Not every poker table has the same dynamic, so it’s important to master a few different playstyles to draw from. Because I’m such a nerd, I’ve been visualizing my different approaches to the game as nine different D&D characters.
In my last article, I described the Chaotic Neutral Barbarian, the perfect style when sitting on less than 20 big blinds. When deep-stacked, with a tower of 300 big blinds or more, you need to be much more defensive with your chips. And there’s no better defender in my rotation than the Lawful Good Paladin. They’re the paragon of virtue: tight, aggressive, and well balanced. They don’t step out of line often, nor take a lot of risks, and play well against unskilled loose opponents. I like to use the Paladin when rapidly changing gears, usually switching to it when my opponents have stopped respecting my bets.
This style is Lawful because it heavily uses pot control. The Paladin plays straightforwardly, growing the pot with high equity hands, bluff catching with medium hands, and bluffing with the very bottom of their range. They do not deploy many traps, clearly announcing their intentions with large bets and strong check/raise lines, giving their opponents plenty of opportunities to surrender.
Their range is Good, tighter than a majority of the other players at the table, and they use preflop raise sizes large enough to annihilate implied odds Evil players might be relying on. Post flop, Paladins use a mixed strategy that leaves some of their strongest hands along every betting line. The holiest of Paladins are able to balance those few traps with an optimal ratio of (blocker dependent) check/raise bluffs. It’s never 100% safe to steal from a Paladin.
At a table full of whales, donkeys, or Evil opponents getting out of line, it can be a waste of money to play any style besides Paladin. There’s no need for deception if your opponents aren’t paying attention, or don’t know how to adjust. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most boring styles since you spend so much time waiting for good hands.
“Serious poker is no more about gambling than rock climbing is about taking risks.”
Every preflop fold from a Paladin grows the power of their range. When it’s finally time to play, Paladins unleash that power with a vengeance. They never cold call preflop, when Paladins play they raise and they make that raise much larger than the table standard. It’s not always possible when stacks are very deep, but Paladins prefer to get at least 12% of the effective stack in preflop. That’s the magic stack-to-pot ratio where set-mining with pocket pairs becomes unprofitable. Bad reverse implied odds would be a Paladin’s primary weakness if they didn’t open with a Smite.
Lay on hands
A style built around folding and value betting goes a long way towards protecting a stack. If the blinds are too small to put pressure on you, it’s a good style to use for recovery & healing after the table dynamics, or board runouts, have turned against you, particularly during long tournaments.
Although Paladins play very restricted ranges, those ranges still contain full board coverage. A Paladin might raise 43s from under the gun, but decide to only do so with diamonds to keep the frequency low. Or make A4s the single hand in their 4bet bluffing range for the day. Those ranges remain tight because the Paladin will rarely continue with an easily dominated hand, such as K9o, but they have enough coverage to plausibly connect with any board texture.
The primary characteristic of the Paladin is its straightforward tight-aggressive approach to poker. Their bets usually mean what they say and their betting lines are easy to adjust to: stay out of their way when they show interest in a hand. This dynamic isn’t bad for the Paladin and can enable them to slowly grow a stack without variance, but often the real money is made when you exploit that honest reputation by switching over to an Evil style without warning.
MUDs, including The Uncanny Valley MUD are Role Playing Games (RPGs) in which you use your imagination to create a fictional character and explore a large open world alongside other players from all over the world.
If you follow the world of biohacking in gene editing, you’ve undoubtedly heard of CRISPR and Kevin Esvelt. Kevin is an associate professor at MIT and runs the Sculpting Evolution program through MIT’s Media Lab. Why is he important? He’s the guy who discovered a way to edit life out of existence. Literally. “But why?!” you might be asking yourself. Well, to save humanity from itself, of course.
But let’s take a step back and better understand what Kevin is working with. Maybe you’ve heard of CRISPR, a revolutionary gene editing tool discovered by Jennifer Doudna in 2012. It’s been described as molecular scissors, essentially giving us the ability to “cut” a piece of DNA and replace it with a new piece. It’s the cut and paste function a computer, but with the building blocks of life. This seems like a terrible idea, the kind of thing every sci-fi movie about anything has warned us about. But the ability to change ourselves, enhance the human body, enhance other animals… this isn’t new. We do this currently through selective breeding in animals and cross breeding plants. What’s different about CRISPR is that we can affect those changes immediately.
So what does that have to do with Kevin?
Esvelt discovered a way to make the CRISPR changes in an animal carry on to the next generation, ad infinitum, by discovering something called gene drive. It adds a “code” to the DNA cut that tells it to happen again, and again. Prior to his discovery, changes made by CRISPR couldn’t be passed down generationally. Hypothetically you could tell a generation of mosquitoes, “okay, you’re going to detest the smell of humans so much that you won’t bite them ever again”. They’d live there fraught little lives, infecting animals with malaria instead of humans. Then they’d breed, die, and their offspring would be ravenous for human blood again. Considering the lifespan of a mosquito isn’t long, there wouldn’t be much effect in reducing the threat of malaria. But then gene drive… suddenly you have a population of little buggers who despise humans that are breeding with buggers who love them. The encoded CRISPR overrides human love with human hate. Voila. Malaria stops spreading by its main vector and we’ve stopped one of the worst zoonotic infections.
This brings us to why Kevin can’t die.
Esvelt has a project in the works on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket right now called Mice Against Ticks. He’s trying to solve the problem plaguing the islands: Lyme disease. The cute little white footed mouse is a primary carrier for Lyme. Ticks bite the mice, become infected, and transfer that infection to their next host: humans. Kevin’s idea was to introduce Lyme resistant mice, encoded with CRISPR, into the island population. Over time, these Lyme free mice would take over the infected mouse population. Then, when ticks bite these new mice, they wouldn’t get infected and carry it to the next meal. This project has been very slow, and purposefully so, because Kevin sought out the input from the community first instead of pushing through his plan. He has a moral responsibility to communities gene drive might affect. If any human has the capacity to wield god-like powers, we want it to be someone that is willing to take criticism and feedback into account.
Sitting in the wrong hands, gene drive could potentially wreak havoc on our Earth. Esvelt wants the technology to only be held by nonprofits. In America, corporations can make infinite amounts of money and do anything they want with their profits, after taxes of course. Nonprofits can also make infinite amounts of money, but to keep their tax-exempt status, they must invest that profit back into their company and into the communities they serve.
So a public or private corporation armed with gene drive could be a secret as it wanted to… planning the complete demise of rats or all the Steves. We’d never know how much money they’d be putting into research and development, or how much they could profit off of having every Steve wiped off the planet.
Nonprofits, by law, must be transparent about what money comes in, who’s donating, and how all that money is spent. It doesn’t mean Steve would be safe, but it does mean there wouldn’t be a monetary incentive to decimate all the Steves. Who would donate to an organization whose mission statement is “to be rid of all the Steves in this world in perpetuity”? That market is hopefully quite small.
Kevin Esvelt has held his gene drive technology close, and it doesn’t seem like he’s about to divulge his techniques to just anyone. Steve haters of the world, you’re going to have to find another way.
Along with keeping his tech secret, he’s put together a series of protocols to ensure CRISPR, and its role in gene drive, is used responsibly. One of the ways he’s planned on ensuring we don’t just get rid of all the Steves, is to make gene drive easy to see to any other person diving into the DNA of living things. Every edit made should have a unique signature permanently attached to it so if Steves do indeed start dying off, the SteveEnding edit can be easily reversed and not passed down to future Steves. Essentially gene drive is telling the new DNA, “hey, we want this cell to stop Steve from growing. Please make it so, as this bit of CRISPR code suggests.” Anyone seeing this directive can say, “whoa, hold on there. Let’s let Steve live, yeah? Please ignore this CRISPR code and replicate normally.” Having controls in place like this is essential. Kevin wants every change to be as small as possible to affect change, and for those changes to be reversible.
Esvelt and his team have run through every doomsday scenario they can fathom. They feel as prepared as they can be with the knowledge they have, and they’re not sharing that knowledge. Imagine creating something that could completely change life as we know it, and telling everyone how to weaponize it? That would be stupid. Kevin is not stupid. There are inevitably many ways CRISPR and gene drive could be used as a weapon, and letting everyone know how to do that would be like giving the nuclear football to a TV celebrity and telling the world, “best of luck!” Do we want to wipe out all the Steves? Certainly not. Do we want to wipe out all mosquitos or white-footed mice? We *could* do that with gene drive. The short term implications might be positive. No more malaria! No more Lyme disease! But long term, the ecosystems that rely on those buggers for food would collapse. We can’t really predict all the negatives, but we can likely assume there would be more negatives than positives.
If Kevin Esvelt dies, his sense of ethics and all the Steves goes with him. So the real question is, who is working on downloading his brain?
“Thanks bro, this looks amazing, I love it. And the place looks great, by the way.”
“Yeah we just painted it and added some rooms.”
This conversation was happening as we strolled through the front lobby of a tattoo shop. This is where a close friend had just completed phase one of an Andy Kaufman portrait on my right calf. Since, I’ve nicknamed the piece “Andy Calf-man” (pause for laughter).
The fresh ink was mixing with blood and slowly creeping past the wet plastic wrap. I’m quite a bleeder, so this didn’t surprise me. The blackness of Andy’s “Elvis” quaff wouldn’t leave me alone, it was ringing like a few hornets had just attacked, but that’s the game. The needle had been deep in my skin just moments earlier, and I on my back, gritting my teeth for what I think is an underrated spot for tattoo agony.
I really hate the legs.
The pain wasn’t the only thing on my mind, however, and I adjusted my stance to alleviate some discomfort that began to arise in my intestines. When my buddy saw me shift, he recognized a familiar move and instinctively kicked into “good host” mode.
“You need to christen the can? The whole bathroom is brand new.” He asked.
I thought about it for a minute and looked at that freshly finished bathroom, all shiny any clean. But the bubbly sensation had settled and we were not that far from home, so I made a decision.
A decision I came to regret.
The winter air had a special kind of cold that night, as the Jeep raced along the empty highway. The city buzzed by in a blur as we chatted and laughed about this and that.
Andy had subsided into a dull ache, and I’d nearly forgotten about Mr. Calf-man.
Then it hit me.
That feeling in the intestines.
That pang of panic.
And I knew I was about to see “wave two”.
See, wave one is the initial knock on the door. Your body going “hey we got something brewing down here” so that you can start strategizing a spot to squat.
It’s when you deny that feeling it’s due diligence and push forward that you are introduced to the next phase. This is a bit more intense, it’s more than a knock on the door. It becomes a heavy rap, that of someone who has knocked a few times and sees you in the window, so they’re trying to get you to respond.
They’re like “I SEE you up there!”
And that’s where I was, sitting in a Jeep, cold winter wind blowing outside, very little suspension so we could feel every single bump in the road. That Jeep was like a wild horse, barely domesticated on a long ride across dangerous territory. Little did we know there was a war party close by, just out of site, waiting to ambush.
Wave two struck me like I’d literally taken an arrow through the belly. All at once, the sweat broke on my forehead (even though we could see our breath) and I began to straighten out like I’d been tied to some invisible stretcher.
My buddy went quiet as I clenched my teeth and closed my eyes, giving all of my focus to those desperate sphincter muscles, all the blood flow I could muster, every inch of strength.
Then it passed. I relaxed my body back into normal seated position and began breathing again.
“Damn man, that was close. If you do see somewhere with a bathroom do you mind pulling over?”
“I’m on it.”
His confidence reassured me that everything was…
Wave three was not far behind, and when it came swinging through, on the heels of wave two, I was dumbfounded by the fierce power it had mustered. It had returned briefly to its lair, grabbed some reinforcements, and came CHARGING back to the front line with its bayonet fixed.
I stiffened up like a board again, fully starched out, clenching and gritting, sweating and praying to every deity in the known canon to give me just an ounce more strength. It was Thermopile all over again, my sphincter was King Leonidas screaming for the 300 Spartans to hold the line as Xerxes’ war elephants charged across the beach.
The Jeep swung into a parking lot of a small gas station off an exit ramp and after Wave three dissolved back into the unknown, I RAN into the store and quickly asked the foreign counter clerk if I could have the key to the John.
“No public restroom.”
I almost didn’t believe him, and although his accent was not too thick, I pretended not to understand what he said and asked again for that magical key.
“NO PUBLIC RESTROOM!” He yelled, not really interested in politeness anymore, assuming I was a crazy person at this point, because I was sweating and holding my pants like a child.
The fast walk back to the Jeep was soul crushing. My buddy saw the look in my eye and just pulled back out onto the road without a word. He drove fast and with purpose, like an ambulance driver with a fresh patient in the back.
A loud grumble erupted from my lower regions and we looked at each other.
When you’ve successfully fought through three waves in a row and still haven’t found a bathroom, the darkness becomes incredibly vivid. The Jeep no longer felt cold, because I was emitting heat from my skin. The sweat was dripping and I almost felt like I was in a dream. Had it not been for a brush against the seat with Andy Calf-Man to remind me of the pain, I might have written the whole thing off as a vivid nightmare.
But it WAS real.
And as we bounced along the desolate stretch of road, I was about to look fear directly in the pupil, in the form of an evil I have only seen a few times in my life.
Wave Four was upon me. All was lost.
I assumed the position. Straight legs, feet flat on the floor, shoulders lined up on the seat, and fists clenched by my sides. My teeth clamped down and my eyes were lost behind locked eyelids.
The battle was twice as long as the others, stretching eternally into the night. I was one with the Jeep. I was one with the cold. I was one with the pain.
Part of me wants to know who else has ever been this far. We must be part of some secret fraternity, some special community of anal warriors, fighting against an ever present threat to civility.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on.” I said in a panic as the wave subsided. It was like the scene in the movie when someone gets shot and they’re trying to get him to the hospital in time. My buddy glanced at his rear view with great alarm, but it provided no help. He was trying not to look at me.
The Jeep pulled off the highway and we rounded the corner. As we came down the hill, I saw the glorious lights of the convenience store and a ray of hope came cutting through the overcast sky.
Without asking, he cut across the lanes and bounced into the parking lot. It couldn’t be any better timed, as Wave Five came charging at me from the darkest depths of my being.
“Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God…” I was babbling over and over again as I stumbled to open the door and jump out into the night air.
“Run!” He yelled after me as I bolted into the store. As I opened the door and entered, I looked around in complete panic and yelled to the clerk that I needed the bathroom.
He didn’t understand my situation at all, otherwise he wouldn’t have used such a dismissive tone when he grumbled back at me.
The walls were spinning. The lights were too bright. The sweat was breaking. The inner chambers of my body cavity were preparing to empty. My soul was waiting for the tunnel and the light.
I asked again, this time with much more intensity. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t just some schmuck who wanted to take a piss. This was do or die. This was revelation.
“Please can I use the bathroom?”
My voice cracked on every word. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand and continued to search for the little hallway in the back that would inevitably lead to my salvation.
“It’s broken, dude, no go.” He said again, and this time, I heard him loud and clear.
I looked at him, I looked at the girl behind the deli counter, and I looked at the guy in the potato chip aisle and then looked up into the sky at God himself.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I screamed into the air as my sphincter, oh brave warrior, oh King Leonidas, fell onto the battlefield, devoid of all strength. The warm wetness hit my legs and I felt my pride shrivel and die as my pants filled with horror beneath me.
I had shit my pants in the middle of the store.
As I walked out of the store, I approached the Jeep using an unmistakable gait of a man with no room for full use of his legs. I passed the Jeep and walked around the back of the place to the dumpster. I grabbed a cardboard box and flattened it, ripping off a chunk big enough to cover the passenger seat.
“You good?” He asked as I opened the door. Then he saw the cardboard come out to cover the seat and he covered his mouth.
“No way!” He said in disbelief.
I got in without speaking and sat on the cardboard. I put down the window and allowed the cold to drown out the stink. He laughed, and I couldn’t help but follow him, laughing at myself and the whole situation.
I’d lost the battle. It was over. Now I was just a survivor of this terrible tragedy.
When we arrived at my house, I called my wife and asked her to have the front door open and to ask no questions. I told her to go upstairs and to ignore anything she might see, hear…or smell. The dark of night covered me, but only for a moment.
As I crossed in front of the Jeep to head into the house, my buddy flashed the headlights and yelled out the window after beeping four or five times.
“Pat shit his pants!” He yelled with glee and drove away howling in laughter.
I went in, cleaned up, threw my pants away, and took a shower. Afterward, I put some ointment on Andy’s ever smiling mug and went to bed.
And though I wish to add a belt underneath Andy’s face that says “WWIGWC” (World Wide Intergender Wrestling Champion) I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that Mr. Calf-Man is cursed and will end the same way.
The moral of the story, if there’s one to be gleaned, is…
When someone offers you a clean, new white toilet, be the hero your story needs you to be and take that shit.
My name is Peter Allen, I’m a part time poker player and a full time software engineer. I am not a writer. What I am is someone who has played poker for most of his life and has obsessed over the game for at least half of it. When a good friend offered me an opportunity to write a column on poker theory, I flipped at the chance to subject an audience to my rantings.
Everything was good until I submitted the first draft.
The notation is scary
Um, do you think you could make this more consumable by the general public?
Forgive me, dear reader, if I sometimes forget there are others out there who do not yet supplicant themselves before the altars of logic & mathematics. But I’m not interested in writing a beginner’s guide to poker or game theory. That’s what the internet is for. My only job is to blow your f***ing mind with science. I’ll try to keep it simple while we explore modern poker theory, but I can’t promise it won’t get weird. Like multiverse weird.
How to Bluff All-In on the River
One of the most exciting plays in no-limit hold’em is shoving all of your chips in the middle as a bluff. Poker is a game of hidden information and no-limit means unlimited bet sizes. What could be more fun than risking every chip you have to scare your opponent away from a huge pot that you don’t deserve? If you apply a little method to your madness, you can turn an apparently suicidal move into a long term money maker. Besides, if you never shoved all-in as a bluff why would anyone ever call your big bets when you have a monster hand?
When you pull that move off successfully it can seem like your two cards don’t matter. They do, sort of, but what’s more important is your range of hands – all the hands you could possibly have in that spot, as if every Peter Parker across the entire Spiderverse was dealt one of every possible poker hand. Then you remove the hands you would have folded and what you’re left with is your range, like some sort of quantum superposition of every possible hand. If you know your range, you can calculate which exact hands can profitably make a huge all-in bluff and pull the trigger whenever your two cards are on that list. The fate of any single Peter Parker isn’t that important. To save the Spiderverse, you must try to get a positive number when adding up the wins & losses of every Peter Parker across existence.
Coming up with a perfect list of hands to bluff with is practically impossible to do while playing at the table. What many pros do is study different situations at home using a poker calculator, where they can come up with a perfect answer. The more time you spend doing that, the easier it is to make an educated guess at the table. And whenever you run into a situation you’ve studied before, you’ll absolutely crush it.
I’m going to show you how to examine one very specific situation where we’ll construct an all-in bluffing range. We’ll have an all-in value range too, but what I really want to know is the maximum number of hands we can bluff all-in with.
We’re playing no-limit hold’em with six players and each player has $100 in chips. Every player is dealt two cards face down that only they can look at. By the end of the hand there will be five cards face up on the board which all players share. You can win by having the best five card poker hand using any combination of your two cards and the five cards on the board, or you can win whenever every other player folds.
In this situation, almost all of the action has already taken place and only one decision remains: will we check and let the best hand win at showdown? Or will we shove all-in with the last of our chips and let our opponent decide whether to call or fold? The actual two cards we’ve been dealt don’t matter yet, because we’re going to figure out what every Peter Parker across the entire Spiderverse is going to do. We are Player 5, the Hero in this hand. The Villain is Player 2.
Player 1 is in the small blind and posts $0.50.
Player 2 (Villain) is in the big blind and posts $1.
Each player is dealt two cards.
Player 3 folds.
Player 4 folds.
Player 5 (Hero) raises to $3.
Player 6 folds.
Player 1 folds.
Player 2 (Villain) re-raises to $9.50.
Player 5 (Hero) calls.
Three shared cards, the flop, are dealt to the board: Jh Th 3s
Player 2 (Villain – stack size: $90.50) bets $9.
Player 5 (Hero – stack size: $90.50) calls.
One more shared card, the turn, is dealt to the board: 5d
Player 2 (Villain – stack size: $81.50) bets $15.
Player 5 (Hero – stack size: $81.50) calls.
The final shared card, the river, is dealt to the board: 9d
Player 2 (Villain – stack size: $66.50) checks.
Player 5 (Hero – stack size: $66.50) bets all-in for $66.50.
It’s a pretty exciting hand! We were the first one to raise preflop, but got re-raised and decided to call. On the flop the Villain fired a bet a little less than half the size of the pot, then did it again on the turn. On the river they checked and we shoved all-in with our entire stack. We’d lose money fast if we did that move with every hand, but we can use a poker calculator to choose the exact hands that could make a profit with this play.
First, we need to figure out exactly which hands we could have in this spot. We’ll start with an initial range and remove hands along the way. For this example, I used software called Flopzilla, which makes examining poker ranges much easier. In the notation below, “s” means the two cards are of the same suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts, or spades). “o” means offsuit, two different suits.
We’ll start from the beginning and choose the specific hands we would have raised with when we entered the pot. Each players’ range is different and changes depending on their position, how the other players behave, whether Peter Parker has a symbiote attached to him, etc. Raising 24.8% of all possible hands is a reasonable starting point for our position. That range includes:
All suited hands with an ace
Some offsuit hands with an ace
Some suited hands with a face card
Some offsuit hands with a face card
An offsuit connector
A handful of suited connectors
There are 330 different hand combinations in that range and we could have had any one of them when we made our raise. Each combination is equally likely in the Spiderverse, but only 6 Peter Parkers have AA while 16 of them have AK. That’s just how the cards in the deck combine together.
Then the Villain re-raised us and we called their raise, so now we can remove a few hands from our range. If we had a monster hand we probably would re-raise instead of call, so we can remove AA, KK, QQ, and AK from our calling range. We’ll also fold out our weakest hands that don’t play very well against whatever the Villain likely re-raised us with. We end up removing about 50% of the hands from our range and are left with 153 hands that would have called preflop.
The Villain bet $9, making the new pot $28.50. When the Villain risked $9 to win $28.50, they would show a profit if we folded more than 31.5% of the time. No matter what their cards were! Without knowing the Villain’s range, our Peter Parkers have a great responsibility to not fold more often than that. We’ll call with any pair or better. We’re also going to call with our flush draws and open ended straight draws. That narrows us down to 105 hands; only folding 31.4% of our range.
To keep things simple, let’s assume we won’t raise the Villain now or on the turn with any of our hands. If we had a raising range we’d have to remove those hands from our calling range, but I want to maximize the number of hands we can shove all-in with on the river. You’ll see at the end that the more Peter Parkers there are shoving all-in with monster hands, the more Peter Parkers there can be shoving all-in with bluffs.
The Villain bet $15, making the new pot $52.50. If we folded more than 28.5% of the time here the Villain would show a profit with any two cards. We’ll only fold our weakest pairs, 25% of our range, and are left with 78 hands.
Raising at least some of our hands would be better, but our spidey sense is tingling. Maybe the Villain will bet again on the river and we’ll be able to win more chips? Let’s keep all of the good hands in our calling range by never raising.
The Villain checked. My spidey sense misfired, so we’ll have to rely on my other powers. In this situation we heroically shoved all-in with our last $66.50 after the Villain showed weakness. Not every Peter Parker did that, of course. Many just checked and let the best hand win. But which ones made that heroic shove with every last chip? And how many of those Peter Parkers were lying their ass off with a stone cold bluff?
If the Villain called our bet, the final pot would be $200.50. To pay $66.50 for a chance to win $200.50, the Villain has to win the hand at least 33% of the time to break even. To make the absolute most money over time, and not even care what the Villain decides to do, we should ensure our all-in range contains exactly 66% value hands and 33% bluffs.
To accurately construct our value range, we would need to start from the beginning to work out the Villain’s range so we can compare it to ours. In the interest of keeping things simple, let’s cheat and assume we know the Villain so well that we’re sure they’re going to almost always show up with a pair in this spot. If that’s true, we can shove for value with a straight, three of a kind, two pair, and top pair with top kicker. That comes to 30 hands for value.
To get the perfect ratio we need to now include 15 hands from our range as bluffs. If we have a decent pair we‘ll just check instead of bluff because there’s a small chance we can win at showdown. For bluffing, we want to choose our weakest hands that are unlikely to win if we check. Our fifteen Peter Parkers that made it this far with those terrible hands will now try to make the most of it by bravely shoving every chip into the middle and hope it’s enough to scare the Villain away.
Because our bluffing frequency perfectly matches the odds we’re offering the Villain, nothing they do from that point on can mathematically improve their results against us. When we shove a perfect ratio of value to bluffs, we are indifferent to whether the Villain always folds or always calls. The entire Spiderverse wins no matter what happens next.
Of course if the Villain does fold, and you happen to be holding one of those fifteen bluffing hands, be sure to show it to the table so everyone can see you’re just a wild maniac willing to bluff off everything you’ve got with any two cards!
My name is Luke and I, (like you) am very very busy. We make a ton of commitments on a daily basis in all facets life: Commitments to ourselves, our families, employers, communities, friends, and schools. I run media and photography company, participate in community art events, and local government and community programs.
There’s a lot going on and it’s a lot to keep track of. Now, I don’t know about you but I’m pretty scatterbrained, and I smoke a lot of pot. I used to think about this for a minute, and then jump to that, back and forth forever… I’d pace around worrying about all the things I forgot, and feel guilty about all the things I should and should not have been doing. I was not advancing on any of my goals, or even defining them. I was losing track of everything that mattered.
Some years back I stumbled upon a web series called “The Secret Weapon”, and the principles contained therein changed my life, and the way I get work done, and helped me to allow space back into my brain for creativity. “The Secret Weapon” is no longer around, but it was a series that helped people set up the then-popular note-taking app Evernote thus that it could be effectively used as a tag-based task management system. It really was brilliant. (EDIT: It’s BACK!!! www.thesecretweapon.org) I then learned that the concepts used in that series were based upon David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done (GTD)”. This is one of the rare books in my lifetime that I have read more than once. It has since spurred an entire industry.
The mind is for having ideas, not holding them – David Allen
David Allen very famously believes that “the mind is for having ideas, not holding them” – and the minute I read that I came to believe with all of my heart that it was true. Holy shit David Allen, you’re right! We suck at remembering things. Even the best humans, the most successful people, still forget the milk. We still find ourselves lying in bed at night with random, and often unhelpful, reminders popping into our consciousness with no sense of priority or importance. It’s not our fault, as a species we were not designed to keep up with today’s demands. Our brain tries to help us out by reminding us to do an important task for a project at work while we’re still at home in the shower. Unhelpful. Luckily there are tools and systems available that can help us manage the flurry of oncoming demands that vie for our attention: the endless email follow-ups, registration renewals, submission deadlines, old friends to call, family anniversary parties, project deliverables, band practices, vacations and so on.
David Allen, in his book, developed a system in “Getting Things Done” that is based upon 5 steps:
Clarify what actually needs to be done
Organize and prioritize all those things
Reflect on your list – Review it at regular intervals.
Do the stuff
This is how I’ve used GTD in my own life.
Ideas come and go fast. For this whole thing to work, we need to be able to capture them somewhere – in one single place. A repository for everything. Something that we dump our ideas and commitments into that is fast, frictionless, and easy.
The backbone of my system is The Omnigroup’s task management solution Omnifocus. It’s an application for Mac, IOS, and web. It literally controls my life. Omnifocus captures all the little things that tend to pull on my mind and breaks them into projects and next actions. It allows me to look at everything I have committed to, and everything that I want to do in one place. It gives me the power to organize, prioritize, and review all of that so that I can achieve my real goals and be most effective with my time.
“Actions” are organized into “Projects”, which can be assigned defer and due dates along with other notes and metadata. Actions can also be assigned any number of “Tags” which can help to further organize and filter different types of work.
Since I capture everything that I intend to do into OmniFocus, I rely upon several pathways to get my stuff into it with minimal effort. Its power is in its ability to bend to your individual needs. This is what works for me, but keep in mind that you’ll need to find what works for you over time.
SIRI DICTATION – Throughout the day, I tell my phone to add items in OmniFocus. This is very helpful when I’m driving and thinking about the things I need or want to do.
“Hey Siri, remind me to change the water filters in a week” “Hey Siri, remind me to stop by the place to get the thing at the time! “Hey Siri, remind me to send a super important message to a super important client”
EMAIL FORWARDING – Every morning I process all of my inboxes. Most of my email is noise, and I use the keyboard shortcut ( ] ) in Gmail to archive it quickly. When I come across an email that requires my attention, I forward it straight to Omnifocus with the keyboard shortcut ( f ). From there it becomes just another task in my task list, and then I am able to archive it in Gmail immediately. This enables me to clean out my entire inbox very quickly while still capturing all the stuff that’s important.
I use Gmail because it’s inexpensive and it works well, but no matter what email provider or client you use: if you look for them, you’ll find keyboard shortcuts that can enable you to plow through your email without ever taking your hands off the keyboard! I recommend that you do!
BRAINDUMPS – The braindump is a periodic purge of all the things I’m thinking about. To do this, I write a list in the IOS application “Drafts”. Drafts is great. I write a new line separated list of things and when I’m done, automation parses each line and sends it to Omnifocus as a new action for myself to later address. It’s awesome. I try to do this weekly.
MAC QUICK ADD SHORTCUT –
This is the method I use the most. On the Mac, the keyboard shortcut CTRL-CMD-SPACE opens an Omnifocus quick entry dialog on the screen. It pops up over whatever application you’re working in.
This is great because it allows me to create a task without finding or opening any apps, and I can do it immediately, otherwise, there’s a chance that I get distracted and it never gets captured. If I’m in a meeting and I commit to getting someone something by some time, I can hit CTRL-CMD-SPACE and note that down with all the relevant details without ever taking my hands off the keyboard. It rules. It’s like magic.
Capturing stuff happens quickly – most ideas and tasks don’t start fully fleshed out. I think this is the largest barrier to success that I see in daily life. People just don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Mostly that’s just because the task itself, or the method to success isn’t clear. Each morning, after processing my email inbox, I review my Omnifocus inbox. The “Inbox” in Omnifocus is as it sounds – an inbox for new actions to be processed. Anything I send to Omnifocus during the day dumps into the Inbox. For example, “Get notes to team members” might be something I would see in there while I’m sleepy-eyed and sipping my coffee.
On its surface, a reminder might seem helpful, but it is really a half-developed thought that I wrote at the end of a busy week on a Friday. It might not make any sense at all on a Monday after a glorious weekend full of art-making and adventure. What was I really trying to tell myself? “Get notes to team members”? What notes? Who was on the team? What team? I have no idea what I was trying to tell myself when I added this to Omnifocus.
In the clarify step I can look at these items and clarify what I meant and need to do if anything… Who was on the team? What were their email addresses? Which notes are relevant? I would need to collect all that before this placeholder could be actionable.
I might edit that task to read more like “Deliver Minutes from 10/25 strategic visioning meeting to the Pre-Sales Team” which would be more helpful to me in the case that this item is deferred or deprioritized and I later forget it’s context. I might also decide it was total nonsense and just delete it. Good riddance. Sometimes I capture tasks with all the relevant information right away. Those are great! If I have all the information, the quick entry bar allows me to enter it all. Often times though I don’t have enough information and what I really need is a reminder of some kind to go and get it. I go through the inbox and clarify the items every day. A nagging to-do will only leave my mind if I trust that I’ve captured it and that I’m definitely going to look at it again within a relevant timeframe. I review the inbox a couple of times a day usually.
After I’ve clarified each of the items in my OmniFocus inbox, I organize and prioritize them all. Items don’t leave the inbox until they have been assigned to a Project and a Tag.
I put way more stuff into OmniFocus than I will, or could ever do. That’s ok. What’s easiest? What’s most profitable? What advances your goals? What can be done at home? What can only be done in the office? – Defining this information upfront is very powerful so that you can choose all the stuff not to do.
David Allen describes the concept of assigning “contexts” to tasks and projects. A Context is an environmental descriptor. @Home, @Work, @Store, @Computer A context could be anything you could use to define a bucket of work. Places you need to be at, people you need to be with, or things you need to have available are all good context candidates.
Note that new versions of OmniFocus no longer refer to “Contexts”, as these have been replaced by “Tags”. These are the tags that I use most often:
Home – Personal stuff
Work – Work stuff
Business – Small Business stuff
Errands – Not at home or at work.
As I process my actions, I assign to each one of them one of these contexts. I also assign it to a project and generally set a defer date, on which I want to be reminded of the action. “Write Content for The Uncanny Valley” for example, is a Project, the Tags for which would be @business, and @computer.
This is so powerful to me. After having assigned Tags to my Actions this way I can pull up all my tasks with the @computer context and work on them when I’m sitting at the computer. When I’m sitting on the bus, I don’t see them. That’s very efficient.
I also use Tags for agendas and meetings, as well. Here’s an end to end example.
Let’s say I get a mailing from my town with a warrant for some important town meeting. I read the body of the agenda for the meeting, and have questions. Now I lift my wrist to my mouth and speak into my Apple Watch “Remind me to ask the Board of Selectmen about warrant item 1 the next time I’m at Town Hall”. When it comes time for me to process my inbox, I will take that item and add some information to it.
I know that Town Hall is closed for the next couple of days, so I’m going to set a defer date until it opens. I won’t see this task again until there’s something I can do about it. Now, I know the date of the town meeting, so I can use that as the due date. In addition, I know that this is town related business, so I’ll give it the tag “Town”. I also know that I have to speak to the Board of Selectmen about it, so I’ll give the tag “Agendas : Boards : Board of Selectmen”.
When I’m next at the town hall, I’ll pull up my Agendas tag and see if there’s anyone there I need to talk to. If I happen to see one of the selectmen about town, I might pull up my Board of Selectmen tag and see that I’ve got to ask him about that warrant!
All this metadata makes it easy to wrangle all the people, places, and things that constitute our open loops when they are most valuable to see.
This is the step that brings the whole thing together. There’s no use committing to the overhead it takes to capture, clarify, and organize every task in your life – if you’re never going to review that work. GTD doesn’t work without frequent fearless review. A task manager is like a garden that requires constant care and feeding, pruning and attention. It’s a living system that grows and changes and scales with your life and circumstances. The only way this whole thing works is if we capture all the commitments we make somewhere we trust, and then we review that place frequently. Only then, will my stupid brain allow me to relax. “It’s cool dummy, you captured it. You’re gonna review it. You don’t have to worry about it, because I know you’ve got it covered.” That’s what we want. That’s the goal, and that’s what GTD gives me.
The least fun part of the whole GTD system is the actual doing part. This is a lot of maintenance to put into a life management system – but we can’t forget that the purpose of it all is to actually do the most important work that gets us closer to our goals.
Each morning, after I’ve processed my email and my inbox, I look at my calendar and assess how much time I have in the day for execution. Using that information, I take a look at all my categorized projects, consider my goals, and I flag the tasks I think are most likely to move me towards them today.
This not only shows me what’s important, and what I should be doing with the resources I have available at the moment, it also allows me feel ok about the huge lists of things I’m *not* doing.
I can’t do all the things at once. Having them organized gives me situational awareness and the confidence to make decisions based on data.
I’ve learned over time by capturing it all – how little of it really matters. We should be focusing on the big stuff. Our dreams and our life goals.
This has been a basic intro of how I structure my days and manage my tasks and commitments. GTD is how I’m able to feel confident when I tell someone I’ll get back to them.
I don’t stay up at night anymore, thinking about what I need to, or what I forgot to do. I trust that I’ve captured all of that stuff somewhere safe. I know I’m going to look at a trusted repository in the morning so my subconscious can relax. It no longer needs to try and help me at 2 am.
If this interests you, I encourage you to look into it more. You can get David Allen’s Getting Things Done Here