Newsletter #59: Build Systems to Guide Your Attention and Avoid Information Overwhelm

Ramses Oudt
Ramses Oudt
Newsletter #59: Build Systems to Guide Your Attention and Avoid Information Overwhelm

Happy Friday from stormy Amsterdam.

This week's newsletter is all about managing attention through systems and workflows. It's impossible to tell you what you should build, so the next best thing is to point you in the direction of some tutorials, frameworks, and best practices.

Next week I'm hosting a live event with Cara Antonaccio about using Logseq for research. I've also just released a tutorial on how to set up automated templates in Logseq. You can find the links below.

The rest of the newsletter is about ways to build attention-guiding systems. I link to Tiago Forte's guide to building personal dashboards and some resources about how to build dashboards using queries in Logseq. As journaling is an important tool to focus, I also link to some resources I created last year. Finally, I end with an atomic essay on the need for having a personal learning stack.

Do you have suggestions or an atomic essay to (re)publish? Hit reply and let's connect. I'm always looking for useful resources about tools and workflows.

For now, let's dig in.

🔎 Event: How to use Logseq for research

On Wednesday, February 23, I'm hosting a live event with Cara Antonaccio, who is a PhD candidate in the public health field. We'll be talking about her journey towards finding her stack of PKM tools, her current use cases, and what her daily processes look like. We'll also be talking about what other tools she uses in combination with Logseq.

Even if you're not an academic or professional researcher this session will be useful. The processes and research methods we'll discuss can also be applied in professional settings where you need to look up information and make sense of it.

Go here to ask Cara your questions and register to attend live.

📑 How to set up a daily Logseq template

This week I released a tutorial on how to set up a daily template in Logseq. Similar to the automation that the Roam SmartBlocks plugin offers, Logseq has this feature built-in.

Head over to Think Stack to learn how to create Logseq templates and have one appear automatically on your daily Journals page.  Read How to Set Up an Automated Daily Template in Logseq.

🧰 How to build your productivity stack

I found my way into the PKM space through Tiago Forte. Earlier this week he published an excellent article on how to manage what he calls a productivity stack: tools for email, task management, note-taking, and project management.

He starts out by looking at what problems the main tools in our productivity stack aim to solve and identifying the new problems they create. He then moves on to recommend that knowledge workers build a personal dashboard to reduce the information overwhelm that productivity stacks produce.

From the article:

The “job” of Personal Dashboards – which notetaking apps are least suited to – is to guide day-to-day decisions and actions, and “do work” by processing and reframing information in ways that are difficult for a human brain to do on its own.

Your dashboards proactively inform the actions you take every day. To do that, they have to be dynamic and responsive to your changing needs. They have to change in response to how you want information presented in the moment, which facets you want to explore or understand, or based on changes in your digital environment.

He also points out one of the pain points of switching tools:

A personal dashboard has to be architected – designed, and built, and iterated on, and maintained over time.

The information that made sense in your free-form notes isn’t necessarily suited to a more structured tool. That content usually needs to be distilled, synthesized, or restructured before it can be functional as part of a dashboard or collaborative document.

The article ends with some practical pointers on how to start building a productivity stack layer by layer, while minimizing overwhelm.

Read How to Build Your Personal Productivity Stack—From the Dawn of Email to the Rise of Personal Dashboards

🕸 Master Logseq's advanced queries

If you want to build powerful dashboards in Logseq, definitely have a look at queries and advanced queries in particular.

Logseq queries are nothing more than Datascript under the hood, which means you can write Datascript directly in Logseq. Before I get too technical, a better place to start is the Learn Datalog Today tutorial (Datalog and Datascript are very similar).

Learning Datascript might be overkill if you're just starting out, so Logseq power user qwxlea has created an advanced queries tutorial around nine use cases.

✍️ Journal yourself into focus

Last year I published an extensive description of my daily journaling practice. While the article focuses on journaling in Roam and provides Roam templates, the process works the same in any tool that has templates. Read How to Use Roam to Journal for Mental Clarity and Focus.

If you use Logseq, you might want to consider using the Logseq SmartBlocks plugin (available in the Logseq Marketplace) to add template buttons to your daily template. SmartBlock buttons trigger a predefined template, which helps to avoid clutter on the Journals page. Buttons are also handy to quickly run journaling templates when you switch tasks and need to refocus.

If you're interested in cultivating a daily journaling habit, be sure to check out the recording of the workshop I did with my friend Tracy Winchell. Watch Cultivate a Focus Habit With Roam Research (members only).

🏗 Atomic essay: Build a learning stack

Your mind is a sieve. Only a fraction of what travels over your neural pathways sticks; everything else is filtered out.

Forgetting is not a curse. Without forgetting, everything that you ever did or said would haunt you forever. But if you're trying to learn, you want to minimize forgetting in the long term.

Remembering everything is impossible, so we need systems to help us keep the useful bits of knowledge. Our best bet is to externalize a part of our thinking—to build a second brain.

Having a second brain is crucial if you want to be an effective learner. Without digital systems, you'll soon face memory overload—the overwhelm that comes from tracking processes.

Your first brain runs on glucose—your second brain runs on text.

Text levels the playing field. Every device and internet connection handles text. Text is easy to save and search. Plus your source material and own notes will also be on the same level: text.

To learn with text, you have to go through three stages: consume, collect, and create. For each phase, your learning stack enables you to focus on the material instead of the process.

Consuming happens when you read a text. Even when you read 'passively,' you're interacting with the author in your mind. Ask: What is unclear or surprising? What other ideas connect to what's presented here?

Collecting starts when you externalize your thoughts. It begins by highlighting whatever resonates with you. Finding out what the author wants to communicate is also a way to find useful highlights. The collection phase is topped off by taking notes on what you've highlighted.

Creating is in everything you do. By collecting highlights and notes, you're creating resources for your future self. Using the ingredients you've distilled in the collection phase, you can create something new that others will consume, collect, and create with.

This is the cycle from information to insight—one that never ends.

If you want to thrive in this Information Age, you need to build your learning stack. Start now.

I originally wrote this atomic essay in January 2021. Here you can find the essay in Twitter thread format.

Do you want to (re)publish your atomic essay in this newsletter? Hit reply and pitch me your idea, or directly send me a link to your essay.

Join the conversation.

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