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It Takes Time

Reading this summary of Robert Caro’s research/writing process the biggest thing that stands out is, it takes a bunch of time to do the research. A book with 7 years of research? A series of books that’s been 50 years in the making?

I dream of being able to dive into what interests me with that depth. As with many people, the issue is that I need to earn money today so that my family can eat.

The second thing that stands out is his calendar to track the goal of 1000 words a day. This is similar to ideas in How to Write a Lot, just do the work and be accountable for your time.

Finally, many of his research notes are on display but this is only possible because he used paper for notes. I do wonder sometimes what happens to my notes after I’m gone. I suppose they provide value to others if I write about them on the internet, but then that only survives as long as someone pays the bills. No one will stumble upon my notes a decade later is some forgotten box at an estate sale. They’ll be lost on my encrypted drive.


Elizabeth Thai wrote a great piece that reminds us we need to prune our consumption habits from time to time. Back in 2008 a writer I followed went indy and I was in the first 10 people to subscribe to his site to support the content. But slowly he stopped writing about the stuff I was interested in. I no longer remember if it was him changing, or my interests changing but either way I was skipping his content regularly and still paying for it.

For a long time I felt bad about my desire to unsubscribe from his content because I was supporting a guy with a kid on the way who had gone out on his own. Eventually I did drop the subscription though because I was out of money to spend on supporting creators during a financially bleak part of my life.

Now, I have a budget and to bring in a new content creator that I support I have to drop someone else. Having this constraint helps me limit my Substack subscriptions to those that are currently useful to me instead of letting them pile up.

I’d encourage you to do the same thing with creators you support. I also encourage you to go through your RSS feeds and remove the ones that are active that you’re not reading. Don’t just remove the ones that are inactive, I follow a number of friends sites that don’t currently write much, but I always enjoy when they pop up out of the ether with something to say.

There is so much content coming at us that we could spend all our time consuming stuff and far too often our RSS feeds, read later queues, and book lists are wish-lists. They’re not something we could ever get through even if we had unlimited time.

Feel free to let go of that content you won’t ever get to.

Put Devices Away

This is the next piece in my ongoing writing on getting more time to think.

One of the most insidious time sucks around us is our digital devices. While people often cite their phone as the deepest darkest hole of wasted time, it’s not just your phone that can be a problem. Just last night I spent an hour viewing movie trailers on my computer. While the act of viewing movie trailers isn’t a bad thing, I continued to think that I should not be doing this time wasting act. I was just bored and YouTube was easy.

For some it’s not YouTube, it’s news. They can’t help themselves as they traverse a number of sites looking for stories that are interesting, where interesting shows the depth that humans can sink to. They love to find the dirt published on the political party they dislike. They feel righteous exhortation when they read about things they agree with. They troll the comments just to see what people are saying.

But most content online is all about stealing your time. Websites write headlines that greatly inflate the worth of the content they just wrote. It wasn’t as bad as the headline suggests and the other side most often isn’t as dumb as they want you to believe[1].

Online business doesn’t want you offline. They can’t monetize quiet time reading a physical book. They can’t possibly grab your attention as you wash the dishes in silence. So all of the companies in the attention economy want anyone to grab your attention online just in case they can steal it away.

One of the best things I’ve done to stop my unwanted trolling online is to take my phone out of my pocket as often as possible. I try to put it in my shoulder bag when I’m walking around and let it sit in the front hallway when I’m at home. I already mute everything but my wife and oldest daughter, but the very fact of having my device in my pocket means that I reach for it if there is a split second of time my brain feels slightly bored.

I don’t need to check when packages are arriving for the 5th time today. I don’t need to glance at my email to delete the spam that has come in.

Instead, check out my rules for readers and keep a book close at hand, or just sit and think. Have an original thought and jot it down on some scrap of paper for later transfer to whatever your note system is.

Remember, you don’t always have to be productive, but we’ll talk more about that next.

Something Interesting

There were some more comments on guns vs books on last week’s post. I’d still love more discussion on it.

I finished Racidalized by Cory Doctorow this week and wrote up a brief review of the book.

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  • [1] See The Other Side is not Dumb: https://humanparts.medium.com/the-other-side-is-not-dumb-2670c1294063

One response to “PKM Weekly Oct 8 2023 – Issue 091”

  1. Dan Barnett Avatar
    Dan Barnett

    Curtis said: “Dan’s point still stands. This is not an obvious good to many people. Many people feel threatened by books they don’t agree with. They are seemingly incapable of understanding ideas that are contrary to their beliefs. They fall into the trap of thinking that anything they deem as bad, is thus bad for everyone. I don’t think Dan is trying to say otherwise, he’s trying to construct an argument to show how the two are not the same idea.”
    Yes. The arguments for stockpiling guns and stockpiling books should be different since their purposes are different. And that means we have to situate them in a larger cultural context that seeks to balance “individual freedom” with what used to be called “the common good.” To the extent that the arguments for guns and books become the same, the idea of the common good collapses; to the extent that they are two different arguments, there remains at least some hope.