You never start with a clean sheet of paper

A clean sheet of paper is an oft-invoked image during design efforts of various stripes. Ignore what is happening now and imagine that there are no constraints on what you seek to create. Sometimes this strategy is explicit; often, however, it is hidden in the press to unveil the latest new, new thing.

If I’ve got a product or service that solves a real problem, I want to emphasize how good it’s going to be once you’ve put it into practice. If I spend any time at all on what you’re doing now, it’s only to highlight your pain and persuade you to get a move on to the promised land. If i’m fair to middling honest, I might acknowledge that you’ll have to put in some work to realize the benefits I’m promising.

For all that this is a default sales and marketing strategy, I think it is misleading, and possibly dangerous, in the realm of knowledge work. People with something to sell want you to start from a clean slate because it makes their job easier, not yours.

If you are turning out knowledge work on some consistent basis, then you already have some form of system or practice in place. You likely are all too well aware of your system’s warts and blemishes. The temptation to wipe everything clear and start over can be strong.

What is it, however, that you would be wiping clear? What you have now is a collection of practices and a body of work. Both contribute to your capacity for producing new work. Together they constitute a complex system that works.

This is a time to proceed with caution. Consider the following piece of advice that I encountered in Jerry Weinberg’s excellent Weinberg on Writing

It is always easier to destroy a complex system than to selectively alter it”
R. James

Both the practices and the body of work you have now evolved over time; they constitute a complex system. You are engaged in craft. Much of that craft may have been acquired by osmosis through multiple apprenticeships.

However acquired, you aren’t starting from a clean sheet of paper. However appealing new practices and techniques may sound, they have to be evaluated within the context of your existing practice and environment. Which means you need to invest in understanding your practices and your environment in some detail.

The question is never “am I doing X (building a second brain, linking my thinking, creating a Zettelkasten) the right way?”. The question has to be “how can I adapt this idea to my circumstances?”

You cannot function as a consumer here; you must accept your responsibility as a designer.