The discipline of a blank piece of paper

The ever-excellent Track Changes podcast caught my ear today. They have an interview with Michael Shaoul, who is the Chairman, CEO and Portfolio manager of Marketfield Asset Management.

I think that it’s always interesting to hear about what someone’s job involves day-to-day, particularly when they have such a senior position. Shaoul says that he spends a lot of his day reading articles to get a sense of a broader economic picture. From the podcast transcript linked above (light editing and emphasis mine):

I have the Terminal, so obviously it’s Bloomberg News,  but what I have is the raw news feed which has hundreds and hundreds of newswires. So you know, I literally have the world’s news scrolling past my eyes in real time and if I ever see something interesting, I click on it, and I probably read two, three hundred stories a day. I don’t necessarily finish them all […] If it’s really interesting, I might email it out. I might send it to someone, I might, as you say, jot it down in a notebook. You know, I’m lucky that I have really an excellent memory and the Terminal itself makes it relatively easy to go back and find something that you looked at […] but that altogether sort of forces me to […] have a constant view on what I think is going on.

I’m on the telephone, talking to people. I’m constantly reading stories. It’s a lot. So how do I synthesize it? Partly through the discipline of writing. I’ve been writing daily and weekly stuff now for years […]  people say, “Well how do you have enough time to write if you’re like reading and talking to people?” I’m like, “Unless I write something, I don’t know what I understand.” And it is that discipline of a blank piece of paper — or a blank screen and typing away — that forces you to decide what you actually care about and what doesn’t really matter.

I think this goes hand-in-hand with one of my favourite quotes:

I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.

The interview got me thinking about the weeknotes that I’ve written here during 2018, and more broadly why I’ve kept a blog — on and off — for the past 15 years. I’m not a CEO of an asset management firm, am not selling anything and typically don’t get too many views of the things I write. The audience for ‘everything Andrew is possibly thinking about’ is an extremely narrow one, and doesn’t even include my wife or my mother. But that’s okay — the main purpose is for me to work out what I think about things and what I want to say about them. Connections made with anyone else are amazing, but they are a bonus.

I’m going to try and continue with my weeknotes in 2019. I need to seriously work on keeping them brief so that they don’t take up quite so much time, as I already have more things to do than I can possibly complete this year. I’ve no idea if I’ll succeed or not, but the point isn’t the output as much as it is the discipline and process of creating something on that ‘blank piece of paper’.

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