# Workflow trumps willpower
Self-control is a good indicator for academic success, therefore the ability for us to stay in control is important. While willpower is an answer to self-discipline or self-control, willpower is a resource that depletes quickly hence is not a sustainable way to perform the tasks at hand (Ahrens 2).
Instead of thinking about how we can have better willpower, we need to think about how we can do something without willpower (Ahrens 16), and this can be done by changing our environments. Fortunately, self-control also has much more to do with our environments than ourselves (Ahrens 3). You can't eat chocolates when none are around.
When it comes to creative works, workflow is a way for us to define our environment. Effective workflow forms positive feedback loop, hence, not only having a good workflow will help us perform our tasks, but it will also provide a motivational loop for us to continue the tasks.
Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (pp. 2-3).
Willpower is, as far as we know today, a limited resource that depletes quickly and is also not that much up for improvement over the long term (Bausmeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, and Tice, 1998; Muraven, Tice, and Baumeister, 1998; Schmeichel, Vohs, and Baumeister, 2003; Moller, 2006).
Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (pp. 3).
Luckily, this is not the whole story. We know today that self-control and self-discipline have much more to do with our environment than with ourselves (cf. Thaler, 2015, ch. 2) - and the environment can be changed.
Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (pp. 16).
Studies on highly successful people have proven again and again that success it not the result of strong willpower and the ability to overcome resistance, but rather the result of smart working environments that avoid resistance in the first place (cf. Neal et al. 202; Painter et al. 2002; Hearn et al. 1998).
- Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes
- Workflow works because Workflow trumps willpower
- Zettelkasten enables constant focus on interesting materials
- Focusing just on the interesting things at the moment may sound like a risky approach, where there is a risk to not produce any output. Counterintuitively, the top down approach (where you'll start with a hypotheses and find relevant materials) will pose a greater risk due to the heavy reliance on willpower (Workflow trumps willpower). Pursuing anything that you'll find interesting at the moment doesn't mean that you'll not produce any output, but you'll have multiple things that are going on in parallel. Producing the output will also be a lot easier that you have collected a lot of materials.
- Zettelkasten disregards planning
- Sticking to a plan, however, requires willpower (Ahrens 6) and willpower is not a sustainable way to writing, especially when what you write takes a multi year of research (Workflow trumps willpower); you want to gain enjoyment from writing instead, and Zettelkasten enables constant focus on interesting materials. We have Overconfidence bias too which means our plan tend not to work out as we expected. Sticking to a plan will also disregard new discoveries (Ahrens 11). The DNA structure won't be discovered if the scientists sticked to their plan (DNA structure was discovered on cancer treatment research).
- Zettelkasten helps counter confirmation bias
- The best thinkers are not free from confirmation bias either. Although being aware of the problem helps you do something about it, you don’t really want to rely on your willpower. You want to embed a mechanism in your workflow to counter confirmation bias because Workflow trumps willpower. Zettelkasten embeds this mechanism so that your writing is done bottom-up.
- Positive thinking can result in negative outcome if it is not translated into actions
- Unfortunately many people would stop on the imagination step and not pursue the intended goal, because it feels good in the short term. In the long term, you will feel demotivated as you wouldn't see any progress, resulting in a negative outcome. This is not to say that positive thinking is bad as it is still a good way to start something, the emphasis here is you should not stop on the imagination step (When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured). You have to translate them into actions, because Workflow trumps willpower.
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