What is the purpose of having lots of input, if there is no output?

There hasn’t been much time for introspection, but some thoughts have occupied my mind lately. There is an itch that I am longing to scratch, but every time I sit down in front of the computer I’m distracted by something. An email that I really should have written three days ago. Social media. Random YouTube videos. And I forget to scratch that itch. It grows, and eats at me.

It has become increasingly obvious. I am consuming too much, and creating too little. Interesting information flow through my brain, I am able to recall only fragments. I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff that come through, but don’t have a structure that I can put them into, to digest and later search for. I imagine a filing system within my brain that doesn’t work, with papers covering every available surface, the desk, the couch, even on top of the lamp shade. I’m standing in the midst of this mess, looking longingly at the cover pages and the unfinished drafts and I’m completely paralysed with what to look at first, because THERE IS JUST TOO MUCH.

Deep breath. You can do it. First take the bunch of papers off the lamp shade, and let the light shine through.

The solution, it seems, is to allocate time for output. The past two years I have set targets for number of books to read, and although those targets were always missed I did manage to read a good number of books (46 books in 2016, and 15 books in 2017, not counting the half-read ones). That was a progression from the realisation that I was consuming too much junk material online. I was also able to write reviews for all of the ones that I read, so there was some processing involved after the reading. But, the time allocated for consumption far outweighed the the time allocated for processing or creation.

With the number of unread books that are creeping onto my bed stand, my coffee table and my book shelves, it looks like I will never have the time to finish all that, not to mention make anything out of it. This has become a source of deep-seated anxiety. I want more time. I can never get more time.

This year, call it a resolution if you will, I will focus on balancing quality consumption, and creation. Note that I didn’t put “quality creation”. That is possibly for next year. This year, let’s start with creating something, anything. We can’t refine something that hasn’t been created. This year, let’s give time to creativity, imperfection, and play. Gleeful learning and unapologetic geekiness. Making things because, why not.

So here are the plans:

There will be no more piecemeal reading of non-fiction. I will group my readings and go at them with specific questions and ideas that I have in mind. Let’s call it themed reading. I will take notes, draw mind maps, and in the end consolidate what I’ve learnt and main takeaways, and produce notes or sketches. Here are the topics that have interested me in the past few months:

  • Digital economy (gig economy, robotisation and dehumanisation, cryptocurrency)
  • Geopolitics (mainly between China and USA)
  • Brainworks (how the brain learns, the importance of sleep, effects of social media on the brain)
  • Art (the point of it, how to interpret art, art history)
  • Strategical thinking (Go, war strategies)
  • Living better (cleaning and decluttering, eating better, minimalism)

Language learning will continue, but will be output-oriented. I sometimes feel that language learning is also like pure consumption to me, even if there is more processing involved than just eating blindly. Maybe I enjoy it too much for it to seem like actual work, but there’s also this nagging feeling that I could be retaining much more if I get more serious about those grammar drills and all the unread Japanese and Spanish books on my shelves. So here are some things that may help:

  • Note-taking while reading, translations and summaries on important ideas
  • Essay-writing/short story writing
  • Systematic grammar drills followed up with reading books in target language

I was thinking of going on but perhaps two main points are enough, for the time being. Better keep it simple, and just follow the main idea: allocate more time to process and create, and less time to read and watch mindlessly. I will report back.

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P/s.

Just stumbled upon this video on Facebook, whose ability to read my mind continuously astounds me. Lisa Bu recommends “comparative reading”, which is a useful concept to accompany my “themed reading”. Maybe this can be applied on fiction!
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