Thinking Out Loud No. 26

Newsletter constraints, Readwise Daily Review and regenerative farming

Hi everyone!

I'd like Thinking Out Loud to be a weekly newsletter. I've found that this cadence keeps my whole 'writing system' running smoothly, and that's important to me.

For whatever reason, my approach to newsletter writing has tended towards essays and mini-essays, which are more difficult to churn out at high quality on a regular basis. I think my bias towards long-form content here is also why I have only written nine essays for my blog in the last year.

Introducing a weekly cadence creates a constraint and forces me to ask myself difficult questions: "if I have to get a newsletter out every week, and the current approach is impractical for that, in what ways does the newsletter need to change?"

In this way, constraints are a constructive and helpful tool. If I don't have the time to write a few 1,000 word essays every week (which I don't), what else can I do? What new opportunities and avenues for growth and creativity does this open up?

Which is to say:

Using Readwise Daily Reviews for effortless growth

When I went through the Building A Second Brain course last year, one of the workflow tools introduced was Readwise. If you don't know it, Readwise is a tool that aggregates your highlights from various sources: Amazon Kindle, read later apps like Instapaper, and even photos from books (if you're an iOS user... grumble).

As a dutiful Second Brainer, I bought the subscription to Readwise so that all my highlights would get automatically dumped into Evernote for processing, but then I never used that workflow and I sort of just forgot about Readwise.

But recently, Readwise sent me an email:

"It's hard to believe, but it's almost been one whole year! We wanted to let you know ahead of time that your annual Readwise subscription is set to automatically renew for $95.88 on July 14."

$100! Unsure if I would get that much value from renewing, I did what any normal human would do in that situation: I asked Personal Knowledge Management Twitter to share their Readwise workflows.

The conversations in response to that tweet are absolute gold... you know, if you're into that sort of thing. Which I suspect at least 73% of you are. (Fun fact — prime numbers are 17% more believable, because they seem 31% less random.)

In the end, what sold it for me was the Readwise Daily Review feature, which shows you a short selection of the highlights in your database every day. I've seen Ramses Oudt do a superb job of sharing these highlights on Twitter and I decided that I wanted me some of that sweet knowledge sharing action.

So now I've slipped into a very comfortable daily routine of reviewing my highlights until I get to something worth tweeting. This has had a number of great benefits for me:

  • It helps me find useful insights that I can share with the folks on Twitter. I always add my own perspective rather than just broadcasting the quote, which has been a great conversation starter.

  • This has made me want to read more so that I have better material to share later.

  • It has improved my eye for what makes a useful highlight. If I review a highlight that is three paragraphs long, it means I missed the point of highlighting when I took the highlight (I should have restated that section in my own words). This feedback mechanism is helping me become a better reader.

  • And finally, this method is helping me learn and articulate important things about myself, because reviewing each highlight makes me contextualise the insight in my life which, today, led to this gem around my 'life purpose'.

And the best thing is that — since all I'm doing is adding more things into my awareness in a play-like way — all of these improvements happen automatically and effortlessly.

That's definitely worth $100 a year to me.

UK regenerative pasture farming

If you've been following me for a while, you may know that I'm interested in these two topics:

These two things happily intersect for me in the subject of regenerative farming. This is where grassland is cultivated as pasture for cattle rearing, such that land quality, biodiversity, animal welfare and meat nutrient profile are significantly enhanced.

Done well, regenerative farms can become a net carbon sink, removing carbon from the air.

The carbon footprint of grass farms is significantly lower than that of farms where cereal crops are grown to feed animals. Grassland helps capture and store carbon so less is released into the air to harm the atmosphere. Grazing animals return nutrients and organic matter back to the ground as they deposit their dung, ensuring the soil remains healthy and fertile.

Pasture farmers sow legumes such as white and red clover, which help other grasses and plants grow without the need for chemical-based fertilisers, which can make the soil acidic and unhealthy, are expensive and made from non-renewable sources of energy. Pasture farms are alive with wildlife including many flowers, insects, birds and mammals.

Pasture for Life specifically prohibits feeding soya to animals, much of which has been grown on land cleared of native tropical forest. So, Pasture for Life farmers do not contribute to the destruction of precious resources elsewhere in the world.

As someone who believes that eating high-quality animal products is healthy, I was pleased to discover that I have access to regeneratively farmed animal products here in the UK and that there is a scheme – Pasture For Life – that certifies farms using these methods.

If you live around London then you can access Pasture For Life certified products through Farmdrop (small referral link worth £5 for each of us) — I get everything from The Story farm.

Fundamentally, if we're going to continue to eat meat at scale, I think we should be shifting to models like this as far as possible. I have more to say about this, but I think that would make for a more thoughtful essay.

So that's all from me — see you next week.

(P.S. I’m currently rebuilding my website in Webflow. I’m looking forward to launching a reinvigorated website that will get a lot more love in the coming weeks).

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