The power of information management

Keeping afloat in the digital age

Have you ever had the feeling that you are reading more but remembering less?

I first starting reading non-fiction books heavily (~50-100 books/per year) around 2013. Since then, I’ve had on-and-off systems for reviewing the books that I’ve read, but not really maintained anything consistently.

I’ve started noticing how hard I sometimes find it to recall information in books that I read a few years back. Even books that I remember I really enjoyed reading and that had a profound impact on my thinking, I may struggle to recall much other than ‘it’s a great book’ and perhaps the odd passage or key idea.

On one hand, this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern; maybe I ‘internalised’ the concepts and the details are less important. However, I can’t help but find it unsatisfactory that things I put so much time into reading and thinking about appear to have mostly left my mind.

I also think it could affect the ‘sharpness’ of my thinking. Perhaps I drew some conclusions at the time, but if I were to re-examine them in light of more recent evidence then my conclusions may change. This becomes very challenging to do, though, if I don’t have the key information at hand.

Ideally this key information would be ready for retrieval from my brain, but it seems our brains aren’t typically well-designed to maintain large catalogues of data (plus perhaps an element of my own cognitive limitations).

This is why I became really excited this week while investigating alternatives, and coming across various different digital storage methods. The main idea of such systems is that by recording and structuring information that you come across in a systematic way, you can create an external repository of the best information you come across – enabling larger storage and quicker retrieval.

Two that are liked are Thiago Forte’s “second brain” and Joshua Sheats method for digitising all his books and marginalia. I won’t go into detail here, as they explain them well, and I’ll share the original links below.

There’s definitely extra effort involved: an upfront cost of setting up the systems and an additional perhaps 20% effort of maintaining them. But in the long run, I’m pretty confident the benefit justifies this.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen support for this when I’ve stumbled across old book summaries and notes I’ve made; I’m reminded of key takeaways and ideas in ways that picking up the original book and skimming through it doesn’t seem to.

In the age of information abundance, it feels like this could be an ultimate meta-skill.

Image: Thiago Forte’s “Smart Sync” method


This week’s links:

(1) A video (a method for digital information storage)

This is one of the methods I referenced above - these guys talk about how they extract meaningful information from the internet and synthesise it into something valuable.

(2) A podcast (another method for digital information storage)

I really enjoyed hearing about how this guy digitises all his books, and am thinking about doing it in future.

(3) An article: “Smoke and Mirror Neurons”

I stumbled across this article this week, as I’m working on a research project with the author. I really enjoyed it - in particular I think it highlights our tendency to want to attribute poetic explanations to complex phenomena, sometimes at the expense of being correct.


This week’s video

I was finding it quite laborious to find and apply for jobs, so I decided to write some Python code to automatically extract job listings from websites. It streamlined the process somewhat, but my main takeaway was the fun of using mini-projects to learn new skills:


An update:

I have now finished recording my “machine learning for healthcare” video series. I’m really hoping this can be a useful introduction to healthcare professionals interested in machine learning. I’m really happy with how it the filming went - now to editing! I’m planning to gradually release the course over coming weeks, and will share updates on this newsletter.

(I’m also hoping to secure CPD certification for the course - drop me a message/forward this email if you may be able to help with this!)


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About Me

Hi! I’m Chris Lovejoy, a Junior Doctor and Data Scientist based in London.

I’m on a mission to improve healthcare through technology (particularly AI / machine learning), but along the way I want to share learnings that are relevant no matter your career choice or background.

In this weekly newsletter, I share my top thoughts and learnings from each week, as well as links to the best things on the internet that I come across.