2 min read

Destroying information to create it

Continuing on the theme of creating that starts with destroying, I notice that this happens with information too. The core of Getting Things Done for example is the input processing loop. You get memos, links, tasks, documents and stow them in an inbox – a reading list. You then regularly process your inbox, whether that's every day or once a week or whatever. Processing means you look at everything in the inbox and decide what the next action is. Do I need to reference this later? File it somewhere I can find it again if I need to. Is this a task I want/need to do? Add it to my backlog, however and wherever I store that, then bin the original. If it's not reference material and I don't want or need to do anything with it, it goes in the trash.

When I seriously try to process an inbox, I throw away a lot – maybe even most – of what I see. If it's not a task, I need to be careful about stowing it. Collecting/filing is not a free action. Worse, it takes more time the more you do it. Maybe it doesn't take quite as much extra time if you continually re-organize things, but that is another separate time cost imposed. I do some re-organization — but collecting still takes a long time. I can't collect everything that is interesting.

So I have to choose, and a lot of it has to go in the bin.

Even ignoring the straight-to-bin items, processing an inbox is destructive. I'm taking the existing ordered structure of the inbox — one thing then another thing then another — and destroying it, sometimes even binning the original thing in favor of the task reminder I wrote down in my own way. I'm destroying the old order to create a new one whereby the item is wherever it should be in the filing system. In fact, in a sense I'm even destroying the old filing system — if we consider system as including the exact configuration of stuff or information in it — and creating a new one where the new item is in its proper place. And when I write down a task, I'm "destroying" the original thing (binning it) as part of creating the task reminder, which reminder is a better reminder for me than the original.

Getting Things Done is just one example of this. Another example is summarizing a long discussion, verbal or in text. I "destroy" or "hide" the original discussion by creating a summary. The original may still be there if it's in text or if it happened to be recorded — but it's no longer the first choice, at least for some purposes, and for certain purposes it just vanishes from human memory. A bunch of details and nuances judged "not relevant" for those purposes have been "destroyed" if I view the summarization as a successor to the original discussion.