How Josh Kaufman Does Research
For most people, the world is an endless series of questions that need answers. But for Josh, the world is full of answers if you know where to look.
The author of The Personal MBA shares his process for finding answers hiding in plain sight
Josh Kaufman reads and processes so much research, uses two computers to make sure he can focus during his writing time, and avoids burnout by varying the work he takes on.
His mission is to help his readers "upgrade the software in their brains" by trawling through the vast academic literature that no one has time to read in search of the hidden nuggets of information that will be most useful to regular people.
Josh introduces himself
Josh writes books about interesting topics that help people in their day-to-day personal and professional lives. He worked in brand management, product development, and marketing measurement for Procter & Gamble's Home Care division. These days, he is mostly working on practical and research-based approaches to making more money, getting more done, and enjoying daily life
Hunt down insightful existing knowledge that people have forgotten or ignored
Extracts best parts of pre-existing knowledge, distills how people can apply that to their lives, and helps them to understand what they want
Helps them to align their values and objectives, create a solid strategy to get it, and stop doing all things that get in the way of better results
Read constantly, with rules for how to digest different kinds of books
Scan the entire book in 10 to 15 minutes, starting with the table of contents and index, to get a gist for the author's argument
Listen to fiction as an audiobook while washing the dishes or doing something else
For nonfiction, I prefer sitting down with a physical copy
When reading physical books, take handwritten notes to organize thoughts
Date every note taken and use them to check quotes or references.
Try to transcribe drafts as quickly as possible to make a backup, edit the text, and organize it into the overall structure of the finished work.
When it comes to online reading, I use electronic note-taking tools
I've long used Evernote to clip the full text of articles I find and gather them in various digital notebooks, separated into categories for easy reference.
Recently I've been migrating to Pinboard. Pinboard automatically saves a full-text version of each page you clip, so you can search and reference the text even if the website is removed or the page is no longer available.
Use electronic tools to transition from reading and processing to drafting
Break information into chunks so you can move around easily
Group ideas into chapters and keep an archive of dead drafts
If you're not working with a large publisher, you can use Ruby to turn Markdown manuscripts into finished PDFs
Separating tasks across two computers helps me focus
To keep the writing process separate from the distractions of day-to-day life, I have two computers: one for writing and one for everything else
I have an office computer with Safari, email, etc., and a writing computer with little beyond a word processor and software for focused tasks like screencasting and video calls
My writing computer is as locked down as I can possibly make it
The autofocus system
Keep a bulleted list of every task that comes up over time
Whenever something new comes up, append it to the end of the list and forget about it
Every day, scan through that long list and pick out three or four things that you're committing to doing that day
Put them on a three-by-five note card and leave the rest on the notecard
Make a daily list of everything you get done to reward yourself and test your goals
Think of it as your "done" list instead of your "to-do" list
It gives credit for things you did that you couldn't plan for, like caring for a sick child
A "noodle" file is a "want to come back to it later" file
Switching up the kind of work done throughout the day helps avoid burnout
Balancing different kinds of work can help people be more productive
It's much easier to work for a long period of time if you're bouncing between different types of work
Shift between research projects and writing projects to create a more constructive flow
Signs my research process works:
I used it to identify a mystery illness
My energy and mental capacity was extremely limited, and my usual standard of work was suddenly-full stop-not available.
Using PubMed, an excellent, searchable database of biomedical literature, to help me find any studies that were relevant to my condition, I also used DeepDyve
The goal was to gather as much information as possible
Any time I came across anything interesting I'd write it in my log with the date and use it to track down possibilities, form hypotheses, and come at it from a bunch of different angles
My personal life has taught me everything about the meaning of productivity
Productivity isn't about checking everything off your to-do list, it's about deciding what's important to you, your values and priorities, and directing your time and energy at those things as much as possible.
You should minimize spending mental resources on things that aren’t of importance to you
My mystery illness put a stop to my poor work habits
I had to change my thinking to "what's the best way I can invest my energy, capacity, and attention today?"
The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián y Morales
A very thoughtful, perceptive study of humanity that's truly fascinating
As a companion book, or series of books, I love The Waste Books by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Someone writing primarily for himself, making observations about how the world works and reflecting on his personal experiences