How To Stay On Top Of Your Shit As A Flawed Human

Occam’s Razor for safety nets

You are a flawed and, to varying degrees, somewhat irresponsible human. It’s nothing personal; it’s just true for everyone. This will not change by chanting “i will be more responsible, i will be more responsible”; that is the indulgent trap of hubris.

Coming up with rules that work

  1. AWARENESS: Make a brutally honest list of ways you personally suck at being responsible. Accept them and accept that they are difficult to change directly.
    (for me: losing track of time, getting distracted whenever I check my phone, forgetting things 10 seconds after thinking about them, letting lists pile up, forgetting meetings, overcommitting)
  2. DEBUGGING: When are you most and least likely to successfully complete your goal?
    Identify favorable and disfavorable conditions. Would it help you to have a written reminder? An alarm? A physical box that you organize similar things into? Is it too much energy when you have to go dig a specific notebook out of your desk before you can do a task? What do you need in place in order to do the thing?
  3. CREATE A HABIT: Identify the simplest possible habit you can form which will negate your future irresponsibility lapses.
    By “simple”, I mean something you can do the instant a task presents itself to you; something that doesn’t require any creative thoughts, fresh action plans, critical evaluations, or having to locate an object that’s not in your pocket. Simple, repeatable, mindless behaviors are key to forming automatic habits.

Example scenario


More boringly effective examples to prod your thought-juices for inventing habits

Some more habits I’ve built to flank my weaknesses.

Weakness: getting distracted whenever I open my phone
+ <one-time prep, not a habit> make my phone deeply unengaging
+ if I am bored, look at the beautiful mundane world around me, rather than at my phone. (pet a moss, listen to a bird, talk with a stranger, etc)
Weakness: forgetting things 10 seconds after thinking about them
+ if I would like to remember something, write it down in my pocket notes
Weakness: my todo lists have piled up
+ if starting a new sticky note, write date and context at top
+ star the 2 most critical items on each sticky note
Weakness: being late / forgetting events
+ as soon as I become aware of an event, immediately put in calendar
+ if event involves traveling somewhere, add an event named "transit" before it that lasts 15m + travel time
Weakness: overcommitting
+ if presented with potential commitment, don't immediately say yes by default
+ if the answer is not obvious or if I lack information, write down opportunities in my pocket sticky notes to consider later
+ <one-time prep, not a habit> only own pants with respectably spacious pockets
+ any time I put on pants, put sticky notes, pen, and phone in my pockets
+ when getting dressed, put on my watch


Human brains are great at some things, but not so great at storing random information in verbatim format. Augment yourself with an exobrain!

  1. easy to write in (low activation energy)
  2. easy to read (not overwhelming, easy to search, contextual)
  3. low-distraction
  4. difficult for items to slip through the cracks and be forgotten forever

1. Easy to write in.

Accessibility is important. Ideally, your exobrain is always at hand and easy to open.

2. Easy to read.

It’s easy to write loads of notes you never remember to look at, so make sure your exobrain is easy to skim, easy to purge, and easy to identify context. I always write the date and context on the top of notes.

  • “I am building awareness of my material possessions because I would like to be more cognizant of my consumption patterns and stop owning things I don’t need.”
  • “I am keeping track of my movement workshop notes to make it faster to apply to teach workshops and to optimize the content teaching order for learners.”

3. Low-distraction.

I think this frequently comes down to analog vs. digital, although your mileage may vary.

4. Difficult to lose track.

Exobrain items love nothing more than getting lost forever. It’s important to continually expire todos lest they pile up and become overwhelming. For events and plans, I avoid losing track by habitually entering them into my Google Calendar the instant I consider going to the event or executing the plan.

behold my glorious recurring breakfast reminder and also recurring reminder of my unsupervised inability to actually get myself out of bed in the morning without rolling around in my cozy grave of blankets for about 30 minutes



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autotelic polymath with an overwhelming compulsion to reverse engineer things I’ve never tried before