Chaos and Order

05 February 2020

I have too much going on. In the last 15 minutes before writing this I thought about 3 work projects, legal paperwork, trip planning, house repairs, what I’m going to cook, and helping a friend move.

My life is a careful balance of chaos and order.

Creativity is chaotic. My thoughts are scattered and rapid when I’m puzzling through a work problem or making notes for music. My best ideas come in the shower, or when I’m daydreaming.

When I have a new idea, I need to retain everything. It’s not organized, so I need to capture unstructured information.

However, incoherent information isn’t useful on its own. It’s only after I process it that my ideas are effective. Creating order from chaos is an essential second step.

Requirements for Chaos

Chaotic systems have structure.

Good ideas show up all the time. They’re transient, and unpredictably structured. A system to collect chaotic information must:

There arethings that are not required:

I found a great tool for this, the ‘World’s Oldest Data Structure’.

Paper. You read that right. Paper.

I always carry paper and a pen. It’s highly accessible, practically free, secure, quick, and flexible. It supports text, diagrams, music, even mind maps. My friends laugh and smile, presumably in admiration.

Order from Chaos

Random notes must be turned into something, like grist for the mill. I have a simple method:

I’m Already Doing It

The most common note is for an existing project: a work effort, piece of music, or discussion with a friend. I’ll have a Todoist project, wiki page, or email thread going, so I add the note into it.

Something New to Do

Let’s say I have a note for something new. I’ll create a new entry in an existing system, perhaps a single Todoist task, a recurring, or a wiki page. Then I’ll go through my memory palace and copy over anything relevant.

Maybe Someday

This is where I put everything else. If I’m not going to use it in the near future, I add the note to a wiki page. This system makes assumptions:

I’m accreting knowledge. Ensembling is powerful; just look at the wisdom of crowds.

Why all the fuss? Because people are chaos and order. Life is order and chaos. I try to embrace that, one step at a time, using paper.

What do you do?