I’m proud to announce my new book, The Heart is the Bottleneck.
In this book, I explore and dissect a wide range of topics related to productivity and personal effectiveness. From note-taking and writing, to creativity and curation, to being a digital nomad and working with a virtual assistant. Tying together these topics is the theme of personal growth – tapping into the power of our emotions and intuition to produce more creative and impactful work.
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This book contains 18 in-depth essays previously published on the Praxis blog, edited for clarity and accuracy.
Until 2018, my work was focused mostly on the mind – in my course Building a Second Brain, I teach people how to offload their memory and improve their thinking using technology.
But what I’ve discovered is that there is a limit to how much you can expand your mind without also expanding your heart. When people focus only on their intellect, they soon plateau. The bottleneck to their performance then becomes their heart – their ability to tap into their emotions and hear what their intuition is telling them.
Humans don’t think with their head, for the most part. Even the most rational, analytically minded people don’t make the important decisions using cold logic. We fundamentally think with our hearts, based on what intuitively feels right. This tendency has been treated as a weakness or a mistake. I hear of people trying to “correct” their cognitive biases and remove all emotion from their decision-making.
But I don’t see it that way. The heart incorporates the emotions, which tell us so much about what really matters to us and what we truly want. The heart incorporates the body and its needs. The heart takes us out of the intellect that often limits our view, and into connection with ourselves and others.
It is for this reason that the main theme of this book is personal growth – the expansion of the heart.
The Heart is the Bottleneck chronicles my journey to understand the nature of personal growth. Through my own personal experiences as well as the works of others, I’ve sought to understand how it works without resorting to the religious, the spiritual, or the mystical. To frame it as a practical skill, that anyone can make progress on with time and effort.
Personal growth is not normally thought of as a “skill.” But the world is now changing so fast and so unpredictably that it needs to become one. Our grandparents had one job for life; our parents had multiple jobs over their careers; our generation will have multiple careers. This demands that we learn how to grow not as a one-time event, but as an ongoing evolution of our identity.
As I dive deeper and deeper into the world of personal growth, I’m increasingly convinced that it is not a rare, exotic phenomenon only to be acquired via special seminars or psychedelic substances. Personal growth is everywhere, all the time. Life throws at us exactly the experiences we need to grow. Not because it is specifically looking out for each one of us, but because it throws everything at us.
This implies that potential breakthroughs are everywhere. I read a book on meditation and there are stories of people getting past huge barriers and making a dramatic change. But I hear the same kinds of testimonials in books about tidying your house, and sailing, and writing, and fixing motorcycles, and almost every other topic imaginable. Mastering the mundane tasks of everyday life seems to be a gateway to living an extraordinary life.
This book contains 18 in-depth essays previously published on the Praxis blog, edited for clarity and accuracy. They fall under five main themes:
In A Skeptic Goes to the Landmark Forum and Tide Turners, I describe my experiences taking part in intensive personal development programs, including what I discovered about myself and my past and how those discoveries impacted my work. In Emergent Strategy, I summarize my learnings from a book on social justice and movement building, and how I applied them to my teaching. And in You Need a Budget, I draw parallels between personal finance and personal productivity, including the growth mindset required to master both.
Writing and note-taking
I continue to be obsessed with the power of note-taking and writing to improve our thinking and change the trajectory of people’s careers. In Why I’m Leaving Medium, I look at the incentives and economics of modern blogging, and explain why they pushed me toward owning my own independent blog. In The Future of Ebooks, I speculate on what the future of electronic books could look like, if publishers embraced technology and online communities. In The Case for Digital Notes, I put forth my strongest argument for digital note-taking as a uniquely powerful category of software for enhancing people’s productivity. And in The Essential Requirements for Choosing a Notes App as Your Second Brain, I lay out the precise criteria I believe are most important in selecting an app for yourself. In RandomNote: Building an Idea Generator, I introduce a simple web app we created to strategically inject randomness into your workflow by resurfacing notes from the past.
Creativity and curation
Zooming out a little, I also wrote about creativity, as well as the pre-cursor to creativity, which I believe is curation. The Maker’s Guide to Content Curation lays out a path for anyone interested in creating their own content, starting with curating the content of others. In The 7 Pillars of Content Curation, I dive further into the most effective principles for curators to follow to begin developing their own ideas and building an audience. And in A Maker’s Ethos in the Era of Networked Attention, I propose a healthier approach toward online media that frees us from the worst effects of information overload, by valuing creation over mere consumption.
I also continued exploring the practical aspects of modern work. In The 5 Challenges of Becoming a Digital Nomad, I explain what I believe are the five biggest practical challenges faced by anyone seeking to become location-independent. In Desktop Zero, I present my findings from an analysis of the random files collected on my computer desktop over the course of a month, to determine whether it is worth sorting through and filing them. And A Productivity Expert’s Guide to Working with a Virtual Assistant contains my best advice on how to hire, train, coordinate with, and delegate to a virtual assistant your most common, routine tasks.
Finally, I allowed myself to speculate a little bit. In Trekonomics: The Economics of Post-Scarcity, I envision what a “post-scarcity” economy might look like, drawing on the Star Trek universe for inspiration. And in A Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind I summarize the scientific findings from Ray Kurzweil’s most recent book, and use them as a springboard to imagine the implications for my quest to build a “second brain.”
I sincerely hope this book serves as a guiding light on your own journey of personal growth. I hope it shows that the smallest details of how you manage your daily work, when compounded over the years, have a profound impact on the trajectory of your career and life.
If you’d like to be notified when new essays are published in the future, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter. Every week I send out free interviews, in-depth essays, how-to articles, and other resources designed to enhance your personal productivity. And if you want full access to all my writing, consider becoming a member of Praxis.
Thank you for being part of the community that allows these ideas to develop and spread. I’m forever grateful that I get to be the curator of ideas more interesting and powerful than anything I could invent myself.
Bacolod City, Philippines
January 27, 2020
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