Note for the Month/Monatsnotiz Jan23

Midjourney generated representation of January as a Van Gogh style painting

Reflecting and Resoluting

As with every new year, resolutions and habit-building are at the top of most postings and blogs. Obviously there is nothing wrong with setting goals, as long as it is included in a continuous reflective practice, which can be done without necessarily framing it via „New Years Resolution“.

I think it is quite important to have a reflective practice about ones work processes, self-management and methods. When I was coaching sports I was lucky enough to have a great staff around me where we could reflect and work on everything we coached, after each practice session. It not only helped with being accountable to (shared) goals, but also with improving our own coaching methods (e.g. communication, instructions). I had similar experiences during my teacher training, where regular reflections (verbally, as well as written) were part of our daily processes. Additionally, I started blogging about my entire teacher training experience outside of the university structure, which also confirmed for me how important it is to regularly take a step back and reflect in one way or another about what’s going on around you in your work or study environment.

And since this year brought on new challenges and opportunities in form of a new job, I figured it would good to pick up some form of written reflective practice again. In one sense I kept up with regular reflections through my podcast flo&bence, but putting thoughts and experiences into a different format can have other benefits. Some of my colleagues and acquaintences in the German speaking blogging community in the Education space (Matthias AndraschChristian FriedrichMarkus Deimann) have for many years been posting monthly posts (“Monatsnotiz”) and sharing it online which I certainly enjoyed in order to keep up with interesting projects they have been working on or thoughts they developed.

Naturally, I thought about asking ChatGPT to write a brief explainer and introduction to the concept of the monthly note. On the first try it churned out an explainer how a „Monatsnotiz“ is simply to measure ones productivity over the past month. I wasn’t fully satisfied with it and changed the prompt to include the perspective of a monthly reflective practice instead of a measurement of output. So, here is what it came up with and what I will also use as my entry point for this months note:

A monthly note is a useful tool for reflecting on one’s experiences, thoughts, and learnings at the end of each month. It is a self-management technique where you keep a journal or a type of notebook at the end of each month where you can write down your thoughts, experiences, and insights from the past month.
The focus of a monthly note is not on measuring productivity but rather on gaining an overview of what you have accomplished and identifying areas for improvement. By writing about past events and experiences, you can organize your thoughts and gain a better understanding of your own perspective and motivation.
A monthly note can also be used to set goals for the upcoming month or to reflect on changes you want to make in your life. There are no set rules for what a monthly note should look like and each person can design and customize it to their own needs. Some people write just a few lines, while others keep a more detailed list of their successes and failures.
Overall, a monthly note is a useful method for getting to know oneself better and tracking one’s own development over time. It promotes self-reflection and provides the opportunity to learn from experiences and grow. It’s also a good tool to identify what activities, moments, or interactions brought us joy and satisfaction and which ones didn’t and that can help us to make adjustments in our habits and lifestyle.

ChatGPT based on the prompt „write about a monthly note as a reflection tool and not as a measure of productivity

Reading, Listening, Writing

FTX ≠ Blockchain

Even for people who aren’t involved in the crypto and blockchain industry the whole FTX fiasco was frontpage news for a few weeks at the end of the year. The entire story touched on some very interesting topics: effective altruism as an ideology and the lack of understanding and/or differentiation between banks masquerading as “something something crypto” and blockchain technology, and the actual research and projects behind it.

There was very good reporting done on FTX and its demise by Coffeezilla (The entire playlist about FTX can be found here. Another piece also discusses implications for the entire financial market and sheds light on the supposed ideology behind everything, namely Effective Altruism. One of the main voices behind this philosophy published another book, which was reviewed in Asterik magazine and similarly expanded my perspective and understanding. Finally, to turn the discussion more towards the actual blockchain space, we published a first brief statement in our Science Workgroup at the Bundesblock regarding Sustainability and Blockchain Technology, where we started to outline some theoretical and conceptual approaches towards these developments.

Smart Notes for a Smart Workflow

I also finally got around to finish How To Take Smart Notes by Söhne Ahrens and thought through my previous reading/note-taking workflow, as well as my knowledge management system in general. The book is mainly about the famous Zettelkasten method which helped Niklas Luhmann become one of the greatest theorists and thinkers of modern times. Many of the parts (especially the ones talking about multitasking, attention and concentration) also relate to my main learnings for this month:


This year also started with a new chapter and challenge in my work life – I changed position and I am now (since 1st of January) a proud member of the DBU team as an Education Consultant. I will write about plenty of work-related learnings in the future, but now that I went through another onboarding phase, most of the things on my mind relate to project- and self-management. Especially when starting out in a new environment and taking on new projects, the onboarding and self-management phase in the beginning is crucial.

The biggest learning (and support structure) was following many of the concepts and ideas laid out by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, which we already talked a great deal about on the podcast. But by following a disciplined process (consisting of captureconfigure and control) my entry into the job was smoothed out substantially. Cal always researches his book well and connects his concepts to many relevant scientific fields and practices. Chief among them Cognitive Science, Neuroscience and Psychology, where more and more people who are focused on productivity go to nowadays. But there are some fascinating nuggets of wisdom anyway, that just underscore the importance of a distraction-free and time-blocked work schedule, e.g.:

Attention residue

It was found that people who continually switch between tasks, especially when tasks have a different level of difficulty, tend to leave attention residue on the task they switched away from and basically can’t help but think about it in some way (Newport, 2010, p. 40)

Chronically Distracted

Additionally, constantly multitasking actually has an affect on the brains ability to concentrate and focus on a single task, as the writes:

People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy.

Newport, 2016, p. 158

I just picked out two there that work very well when trying to understand and explain why time-blocking is so valuable. The same goes for the actual workspace and work environment one creates. And slowly but surely it is more understandable how some thinkers and writers simply resort to building their own „deep-work-offices„.

What’s up next

The main focus will most certainly be on continuing my onboarding and working through all the projects I have to opportunity to work on at my new job. Other than that I am still on workflow-optimization, especially focusing on the software-side (i.e. PKM and Zettelkasten tools), but more on that next month.

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