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The 30 Second Habit with a Lifelong Impact


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If you only do one thing, do this: WRITE DOWN THE MOST IMPORTANT POINTS.

He was in his early teens, about to start senior school, when his grandfather took him aside and told him the following:

Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points. If youalways do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.

He did, and he was. In everything he has done since, with such accomplishment, and with enough room still to experience life so richly. He later inducted into the pact both his sons, who have excelled in their young careers.

I’ve been trying it out for a few months. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

  1. It’s not note taking: Don’t think, just because you write down everything in a meeting, that you’re excused from the 30 second summation. Though brief, this exercise is entirely different from taking notes. It’s an act of interpretation, prioritisation and decision-making.
  2. It’s hard work: Deciding what’s most important is exhausting. It’s amazing how easy it is to tell yourself you’ve captured everything that matters, to find excuses to avoid this brief mental sprint — a kind of 100 metres for your brain.
  3. Detail is a trap: Precisely because we so often, ostensibly, capture everything, we avoid the hard work of deciding what few things count. So much of excellence is, of course, the art of elimination. And the 30 second review stops you using quantity as an excuse.
  4. You must act quickly: If you wait a few hours, you may recall the facts, but you lose the nuance. And this makes all the difference in deciding what matters. Whether it’s the tone in someone’s voice, or the way one seemingly simple suggestion sparks so many others, or the shadow of an idea in your mind triggered by a passing comment.
  5. You learn to listen better, and ask better questions: Once you get into the habit of the 30 second review, it starts to change the way you pay attention, whether listening to a talk or participating in a discussion. It’s like learning to detect a simple melody amidst a cacophony of sound. And as you listen with more focus, and ask better questions which prompt actionable answers, so your 30 second review becomes more useful.
  6. You’re able to help others more: Much of what makes the 30 second cut are observations about what matters to other people. Even if the purpose is to help better manage different interests in future conversations, it also helps you understand others’ needs, and so solve their problems. This does not surprise me: in months of interviewing people who make generous connections, I’ve been struck by how many have their own unconscious version of the 30 second review: focused on the question of how best they can help.
  7. It gets easier and more valuable: Each time you practice, it gets a little easier, a little more helpful, and little more fun.

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You will notice that I try to do this for every thing I stash on PandaWhale.

I take 30 seconds to add a note or two in the comments.

"Just for fun: on completion, he destroys them."  

Does he destroy the novels, the CEOs, or the corporations?  Eliminating what's not important... Sounds like quite the essentialist indeed.

I like it! Kind of like my logbook entry after every flight.

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