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"Interesting, but not useful," or Does it pass the scribble test?

As I get older, and after having adopted Getting Things Done to help keep my life sane, I find that I'm getting a little more conscious of how I spend my time, both at work (I've always been fairly focused there) and in life. Maybe it's the relentless ticking of the clock, but I'm getting more rigorous in addressing something my five year old daughter recently said: "Daddy, that's interesting, but not useful" (pronounced "in-stirring", and an amazing thought!)

To that end I've been re-evaluating the inputs I allow into my life, including my Bloglines feeds, the conversations I have, the books I read, and, generally, how I choose spend my time. Are they interesting? By definition they all provide something of value to me - information, stimulation, distraction, calming, etc. But are they all useful?

To help solve this problem I've come up with what I call the "scribble test"
Does reading, listening, talking, etc. cause me to break out my Ubiquitous Capture Tool and scribble like mad?
If so, you've got a live one! This came to me while listening to How to Think Like Einstein: Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius. After a few minutes it was like automatic writing at a séance!

Like any test of this kind, it has limitations, based on what your reading goals are, but in my study of personal productivity, it's one way to decide whether a book's worth my time. (This is important due to the sheer number of books on the topic - Amazon gives me 217,182 hits for "organized.")

Do you have any metrics for evaluating your inputs?


Reader Comments (4)

To help solve this problem I've come up with what I call the "scribble test"
Does reading, listening, talking, etc. cause me to break out my Ubiquitous Capture Tool and scribble like mad?

Great post, Matt. I'm one of those guys who ALWAYS takes too many notes. Really, in college, I'd take notes in my spiral notebook, only to read the book, and add notes to the margin THEN to go and re-write all those notes (color coded!) into ANOTHER spiral notebook.

In fact, those notebooks were so "famous" in the history department at SBCC, that profs actually asked to see them!

Here's a trick I use...as I read a book, I "dot" the margin next to lines/paragraphs I like. I then note the page number in the front cover of the book.

After reading the book, I type up all the lines/paragraphs I liked, and enter them in my "reading" section of my planner. That way, if I ever want to reference a book in my writing/speaking, all I have to do is a quick search for key words or key ideas.

November 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJasonWomack

Thanks for the tips, Jason. Great stuff. I like the idea of indexing relevant/interesting chapters, then storing them in a retrievable way.

November 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

"In Actually getting things done ... I mentioned the 50 page rule for books"

I love to read. I don't have a hard and fast rule in terms of how far into a book to stop. When looking at books in a bookstore or library, they have to pass some even more stringent tests than 50 pages. Some get stopped before they're started. Physically, the book must use its title and appearance for me to even pick it up and consider it. The description inside the front flap or back of the book must grab me enough to go further. I often scan the first few paragraphs (fiction) or table of contents (non-fiction). That can kill it right there.

For books that come to my attention from other sources where they go on a booklist before I physically see the book, I try to jot down why I thought I'd be interested in the book. So that's some additional benefit the book gets before the physical test.

I've decided to stop reading a book anywhere from the first page to 10% from the end. As soon as I realize "I don't care" what else the author has to say, I stop. So I guess I do have a hard and fast rule after all.

August 22, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaren S

Thanks very much for your analysis, Karen. You've expanded on what I was talking about (how to know when to stop), and you've added another category, namely how to decide what to read in the first place.

For the latter, I collect book titles on my [ wish list | http://amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/ref=yourlists_pop_1/102-1523880-7663336 ] when I collect them (from readings, recommendations, etc.) first making sure they seem like reading (I check the TOC, glance at reviews, ...) Then at some point I decided I'm ready fro another title, and then check the book out from our awesome [ library system | http://wmars.cwmars.org/search~S4/ ], or buy it (used if possible).

I don't have a systematic reminder of when to get another book, I just go with it.

Regarding articles I find, I print them out and carry them in my read/review folder, unless they're important reading, in which case I put them into my action system.

Thanks for reading!

August 22, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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