The Gestalt's Garden

To grow is to be able to tackle more complex problems

| 4 min (830 words)
#methodology #zettelkasten #get-things-done #personal-growth #creative-system #learn

When I started university, my life was much simpler than it is now!

My job, as a student, was to pass four or five subjects per semester. Even then, I felt overwhelmed, at the limit of my capacity to:

It’s not something that surprises me now, either. At that time, I didn’t use a diary, had no to-do lists, and my notes were pitiful or, at best, incomplete.

For all practical purposes, I did everything «in my head»: it was normal that I always felt on the edge!

Since those early years at university, fortunately, I have improved.

For example, I now manage my tasks using the Getting Things Done methodology. Thanks to this methodology, I can manage much larger amounts of tasks with different types of importance, urgency, and deadlines.

It is a capability that I now take for granted in my life.

So much so that it seems ridiculous to me that my “self” of the past suffered stress in college with the 20 or 30 tasks he had open at any given time, today, I have more than 250 tasks pending, and this does not cause me any stress or problem: I can keep order perfectly well.

What is the trick to the Get Things Done methodology?

Don’t manage your tasks «in your head».

The central idea of Getting Things Done is to empty your head of all the information related to your tasks. In this way, you manage this information systematically using lists and calendars stored in a physical medium outside your head.

In this sense, Getting Things Done solves the problem of how to manage and put order to the pending tasks in my life.

…but the university was more than just organizing and accomplishing tasks.

There was also another factor at play: learning new ideas.

Writing notes is an aid to learning

One of the best ways to learn new ideas is to write: to take notes on what you want to learn.

This is why note-taking in class is so highly recommended.

The problem is that «taking notes in the normal way» suffers from the same problem as «organizing your tasks mentally»: in both cases there is an upper limit to the complexity you can handle.

My notes at university

Do you know why my notes at university were pitiful?

Don’t get me wrong; I was very serious about taking notes in class; in fact, I usually filled out three or four pages of notes for each lesson.

My problem was that I couldn’t manage so many notes efficiently. There was a point, in the middle of the semester, where my notes simply degenerated into chaos—becoming useless.

I found it almost impossible:

This is why, at university, I focused on learning without relying on my notes.

I still took notes in class because it helped me stay focused and pay attention, and occasionally, my notes would help me remember an idea, but not for much else.

Normal note-taking scales poorly with complexity

In short, if you take notes normally, your notes can quickly degenerate into useless chaos as the number of notes and relationships between them grows.

In other words, normal note-taking scales poorly with complexity.

Zettelkasten does scale well with complexity

Relatively recently, when I was only about six months away from finishing my PhD, I discovered a methodology for systematic note-taking: Zettelkasten.

If Getting Things Done solves the problem of how to manage and organize your tasks, Zettelkasten solves the problem of how to manage and organize your notes.

The promise of Zettelkasten is that it will help you to….

From personal experience, I can say this is true.

My notes (now from work) no longer degenerate into chaos; this time, they are a fundamental tool that enhances my learning.

Conclusion: Find tools to tackle more complex problems

The two methodologies I have shown you (Getting Things Done and Zettelkasten) have a common goal: to increase the complexity you can manage efficiently.

In other words, they allow you to address more complex problems.

Since I started at university, I have changed in many ways. But the element that I feel has been the most crucial and differentiating in my life has been: finding tools to manage more complex problems.

If I could go back in time to talk to my university self, I would recommend him to learn about Getting Things Done and Zettelkasten.

But, as I can’t do that, I recommend it to you who are reading these words :^)

And you, what strategies have you found to tackle more complex problems?


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