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The Importance of Mental Models: How to Think Better, Be More Productive, and Avoid Procrastination
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The Importance of Mental Models: How to Think Better, Be More Productive, and Avoid Procrastination

The Importance of Mental Models: How to Think Better, Be More Productive, and Avoid Procrastination

Productivity
August 11, 2021
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10 Jogs
Why it matters?

The human brain is a complicated and amazing organ that helps us understand the world around us. Mental models are how we simplify this complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason within our environment. When it comes to productivity in both our personal lives and professional careers mental models can help with everything from learning to think better to tackling procrastination.

Time management is one of the greatest skills anyone can build. There is a constant stream of people trying to take time away from you, and understanding how to prioritize can be an effective skill to build. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity and eliminating this from your day-to-day life can have a significant impact on productivity. Forming mental models starts with learning from those who have tried and tested methods: finding these in the increasingly noisy digital age is becoming harder. We have distilled the best pieces of content from across the web to make this easier for you and, as with everything in Joggo, the content is summarized by our community of geniuses so you can spend your time efficiently finding the content to dig into.

The Content

Each link contains a summary produced by one of Joggo's geniuses so you can decide where to spend your time learning more

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Shane Parrish
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fs

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

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The Summary

First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility. A first principle is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone and can’t be broken down any further.

Cooking as an example

The difference between the cook and the chef: terms often used interchangeably yet have an important nuance. - The chef is a trailblazer, the person who invents recipes. - Understands the flavor profiles and combinations at a fundamental level that doesn’t require a recipe - He has real knowledge vs know-how - The cook, who reasons by analogy, uses a recipe - He creates something, perhaps with slight variations, that’s already been created. - If the cook lost the recipe, he’d be screwed First-principles reasoning cuts through dogma and removes the blinders. We can see the world as it is and see what is possible.

Techniques for Establishing First Principles

  • Socratic Questioning
    • A disciplined questioning process, used to establish truths, reveal underlying assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance
  • The Five Whys
    • Often employed by children to understand what’s happening in the world
    • An interrogative technique exploring the cause-and-effect relationship of problems

Employing First Principles in Your Daily Life

  • Move away from incremental improvement and into possibility
  • Letting others think for us means that we’re using their analogies, their conventions, and their possibilities. It means we’ve inherited a world that conforms to what they think.
  • When we step back and cut through the flawed analogies, we see what is possible.
  • First-principles thinking clears the clutter of what we’ve told ourselves and allows us to rebuild from the ground up.
May 1, 2017
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Bart de Langhe, Stefano Puntoni, richard larrick
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Harvard Business Review

Linear Thinking in a Nonlinear World

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The Summary

Human brains mistakenly apply linear thinking to nonlinear phenomena.

Linear Bias in Practice

Managers mistakenly prioritize volume and costs over price, without realizing how much extra volume is needed to recuperate loss in profit. There also exists nonlinear relationships between attitudes and behavior.

Four Types of Nonlinear Relationships

  1. Increasing gradually, then rising steeply
  2. Decreasing gradually, then dropping quickly
  3. Climbing quickly, then tapering off
  4. Falling sharply, then gradually

How to Limit the Pitfalls of Linear Bias

  1. Increase awareness of linear bias.
  2. Prioritize outcomes and not indicators and metrics that don’t have a linear relationship.
  3. Understand the type of nonlinearity one is dealing with in order to prevent overestimations and fall trap to bias.
  4. Use visualization tools to see how changes in variables can correspond to changes in other variables, especially when dealing with nonlinear relationships.

Conclusion

Linear bias is present everywhere, not just businesses. Thus, people need to be aware of pitfalls and apply disciplines to not fall for bias.

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James Clear
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James Clear

The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Business

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The Summary

Goldilocks Rule

  • Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
  • Can be motivated if the task is of manageable difficulty
  • Completing these tasks can also bring happiness
  • There needs to be a way to visualize progress as well and measure success with immediate feedback and wins

Two Steps to Motivation

  1. Find a task that adheres to the Goldilocks Rule in difficulty
  2. Measure progress and receive immediate feedback when possible
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First Round Review

The Brain Hacks Top Founders Use to Get the Job Done  

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The Summary

Maintaining and using energy wisely is the most effective way to maximize productivity. Below are tactics used by the most productive people to ensure they are working at maximum levels of productivity.

Types of energy:

  • Physical Energy: The foundation of everything you do. It's the type of energy that's most easily influenced but most often neglected
  • Emotional Energy: How you're feeling at any given moment. It dictates more than half of your behavior and decision making.
  • Mental Energy: The highest order of energy, only achievable when you have the physical and emotional stamina to be observant, perceptive, and focus.

How to increase energy:

  • Physical Energy: Sleep is paramount and should not be underestimated. To compensate for lack of sleep take naps. And if those aren’t possible, taking 10 minute breaks every 90 minutes to 2 hours becomes a saving grace. 
  • Emotional Energy: A big part of changing your emotions is understanding their triggers. If you know your triggers, you can decide whether to respond to them or not.
  • Mental energy allows you to have a much fuller view of what’s actually happening within your company and on your team. You hold onto your mental energy by observing yourself inwardly without buying into everything 
    • Ask yourself “Are these thoughts I’m having even true?”
September 17, 2020
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Anne-Laure Le Cunff
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Ness Labs

How to think better

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The Summary

5 Principles to Better Thinking

  1. Think about thinking
    1. Metacognition is purposeful introspection to analyze thought processes
  2. Be aware of cognitive biases
    1. Be aware of thought processing errors to manage cognitive biases
  3. Avoid linear thinking and logical fallacies
    1. Shortcuts in thinking are not optimal
  4. Study useful mental models
    1. Frameworks help identify and understand complex situations quicker
  5. Practice emotional agility
    1. Rational brain and emotional brain should work together not against each other

Frameworks for Better Thinking

  • Eisenhower matrix
    • Helps determine what to prioritize, delay, delegate, or remove as a task
  • DECIDE framework
    • Avoids first-level thinking
  • NASA risk matrix
    • Risk scorecard to determine risk associated with a situation
  • Systematic inventive thinking
    • Builds an innovation equation to think inside the box
  • Validity and reliability matrix
    • Helps determine the right mental model for the situation
  • Pre-mortem
    • Imagining a project has failed and work backward to determine the cause

Tools for Thought

  • Note-taking apps
    • Helps build a scaffolding system around thoughts 
  • Digital gardens
    • Plant seeds of ideas, connect thoughts, implement feedback
  • Spaced repetition software
    • Help remember learnings and mental models
  • Mapping tools
    • Visual models to consolidate thinking
  • Online communities
    • Help tackle specific challenges with like-minded people
August 19, 2018
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Brandon Chu
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Black Box Of Product Management

Product Management Mental Models for Everyone

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The Summary

Various mental models to think about when creating a product as a product manager. Use these models as a checklist rather than a methodology. Experience will help accumulate more models.

Where to Invest Models

  1. Return on investment
    1. For every dollar invested, how much is coming back 
    2. Helps to compare multiple projects and pick one that maximizes impact for customers
  2. Time value of shipping
    1. Product shipped earlier is worth more than products shipped later
    2. Helps to pick projects that can be finished quicker
  3. Time horizon
    1. The right investment decision depends on the time period in mind
    2. Decisions change for next 3 months vs. 3 years
  4. Expected value
    1. Probability-weighted sum of outcomes
    2. Helps understand return on investment

Designing and Scoping Models

  1. Working backwards
    1. Start at a perfect solution and work backwards to get a product
    2. Helps keep focus on the long term
  2. Confidence determines speed vs quality
    1. Speed vs. quality is a tradeoff
    2. More confidence in the product means take time and don’t take shortcuts
    3. Less confidence means move quicker and improve later
  3. Solve the whole customer experience
    1. Understand customers’ needs before and after the product is used
    2. Helps understand the bigger picture of customer needs
  4. Experiment, feature, platform
    1. These 3 features have a tradeoff of speed and quality
    2. Helps understand objectives of product
  5. Feedback loops
    1. Cause and effect in products help iterate
    2. Helps understand negative or positive changes and how to resolve them
  6. Flywheel
    1. Negative and positive feedback loops feeding on themselves
    2. Helps to create a self-sustaining product
  7. Diminishing returns
    1. Over time, efforts will have less impact on a product
    2. Helps understand when it’s time to move onto a new product
  8. Local maxima
    1. Point where improvements don’t create customer value
    2. Helps to understand its time to innovate and not iterate
  9. Version two is a lie
    1. Make the first product a complete product
    2. Helps not plan for a future that might not happen
  10. Freeroll
    1. A situation where there is little to lose and a lot to gain by moving fast
    2. Helps take advantage of a situation based on intuition
  11. Most value is created after version one
    1. Learning happens the most after launch
    2. Helps test hypothesis and iterate a product
  12. Key failure indicator (KFI)
    1. Metrics of failure paired with metrics for success (KPIs) help keep focus on healthy growth
    2. Help keep performance in check
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Mental Models: The Best Way to Make Intelligent Decisions

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The Summary

A mental model is our brains way of representing how something works by simplifying complexity into manageable chunks of information.

  • Because we specialize, our mental models are generally limited to our professional field.
  • Having more models gives you more options to choose from when making decisions.
  • But how can you build a library of mental models in order to make good decisions?
  • Here is the basic toolbox from which you can build your toolbox of mental models: 

General

  • The Map is not the Territory
    • Maps are not perfect and simplify what they are meant to show.
  • Circle of Competence
    • Ego often makes you believe you know more than you do. Understanding your actual level of competence is essential to improving decision making.
  • First Principles Thinking
    • Start with the first principles and build your knowledge from there.
  • Thought Experiment
    • Running internal thought experiments help us decide what we want and how to achieve it.
  • Second-Order Thinking
    • It is important to think ahead to second and third order effects instead of just immediate effects.
  • Probabilistic Thinking
    • Consider the most likely outcomes when making a decision even when they may seem like outliers. Always update your prior odds when you have new information.
  • Inversion
    • Approaching a problem from another angle can be useful in offering new options.
  • Occam’s Razor
    • The simplest explanation is the most likely one.
  • Hanlon’s Razor
    • When people make an error, it's usually human error or stupidity not spite.

Physics and Chemistry

  • Relativity
    • Observers are not able to truly see a system when they are also a part of that system. 
  • Reciprocity
    • For every force there is an equal and opposite force interacting on it.
  • Thermodynamics
    • The rules of thermodynamics underlie our understanding of modern physics and the study of energy.
  • Inertia
    • An object at motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. 
  • Friction
    • Friction is a force opposing the movement of an object.
  • Viscosity
    • Viscosity measures the force required to overcome friction between two liquids. 
  • Velocity
    • Velocity describes both the speed and direction of an object.
  • Leverage
    • Levers offer great output force with little input force required.
  • Activation Energy
    • This is the threshold before a chemical reaction between can occur. 
  • Catalysts
    • Catalysts cause a chemical reaction to require lower activation energy.
  • Alloying
    • Combination of various elements that may have vastly different or better characteristics than their component elements. 

Biology

  • Evolution
    • Natural selection is the process by which random mutation create characteristics that are advantageous or disadvantageous to survival.
    • Mutations that increase survival are adaptations, and populations adapt over time. 
  • Ecosystems
    • Ecosystems are groups of organisms coexisting in some space together.
  • Niches
    • Niches are advantages that help a species compete for limited resources within an ecosystem. 
  • Self-Preservation
    • This is the desire to protect oneself from harm in the hopes of passing on DNA.
  • Replication
    • Replication is the process by which DNA and cells proliferate to create multi-celled organisms and offspring.
  • Cooperation
    • This is the opposite of competition.
    • Cooperation is the phenomenon where species enter mutually beneficial relationships. 
  • Hierarchical Organization
    • These are the underlying structure of the animal kingdom. 
  • Incentives
    • Incentives are rewards or harms that help organisms to make decisions about the best course of action.
  • Tendency to Minimize Energy Output
    • Organisms do their best not to waste their limited energy. 

Systems

  • Feedback Loops
    • Maintaining stasis relies on repeated, opposing changes which affect each other.
  • Bottlenecks and Constraints
    • Bottlenecks are points at which some flow is stopped or slow due to a limitation.
  • Homeostasis and Equilibrium
    • Systems regulate themselves (through feedback loops) in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.
  • Scale
    • The characteristics of a system may change with its size.
  • Law of Diminishing Returns
    • When scale increases, marginal benefits tend to decrease in magnitude.
  • Churn
    • The continual movement in and out of a system.
  • Preferential Attachment
    • Leaders are given preferential treatment. In industries, leaders attract more customers, which solidifies their lead.
  • Irreducibility
    • There are constraints on systems that make further decreases in time, effort, or resources impossible.
  • Margin of Safety and Backup Systems
    • Accounting for potential errors and protecting against them causes systems to fail less over time.
  • Algorithms
    • Algorithms are a series of inputs and steps that result in a specific outcome.
  • Criticality
    • This is the point at which a system may change to a different phase.
  • Emergence
    • A behavior may emerge that is exponential than merely the sum of its components.

Numeracy

  • Distribution
    • A mathematical process of using probability to determine the spread of results 
  • Compounding
    • The process by which money grows exponentially through the accrual of interest and interest upon this interest.
    • This has exponential effects.
  • Law of Large Numbers
    • The average found from a large sample is likely to be close to the true population average.
  • Multiplying by Zero
    • Multiplying anything by zero is still zero.
  • Algebraic Equivalence
    • Algebra lets us use placeholders as symbols to test equivalence.
  • Randomness
    • The natural world is in many ways random. Attributing this randomness to a pattern leads to misconceptions.
  • Regression to the Mean
    • Another way to explain the Law of Large Numbers.
    • Deviations from the average are less likely to affect the average in large samples. 
  • Surface Area
    • The amount of space on the outside of a three dimensional object.
  • Global and Local Maxima
    • These are the largest or smallest values in an entire set or in a subset.

Microeconomics

  • Opportunity Costs
    • The price of doing something in terms of what is lost by not doing another activity.
  • Creative Destruction
    • Never-ending innovation and creativity leads to the destruction of old technology.
  • Comparative Advantage
    • Different individuals have different opportunity costs.
    • Allowing trading lets individuals specialize and minimizes overall opportunity costs
  • Specialization
    • The ability to focus on one aspect of production and build individual advantages.
  • Seizing the Middle
    • Controlling the middle steps in production at the beginning offers the greatest opportunities for later growth (in multiple directions).
  • Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights
    • Incentivize creativity because they ensure that inventors can profit off of their own ideas.
  • Double-Entry Bookkeeping
    • Counting each transaction in terms of income and liabilities prevents accounting error. 
  • Utility
    • A measure for the usefulness or satisfaction that comes with additional units of a good or service. 
  • Bribery
    • An underhanded payment that allows an individual to not abide by a rule or norm.
  • Arbitrage
    • The situation in which an item may have different prices in different markets.
    • Once an arbitrage is noticed, it usually disappears.
  • Supply and Demand
    • These are the basic economic factors that determine what is purchased and sold and at what price.
  • Scarcity
    • Describes the natural limits on supply and demand.
  • Mr. Market
    • Markets can be likened to a grumpy neighbor which fluctuates and requires different investment behaviors according to its “moods.”

Military and War

  • Seeing the Front
    • Having a firsthand look rather than using models allows for better decision-making.
  • Asymmetric Warfare
    • Opponents with differing resources employ different tactics (or rules) to create competitive advantages during a conflict.
  • Two-Front War
    • Fought in two geographical areas.
    • Could be a problem that has multiple sides or an approach that has multiple facets. 
  • Counterinsurgency
    • Military tactics to act against insurgents or rebels.
    • May differ to traditional military tactics.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction
    • When opponents both have the capability of destroying each other, neither can act because they will both be destroyed.

Human Nature and Judgment

  • Trust
    • Humans tend to trust each other, which yields efficiency and cooperation.
  • Bias from Incentives
    • Human decision-making is largely influenced by the immediate reward of an action.
  • Pavlovian Association
    • Associations with incentives or rewards (and not direct incentives) can also affect decision-making.
  • Tendency to Feel Envy & Jealousy
    • Humans often feel jealousy of others due to their sense of fairness.
  • Tendency to Distort Based on Past Association
    • Past associations distort current decision-making.
  • Denial
    • People have the capability of deny the reality to sooth themselves.
  • Availability Heuristic
    • It is easiest to remember items that are recent, important, frequent, which is a useful skill.
  • Representativeness Heuristic
    • The representativeness heuristic is a decision-making process that relies on grouping similar objects.
  • Social Proof
    • Humans are driven to build societies and seek guidance from these societies for appropriate norms and behavior.
  • Narrative Instinct
    • Humans have a drive for storytelling.
  • Curiosity Instinct
    • Humans are curious animals and seek to explore and understand.
  • Language Instinct
    • What separates humans from other animals is our ability for language.
  • First-Conclusion Bias
    • Humans generally settle on the first conclusion they reach, whether or not it is actually right.
  • Tendency to Overgeneralize from Small Samples
    • Humans treat small samples as representative of larger populations even though small samples are prone to error.
  • Relative Satisfaction/Misery Tendencies
    • Current human happiness is directly related to their past happiness or the comparative happiness of their peers.
  • Commitment & Consistency Bias
    • People are driven to build and keep habits.
    • Humans do not trust others who are not consistent.
  • Hindsight Bias
    • In hindsight, humans believe they knew more in the past than they actually did. 
  • Sensitivity to Fairness
    • Similar to the tendency to envy, humans are always taking account of fairness.  
  • Tendency to Overestimate Consistency of Behavior
    • Humans attribute personality traits to situational behaviors, which leads to misconceptions about future behaviors.
  • Influence of Stress
    • Biases worsen when humans are stressed.
  • Survivorship Bias
    • Because human history is told by the winners, success is attributed to victors’ behaviors rather than luck or randomness.
  • Tendency to Want to Do Something
    • Humans have a tendency away from idleness and toward action.
  • Falsification/Confirmation Bias
    • Because of our biases, we often ignore the aspects of a situation that disagree with these biases.
    • This means that our biases reaffirm themselves. Realizing our biases and the ways in which the word around us works is important to building robust mental models that allow for effective decision-making.
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Julian Shapiro
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Julian Shapiro

Mental models - Navigating Life Strategically

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The Summary

Mental models, frameworks for thinking, simplify complex concepts & processes so you can reason through them. However, it takes discipline to use them.

Mental Models

Without mental models: 1. You go where your momentum takes you. 2. You use your instincts, shaped by past experiences & advice. Accomplished people share 3 traits: 1. Prefer to take action 2. Look to prove themselves wrong 3. Reassess priorities without fear of changing them

The World is a Patchwork of Systems

  • Process - economic growth
  • Business - Microsoft
  • Tool - toothbrush
  • State - happiness A mental model of a system highlights the system's core components & how they work together.

How to Make Decisions

Half of the power of mental models is in optimizing systems; the other half is making better decisions. 1. Prioritizing: which path should you take first? 2. Allocating: how much attention, time & capital should you spend on this?

Models that help optimize systems include:

  • Local/Global
  • Theory of Constraints
  • First Principles

Mental models that help make decisions include:

  • Regret Minimization
  • Pareto's Principle
  • ICE
  • Eisenhower Matrix

Elon Musk & Jeff Bezos

  • Wisdom is the advantage one person has over another due to mental models.

What Now?

  • Cultivate the discipline to use mental models
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Shane Parrish
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Farnam Street

How to Use Occam’s Razor Without Getting Cut

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The Summary

A philosophical razor is a tool used to eliminate improbable options in a given situation. Occam’s razor is used to solve problems more quickly and efficiently.

Occam's Razor

  • Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. The simplest explanation is preferable to one that is more complex.
  • Used to help make rapid decisions and establish truths without empirical evidence. It works best as a mental model for making initial conclusions before the full scope of information can be obtained.

Examples

  • In science: when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better.
  • In medicine: look for the fewest possible causes to explain their patient’s multiple symptoms, and give preference to the most likely causes. “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”

Exceptions and Issues

  • The simpler explanation, although having a higher chance of being correct, is not always true.
  • Use it carefully, especially when it comes to important or risky decisions. When you hear hoofbeats behind you, in most cases you should think horses, not zebras—unless you are out on the African savannah.
September 1, 2020
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Harsh Singh
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Thinking Bat

5 Mental Gadgets To Detonate Procrastination

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The Summary

Procrastination is often the enemy of efficient, productive work.

Five strategies to overcome this destructive urge

  1. Eat That Frog : do the worst task first.
  2. Slice That Pizza: break tasks up into specific, manageable parts.
  3. Take the First Bite: start the work, even if only for a few minutes.
  4. Leverage Social Commitment: make goals public, so you feel social pressure to finish.
  5. Self-Gifting: promise your future self a reward for the completion of the task.