« When you don't want to decide | Main | Two Second Poll: How do you like my new blogging style? »

MUS - Trusting and Tracking What Catches Your Fancy


I learned a text tag from a technical writer (I forget the context) that's stuck with me: "MUS," which stands for Might Be Useful. I love it for two reasons. First, it represents an active experimenter because she is aware and observing. You have to pay attention to grab things that MUS. Second, There's the underlying assumption or spark that spoke to you - "Pay attention to this (but I don't know why)." That's an act of faith, actually - what my divinity school graduate and Think, Try, Learn collaborator defines as hope without evidence.

Trusting that an items is important means, of course, you better capture it just in case it pans out. In my Big Arse repository (see My Big-Arse Text File - A Poor Man's Wiki+Blog+PIM) I have thousands of these, of which 90% won't pay off. But that's OK. It's like my talking a lot of photos - Just through random shots some of them will probably work out somehow. A key is efficient capture at the time - use whatever tools and hotkeys you like. It shouldn't be paper, though - too slow to encode and retrieve.

Key, also, is review. Similar to the practice of regularly looking back over your projects, you should see if any MUSes have become IDUes (Is Definitely Useful). I've struggled with how to bake the MUS review habit into my workflow, and now use opportunistic idea review: When I have to create something - an article or a presentation, say - I hit the file and search. Fortunately, I've consistently tagged things so that this works pretty well. Tracking Lessons Learned is an example, as is blogging.

As far as what makes this happen, I'd say it's the magic of being human. The unique combination of your mind, history, and how you've opened yourself to the world dictates what you see, and what you predict might be valuable. I guess it's our MUSe. What catches your fancy will change over time - my anti-library is littered with books I'll probably never crack. But when a gem shows up from my past self - boy is that gratifying.

I'm curious: (How) Do you pay attention to MUSes? What's your MUS repository like? How do you review it?

Reader Comments (4)

It's funny you should post this because just the other day I came across an excellent add-on for Firefox called 'Your Reading List'. It enables me to add a link or a web-page to a reading list if I don't want to read it now but it could (or will be) useful later.

It means I don't have to add a site to my (increasingly long) list of bookmarks but also that I don't have to waste time read all the links in a page immediately. Just click on the reading list icon and they're all stored there - sort of like online clippings I guess.

Other than that I've got an active Someday/Maybe list on paper (I'm afraid) which I look at maybe once a week. It's useful for ideas for birthday and Xmas presents and other stuff that I think 'wow I would like to give that a try some time'. I'm trying to keep Someday/Maybe lists under each role that I have so that they're more organised.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

What do you mean don’t use paper? It is the best tool that I have. It never breaks down or runs out of batteries or has a software glitch. Yes it gets wet sometimes and sometimes it gets stained but that’s about it, I have work arounds for that.

My idea capture tool is the same thing as my notebook/to do list/monthly planner. It is simply a notebook with stuff in it.

It is very simple. I don’t use colored crayons, or special boxes to mark off steps in my action folders. It’s a notebook, with inside the front cover it holds my: 4 week planner (a hand drawn on 3x5 index card), my to do list, various other lists typically: ACTION CARDS (more about later). In the back cover it holds my follow up materials, like reading material when you are stuck at the red light or reference material to somthing you are working on.

It helps to use those little wax paper envelopes they give you at the post office. They are very durable and dont tear. These are great for slipping 3x5 cards into. Use a binder clip to hold them to the cover of the note book, the binder clip also functions as a block to keep them from slipping out, which is not a problem if you face the opening of the envelope toward the spine of the notebook. A bigger envelope holds 8 1/2 x 11 pagers in the back cover.

A drawing of this might help...

As for your initial thought “…the key is initial capture..” I don’t waste time on thinking about this at all. For me my notebook functions really as a journal with a things to do list/planner attached to the front of it. It is the only thing I need to carry with me, hence anytime an idea comes to mind I can simply jot it down as the journal is always with me. Sometimes I jot a thought down on scrap paper (say I am behind the wheel and cannot reach the journal) and then it finds its way into the journal/notebook.

It’s funny how most great ideas come to me when I am engaged in some sort of rote/brain task. E.g. typing, or driving or showering. Of course this is why this entire thread is important in the first place. If we could automatically decide what time of day we would come up with our creative thoughts, idea capture would no longer be an issue would it? We simply sit down at 5 pm and start to write. But it doesnt work like that does it?

THE INDEX ANOTHER KEY INGREDIENT. Anyhow, to take my idea one step further. Near the front pages of my journal is another thing (in addition to the to do list list/monthly planner/action cards). An index to all those thoughts in my journal. I make the index as I go, sitting around with nothing to do. Or more likely, I am paging through my journal to see just what so and so said in that discussion group and I find a whole bunch of thoughts that I had written down about restaurants.

So I go back to my index in the front of the notebook where I had already noted “ Italian restaurants…p. 14” and I make another entry for “restaurants with music…p. 68.”

SO the index is maintained on a come and go basis mostly when I am referencing stuff.

MASTER INDEX...One nice thing: I can later transfer this index to a master list on a computer file. Where I can have entries based on journal number and page number. So I go back to my master list under FOOD it might say “African food….23/45” meaning journal 23 page 45 and I enter “Italian …70/68”

I can make multiple entries for different stuff e.g. for Nite Life, Food, Music, Euope…, all based on say entry: “70/68”

ANOTHER BONUS. This might seem funny but really the great thing about the index is I can basically track where my brain was thinking over some course of time. Most journals take about 6 weeks to 2 months to fill. So I can look at the page numbers and figure out.. “Oh in mid October I was thinking about monster movies, and then I started thinking about the biographies and then I got started with that medicare issue and you can see I came back to movies later and then I started to make a list of nite spots…”

It might seem odd, but it very interesting to see where your stream of counscious or whatver you call the journal went, over the COURSE OF TWO MONTHS, say.

I.e. it’s a stream of consciousness thing based not on minutes or hours but on weeks. It’s very interesting..

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjp in MD

Glad my paper point got you going, JP :-) Yes, paper has tons of affordances (check out [ this reference | http://matthewcornell.org/2009/03/spotlight-data-detectors-adsense-champagne-pim-os-budget.html#1 ] re: the term), it's just that I have trouble imaginging it scaling to thousands of entries. Of course it's possible - clever paper bookkeeping solutions have been around for centuries, such as keeping a manual index. But that's storage overhead - slow compared to computers. Some clients use a hybrid approach, i.e., something like [ Paper Tiger | http://www.thepapertiger.com/ ], but full-on digital works well for these kinds of entries.

Note: I love to use paper for capture: my legal pad is my trusted friend, and never strays from its home by my phone :-) And using it for action management can be effective. It's the default system I set new clients up with if they don't have a preferred tool.

[reading further] Good - we get to the index idea. Would it scale to 2000 entries? I imagine you'd split at some low-ish number, maybe 100? Then we're into volumes...

I've also seen the hybrid action/capture approach you outline, if I understand correctly. Hey, if it works, great! Re: "not having to think about capture," when do you do your indexing? If not on-the-fly, then it becomes an inbox.

[reading further] Good (again) - we get to the hybrid approach. Smart. For the fully digital solution, I have my volumes with me in my laptop. Of course I still need the appropriate files for any actions I'm taking. Re: chronological order, I have the same thing - time-stamped entries - though I think I use this information in a less structured way than you. Then again, I just did my annual Lessons Learned review, which goes back a year. I've been thinking about creative ways to slice-and-dice the temporal information like you suggest. In my case it would be relatively easy because I tag most everything. All the program would do is create a histogram for tags, plotted against time on the X axis. I could do it myself, but I don't do programming anymore. I'd hire it out, but I'm not convinced of the value...

Thanks for the great thinking!

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Hi, Elizabeth. Are you talking about [ Read It Later: Save Your One Read Wonders | http://readitlaterlist.com/ ]? There's also [ Instapaper | http://www.instapaper.com/ ], which I've had people rave about. Basically this tool is a front-end to a new "To Read" list.

I have no problem with a paper-based S/M list. I do the same! I don't review it as frequently as you do, but it's not a problem the way I use it: I don't put any important-but-not-quite-ready projects on it. A small bastardization of GTD that works for me.

Thanks for the comment!

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.