🦊 Quick Brown Fox #9

Hey friends,

I hope you’re doing well, and staying safe. As of today, it’s been a full month since I moved on from my full-time job. So far, so good! I’m ramping up well with my part-time job at an AI startup, I’ve been making great progress on my personal project goals, and I’m enjoying my work every day.

That said, I did start to feel a bit of exhaustion last week — I had prioritized too many new projects on top of my existing workload. I was also a bit overdue for a personal planning session, so I took this opportunity to review and re-prioritize.

Today I’ll share some learnings from my review:

  • Prioritizing Projects

  • Choosing What to Learn

  • Balancing Productivity with Play (featuring some fun new animations!)

Let’s get into it!


Prioritizing Projects

This week, I attended an online session in a course called Building a Second Brain, taught by Tiago Forte. One of the major lessons in the first weeks of the course is about how to prioritize your projects. Perfect timing!

Tiago prescribes a prioritization technique called PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) to sort through all the ongoing projects you have, and make a rational list that you can actually work with.

So, what makes a project a project in PARA? Here are two key attributes:

  • It should have a specific outcome. You should have a way of knowing that you finished the work, so you can actually mark it as DONE.

  • It should have a timeline. This one is tricky for most of us — the thing is, it’s not really about assigning aggressive deadlines for yourself. It’s more about avoiding those projects that just seem to go on and on forever.

I’m still only a couple of weeks into the course, but I took the early lessons from PARA and worked through my own project list. I realized that many of the items in my list were not actually projects — they were long-term goals. I was able to extract smaller / short-term projects out of them, and assign some tentative timelines.

Immediately, it became clear I simply did not have the time for everything on my list.

I prioritized what mattered most, and dropped the rest.

Afterward, I felt lighter, and more confident with the clarity and focus of each project I chose. Going back to a sentiment I shared at the end of my last newsletter — reflection is an opportunity to be more intentional about what we are doing. Everything you do will feel more enjoyable once you consciously choose to do it.

P.S. If you’re curious to learn more about Building a Second Brain, check out a recent podcast Tiago did explaining his core concepts (alternatively, here’s a thread my friend Ramses put together with summary notes on the interview).


Choosing What To Learn

I love to learn. This is a strength, but it can also be a weakness.

Often, I'll get so excited about a new online course, I'll sign up right away. Then, I'll find myself trying to juggle too many projects and learning commitments…

Eventually, I’ll pause and review the list to trim it down. I try to ensure each project meets one of two criteria:

A: Does it help me achieve a new goal? (e.g. by teaching me a new tool)

With new goals, I have to be careful. Is the underlying goal truly important, or is it the shiny new tool that's attracting me? The novelty of a tool will eventually wear off –– so the best way to ensure I stick with it is by having a clear outcome / goal that motivates me.

B: Does it help me achieve an existing goal? (e.g. by improving my competence with an existing tool)

With existing goals, it's important to consider the law of diminishing returns. Even if I use a tool every day, it doesn't mean learning more about the tool will help me. If I’m at “80% proficiency”, new knowledge won't really change my output. In that case, it’s better to invest my efforts elsewhere.


Balancing Productivity with Play

As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…

Even Tiago Forte (who is widely known as one of the “masters of productivity”) noted that when he looks at his project list, and doesn’t see anything fun, he gets depressed.

We need to balance our productivity with play.

In that vein, I spent some time this week playing with a new toy: an animation app called Looom (Yes, this is actually Looom with three O’s, and is different from the screen recording software named Loom. The naming is unfortunate…). The app has a very simple and playful design. It seems particularly good for making colorful animations out of rough lines and abstract shapes. I’m having a ton of fun with it!

Here are a couple of animations I made with the app:

If you have an iPad and want to play around with Looom, check out this quick intro video. Note that with the latest version of the app, you don’t even need an Apple Pencil! You can just draw with your finger.

I’m excited to keep playing with Looom, and I also plan to check out the animation tools within the Procreate app (that’s what I use to draw all my illustrations). From what I can tell, it’s more feature-rich and flexible, so it’ll probably work better for longer / more advanced animations. I’ll likely stick with Looom when I want to keep it simple and just have some fun.


That’s all for today! I’ll leave you with a discovery I made recently — I found the 🦊Quick Brown Fox in real life! Don’t believe me? See the fox for yourself.

Till next time,

—Salman