Getting Shit Done

Designing your system for creativity: Outputs

Watched Designing Your System for Creativity | March 2023 by Oliver Burkeman from Oliver Burkeman

Build a personalised practice for getting creative work done, consistently and enjoyably, in the face of distraction, procrastination, and endless competing demands on your time.

Day 1:

Designing your system for creativity: Inputs


  1. Make a mess, then clean it up
  2. The Daily Deliverable
  3. Relearning to read
  4. Removing roadblocks

Guest speaker:

Alix Spiegel — NPR This American Life — take in a lot of content, then give it a little space to let the interesting stuff filter up


Fredkin’s paradox — being torn between paths forward — reframe: if both options are meaningful, the decision is actually less important

Getting Shit Done

Designing your system for creativity: Inputs

Watched Designing Your System for Creativity | March 2023 by Oliver Burkeman from Oliver Burkeman

Build a personalised practice for getting creative work done, consistently and enjoyably, in the face of distraction, procrastination, and endless competing demands on your time.


  1. A road map for imperfect creativity
  2. Finding the time
  3. How to think about ideas
  4. Building an idea farm: collecting
  5. Building an idea farm: planting

Guest speakers:

Tools he uses:

Organizing approach:

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps.”
— Richard Feynman

Overnight challenge:

Choose one to do before second half of talk tomorrow:

  1. begin a 30-day challenge
  2. cross a creative bridge — make a significant transition — something that closes some options
  3. let go of a project or idea

Day 2:

Designing your system for creativity: Outputs


The point of reading

Replied to The Imperfectionist: How to forget what you read by Oliver Burkeman (

This is an understandable response to the information environment in which we find ourselves, I think. After all, there’s just so much useful and interesting stuff out there, and so little time, that it feels incumbent on us to take ownership, so to speak, of the little we do manage to consume – either by literally memorising it, or storing it in some well-organised external system. Otherwise, wasn’t reading it in the first place a waste of our precious time?

This utilitarian perspective is easy to internalize in productivityland. But it shares the same core as the mindset that books aren’t worth reading, that truths ought to be distillable down into a short listicle, that fiction is a waste.

I suspect part of the urge to read more, learn more, is related to self-doubt. When we lack confidence in our opinions, when we lean on quoting others instead of using our own words, it’s rooted in fear that we are not enough. We seek more information to affirm our beliefs; the quest for certainty is a classic expression of anxiety. As a recovering perfectionist, I have suffered from difficulty making decisions and lack of confidence in my choices that I hoped learning more and practicing more would resolve. (Obviously it’s a balance — learning nothing and basing opinions solely on vibes isn’t a great approach either.)

It’s easy to operate on the assumption that the main point of picking up a book – a non-fiction or work-related book, at any rate – is to add to your storehouse of data, hoarding information and insights like a squirrel hoarding nuts, ready for some future moment when you’ll finally take advantage of it all.


But that’s a recipe for living permanently in the future, never quite reaping the value of life in the present moment. Better, I’d say, to think of reading not as preparation for living later on, but as one way of engaging with the world, one way of living, right here in the present.

[T]he point of reading, much of the time, isn’t to vacuum up data, but to shape your sensibility.


Sometimes we should trust the vibes. Our individualist perspective means that each person is expected to become their own expert in every topic so they can have “informed opinions.” Instead, what if we let ourselves lean on community as well as expertise to guide us? Accept that we cannot master all subjects, and don’t need to hold a strong opinion on everything. I want my nonfiction to have opinions, not pretend at neutrality. And I think that’s linked to what Burkeman’s talking about: we’re choosing whose opinions to listen to when we read an article or a book.

Getting Shit Done

The idea of needing motivation is demoralizing

Liked The Imperfectionist: In your own way by Oliver Burkeman (

I think the assumption that you need to “motivate yourself” in order to take action is a big part of what stops us taking action on the things that matter most.

The premise is that if you want to get around to what matters, you’ll need to gin yourself up, fighting your natural tendency toward inertia, summoning fresh reserves of energy, plus a can-do mindset. And that you can expect all this to require a constant replenishment of effort…

See also: The fears that hold us back

Anxiety is Distrust

Getting Shit Done

Collecting thoughts

Liked The Imperfectionist: How to have ideas (and other ideas) (

A simple system for having good ideas:
I learned to keep an ever-expanding list of random thoughts, adding to it indiscriminately, never holding back because an idea seemed mediocre, stupid, or derivative.

Simple. Love it.

Also like the meta of combining several smaller thoughts into a list rather than dismissing them as too small.

Getting Shit Done

Article pairing: don’t let habits get in the way

Gamification might be bad, actually? – Elizabeth Bear

Not only does it turn your entire life into filling out timesheets, as if everything we do needs to be self-improvement or a billable hour (#hustleculture) but it also changes the goal, right? So the goal stops being “I want to play guitar because I enjoy playing guitar….And instead, the goal becomes “I should play guitar because I am supposed to play guitar so I get to fill in the little box on my habit tracker.”

One thing I learned in my twenties, which I am trying to relearn now, is that there are only two reasons to do things: because you want to, or because you have to.

The Imperfectionist: Against good habits – Oliver Burkeman

I think one of the subtler psychological obstacles to building a creative and fulfilling life – in other words, to actually getting around to the things we most want to do with our finite weeks on earth – is the idea that we first need to become the kind of person who does those things all the time.


Listened to Austin Kleon interview Oliver Burkeman


Loved 4000 Weeks, enjoy Burkeman’s newsletter The Imperfectionist, and like Austin Kleon’s newsletters and blog. Kleon asked some interesting questions.

Tried listening on 1.25x speed which someone recommended to help keep my attention, and I think it helped.