beautify as many as possible.”

“How can I beautify any moment?”

Have a system for it.

For instance you can create a practical template [<link; medium read]. 

Start with the fixed part of the template – the framework. Something like:


And then start adding your (idiosyncratic) details:




– Life-Artist / Creator 

Connect with your Inner-Artist/Child.”

“But I’m not an artist.”

Everybody’s an Artist. They’ve just forgotten it.


Meta-Values [<link; short read]
– Love
– Play
– Gratitude
– Simplicity
– Balance

Purpose / Ikigai (expressed with one word)
– Connect 





That’s your moment-to-moment map. The tendency (or at least my tendency) is to add a lot of details to it, but the goal is to have as few as possible.

Eliminate all but the most powerful ones.

The Meaning part represents the Macro level. 

SEE the Macro in the Micro [<link; medium read] of the moment.

Moment to moment to moment, seek to align the Doing with the Meaning through the Being and the Feeling.”

Beautiful Systems: Simplicity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Simplicity as a system?”

“It’s a deconstruction and systematization of the simplification process. A practical blueprint.

The system visually looks like this: 

All the components of the system are mental models.”

“Can you give a few details on how it works?”

“Let’s say you have a set of data-points you want to simplify. How can you do it optimally?

One way is through filtering. That’s essentially asking two questions:

What 20% of the inputs are responsible for 80% of the outputs?
What’s the most important / impactful thing? (from within the 20%)”

“What if there’s more than one most important / impactful thing?”

“Think of it as your focus-point. Isolating them individually allows you to explore each of them in depth.

Another way to simplify them is through elimination of data-points. 

What can you eliminate?

“Would you eliminate the 80%?”

“Depends on what you’re after. In some cases, yes, that’s the optimal approach. But in other cases, you just want to refine the data set. You can metaphorically think of it as editing, or pruning. You’re cutting away some branches to allow the rest to grow.

Another elimination approach is paraphrasing, eliminating data-points by rephrasing the language.

What can you express with fewer words?

The final way to simplify them is through integration. Joining data-points together to form a new emergent whole.”

The Memento Game 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I stop forgetting what’s essential?”

Have a system for it.

There’s two aspects to it:
little daily rituals, and

Daily rituals might include
getting clear on the macro every day [<link; short length],
a daily morning refresher of your values and your purpose [<link; medium],
having a selection of powerful images that change randomly on the desktop of your computer [<link; medium],
having a selection of short powerful quotes that you can randomize [<link; medium] and consume in small bites throughout the day…”

“Wisdom snacks?”

“Nice way of putting it.

They might include contemplating your antilibrary [<link; medium] every day – a daily reminder of the limits of your knowledge –,
or a selection of inspiring books you read (or reread) from every day.
It might even include having some meaningful tattoos [<link; short] and actually looking at them.”

Conquering addiction

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I love Magic the Gathering. For many reasons. The problem is, for me, it has addictive qualities. It’s immensely engaging. When I start playing, I find it hard to stop. I can literally play it all day. 

I’ve had several failed attempts to keep it in check in the past. Until now.”

“Isn’t it too early to tell?”

“I’m not basing my conclusion just on the recent successes, but on the system I have in place.

I like to think of Magic as two games in one. The actual game, and the meta-game of keeping it under control and looking for ways to transfer insights and concepts from Magic to the Meta-Game (with capital letters) that is my life – what I call The Beautiful Game [<link; medium read].”

“So meta-game is a higher order game, and Meta-Game (with capital letters) is the highest order game.”


The system is part of the meta-game. Optimizing the system is also part of the meta-game.”

“What does the system look like?”

“It has several components.

How long did I play today? 

This is a key aspect. When playing Magic I have a tendency to lose track of time. Moreover, the impulse to play it activates repeatedly throughout the day. By tracking it, I can tell at a glance that I’ve reached the limit for the day.

Observation/Embodiment (Presence)
What is noteworthy?
How do I feel?

This has to do with noticing certain impulses / desires as they arise, and creating space [<link; short read] for decision-making. It also has to do with noticing cognitive biases and the fluctuations of my emotional state.

What’s the best decision? (pre-decision)
Was it the best decision? (post-decision)
Why did I make that decision?
What were the failure-points?
What can I learn from this?

This has to do with decision-analysis, identifying failure-points and behavioral-patterns, troubleshooting and optimizing, and inner exploration. 

Buffering/Back-up (Preparation)
What are the red-flags?
What will I do when I fail?

This has to do with highlighting and preparing for conditions that are likely to lead to poor decision-making, and creating a protocol for dealing with failure.

Intention-Setting (Priming)
What’s the practice?

This is perhaps the most important of all. Having a system in place is useless if you don’t apply it. I noticed I have a tendency to forget, so I have all these written down and I read them right before starting to play.”

On Thinking and Systems

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize Thinking?”

“Deconstruct it. Think of it as a system, identify its subsystems, and optimize each of them one by one.”

“What are the subsystems of the Thinking system?”

“This is a work in progress. The model at this stage, looks like this.

Filtering system
Processing system
Retrieval system

Viewed through the Input/Output filter, it looks like this:

Filtering system
Integration system (Processing system)

Organization system (Processing system)
Retrieval system

Each of these has subsystems of its own.

Filtering system

With this system, you limit and prioritize information.

Viewed through the Quality/Quantity filter, it has two components:

Quantity-Filtering: reducing the amount of information to process, by having macro-filters in place. I, for instance, have the Practical as a macro-filter, which gives me a clear focus and eliminates a huge amount of information. 

Quality-Filtering: focusing only on quality information. The quality of the output is dependent on the quality of the input. I’m very selective about the information I absorb.

Integration system

With this system, you improve the efficiency of information absorption, by extracting the essence of the information, and connecting it to the existing information. 

Organization system

With this system, you make the information usable. You’re essentially structuring it, through modelling and categorization.”

“What do you mean by modelling?”

“The intentional construction and refinement of conceptual mental models. 

Retrieval system

With this system, you make the information accessible. Not being able to access the information is almost the same as not having it. 

Intuition is key in this process, as it can navigate a huge amount of information in a heartbeat. But to optimally make use of it, you need to tell it what to look for. 

That’s where an essential system comes in:

Querying System: The Art of Asking Questions”

Systems Optimization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize this (life-)system?”

“First, identify the components of the system. Make a list of them.

Second, identify the interconnections between the components. For instance you can actually draw lines between them, thus creating a network. This helps with evaluation.

The goal is to identify the 20% of components responsible for 80% of the output.

“How would you practically do that?”

“One way to think of it is by using the top-down/bottom-up model.

The top-down approach means removing components until you’re left with only the desired ones. This is highly inefficient, because you have to remove 80% of components. The more components the system has, the more work it entails. Moreover, removing things is psychologically difficult.

The bottom-up approach means removing all components, and adding them back in one by one. This prompts a fresh reevaluation of each component, and often results in the serendipitous creation of new essential connections, thus creating a new emergent pattern.

I like to do it by using two lists. One with the components of the system; the other a ‘blank slate‘ which I populate by adding items from the other list.”

“Do you do this with pencil and paper?”

“You can, but I prefer to do it digitally. I use Google Keep for this process.

The Optimization System

I have a section called ‘Optimization‘, in which there are two lists: one called ‘80‘, the other ‘20‘. I start by copying the contents of the system I’m working on in the 80-list. Then I start copying / moving items from the 80-list to the 20-list.”

Access / Retrieval System

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I access my mental resources more effectively?”

“This is an important ongoing project of mine, which I call the Access / Retrieval System. This is part of a much larger project, which I call Operationalizing Knowledge [<link; short length].

The Access / Retrieval System is essentially a mental-checklist. More specifically, it is a combination between a checklist and a mindmap – a mindmap-checklist. It looks something like this:

A mindmap-checklist

All the nodes are mental resources.

C is the central access-point.
1, 2, 3 are micro-checklists.
Together they form the macro-checklist.

If the access order of the micro-checklists matters, it is a linear-checklist. Otherwise, it is a nonlinear-checklist.”

“What’s the reasoning behind it?”

“Think how many nodes this little network has.”


“That’s a lot of information to access at once, especially when in the heat of the moment. By sequencing it, you make it more manageable, hence usable.

In case of linear-checklists, the access-order is as follows:

– 1
— a1
— b1
— c1
– 2

In case of nonlinear-checklists, the access-order is as follows:

– x
– x
– x

I like to describe this one as ‘1-3‘ – you access 1 node, followed by 3 more.

At this stage you evaluate which micro-checklist is most useful for the situation at hand, and start with accessing that.”