‘Tis the season… I get the polite-but-nervous phone calls for MIT applicants who are setting up their interviews (side note: if your alma mater does alumni interviews, and you’ve been thinking about it but haven’t tried it, try it! This is my 12th year doing it, and it’s always fun and interesting to get to meet the kids), and, from parents and kids, I’m getting questions about how to handle the whole letter of recommendation thing. I’ve also just gone through a six-year period of my life in which I had to be the recommendee on a yearly basis. Ugh. And I’ve been both a writer of letters and on admissions committees reading them. All sides of the desk.
I also know that, well, let’s say this nicely… sometimes it’s hard for kids to hear stuff from their parents that might seem like common sense, and sometimes it’s easier to hear it from someone else. So, let me offer a few tips.
Numero uno. I know, this might sound dorky. But really. Make it easy and pleasant for the person writing the letter. It may be part of their job (and, by the way, many people who write letters as part of their jobs, myself included, quite enjoy doing it), but it’s still a favor you’re asking, and it does take time. (If you cannot listen to anything non-Machiavellian, then at least remember that people who are happy write more positive letters than those who are grouchy.) If you’re applying to a large number of schools, particularly if there are lots of annoying forms they have to do along with their letter, be extra-nice about it. For those who like scripts, I like to use phrases like, “Would you be willing to…?” “I really appreciate your offering to…”
Unless you are in one of those awful situations where the school dictates exactly who has to write the letters, choose intelligently. Recent is good. Long period of contact with you is good. Contact with you in some in-depth collaborative endeavor is excellent. Someone who can make it clear that you didn’t just do whatever it was that you were doing because you thought it would look good on your resume, someone who can talk about how they observed you persistently pursuing your passions, is terrific. Long experience in the field is nice (some forms ask), but not a crucial thing. If you happen to have a recommender who is a big name in the field, such that the recipient will know who it is and that getting that person to make a recommendation at all is meaningful, then that’s nice. But a big-name highly-experienced recommender who had very little contact with you and can’t say much in detail about you is not as useful as a run-of-the-mill recommender who knows you well and who can speak in detail about you.
Ask not just if they are willing to write a letter, but if they are willing to write a strong letter. A mealy-mouthed recommendation is a huge double-whammy, because it both says the kinda-sorta-okay things about you while everyone else is getting positive recommendations, and because it suggests that either you didn’t have any better choices, or that you didn’t realize that this recommender didn’t think as highly of you as you might have thought they did. If there’s a particular area of concern, something you know the recommender might want to say or have to say about you that is less than complimentary, bring it up directly, and talk with them about how (or whether) it could be presented in an honest but not awful way. If they cannot write you a good recommendation, it’s okay to part ways politely (I had a kid once who insisted that I write a recommendation, despite my clear statement that I would not be able to fail to mention her frequent, severe, and admittedly intentional disruptions of my class. Weird choice.). You are not asking the recommender to lie or in any way misrepresent their perspective — that would be unethical. But you need to know where you stand. Although this may be a one-time thing for you, it’s not a one-time thing for the recommender. The school gets to know recommenders over time, and recommenders who are unreliable, who tell them candidates are terrific when they aren’t, lose credibility. Plus, being aware of your weaknesses (in the shrink biz, we like to call them “growing edges” — doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy?) and being able to speak about them honestly, thoughtfully, and nondefensively is itself a good thing that a recommender might mention in a letter.
At the college level or before, most recommenders will not offer to share the letter with you. As you move further up the food chain, it becomes more typical for letters to be shared and even, in very good relationships, to be collaboratively edited. If someone does offer to share it, that’s very sweet, and can go a long way towards reducing the I-don’t-know-what’s-inside-that-secret-envelope anxiety. Say an extra thank you for that if they do it, but don’t ask them to if they don’t do it spontaneously. Similarly, I do come down on the side of checking the “I waive the right to see this letter” box — if they want you to see it, they will show you a copy anyhow. I know some folks probably disagree with me on this, but it just feels like a covert, “If I don’t get in, I might see if you wrote something less-than-perfect about me and I might Take Retributive Action of Some Kind.” Fundamentally, if you don’t feel you can trust the recommender, don’t ask them for a letter in the first place. This is one of those areas where it really pays to listen to the niggling feelings in your gut. (Been there, done that myself. No, I won’t put the details on the web.)
What’s much more typical at all levels is for recommenders to ask you what you’d like them to focus on in the letter, and/or for a copy of your resume or curriculum vitae, and/or for a description of what you’re applying for and what you think they’re looking for, what attracts you about it, why you think you’re a good match, etc. That doesn’t have to be well-written — a simple bullet list is just fine. As both a candidate and a writer of letters, I like this system a lot. It makes the writing process easier for the recommender, and it enables the candidate to make sure that the recommender doesn’t forget or misunderstand what the candidate thinks is important.
In fact, it’s a good idea to have already thought about all that before you start asking people. It’s nice to be able to put together a group of recommenders who can each speak well to a different aspect of your wonderfulness. If a recommender doesn’t ask for information, ask them “if there’s any information that would help you.” If they say no thank you, don’t worry about it. It very likely just means that they feel confident in terms of what they would want to say about you to that audience.
Yes, you might have numerous forms for them to fill out. If you’re applying to a ridiculously large number of places, (1) reconsider whether you really need to do that (2) warn the recommender ahead of time before they agree to write for you (3) say a huge thank-you both at the time and later on if they agree. Many recommenders will write a single letter on their own letterhead and attach it to the forms, doing only the minimal checkboxes or sometimes ignoring the form altogether. That’s generally no big deal. Admissions offices understand that recommenders are not the applicants, so they give them a fair bit more slack in terms of being perfect with the paperwork.
Logistically, make things as completely easy as you can for them. Fill out everything you’re supposed to fill out. Pre-address all of the envelopes to individual colleges for them. If the recommender is supposed to mail them to you, so that you can submit your recommendations in a single packet with your application, provide the recommender with a self-addressed large envelope to stick them all in and mail them back to you. Include plenty of postage — assume that the recommender will have both the form from the school and a separate letter on letterhead, so a large packet of envelopes might add up to more ounces than you expect. Frankly, I usually just spring for a priority-mail flat-rate envelope.
If the recommender is supposed to send them directly, then you’re fine with one stamp per envelope. Also, inside each pre-addressed-to-the-college pre-stamped envelope, include a self-addressed pre-stamped 4×6″ card with the name of the school and the recommender on it, and a nice note asking the admissions office to drop the card in the mail to you when they receive it. It’s an easy and cheap way to be sure that things got where they were going. (I use the same system with the applications themselves, or at least use a trackable / delivery confirmation method for mailing them. Things don’t get lost in the mail often, but it’s nice to know about it ASAP if they do!) If they’re supposed to use any online system to submit the recommendations, I think it’s nice to write clear directions for them and offer to help them if there are any technical glitches. Don’t assume that your recommenders are as comfortable with computers as you are, unless you have good reason to think so. The good news with the online systems is that you can generally track what’s been submitted and what hasn’t.
Give the recommender a lot of lead time — a month is good, two months if you can manage it. You’re making a major life decision here — procrastinating until the last minute isn’t a good move. Colleges are usually slightly flexible with recommendation deadlines (shh!), because they know it’s usually not your fault if the recommender is a day or two late, but remember that you don’t want a grumpy hassled person feeling pressured to write a letter for you at the last minute.
If you’re getting close to the deadline and they haven’t written them yet, it’s okay to nudge gently. My script is, “Hi, just checking in… just wanted to find out what your timeline was, in case you forgot…” And smile nicely and be really super-nice about it. Think about how nice you have to be when correcting a teacher… and then triple that. Yes, they’re letting you down. And you have to take it. Yes, it’s not fair. Resolve that when you’re the recommender, you won’t do that to kids. And don’t. even. think. about. getting. mad. where. they. can. see. If they appear likely to miss the deadline by any substantial amount of time, give them a graceful way out — “I know you’re really busy. Would you prefer that I ask someone else?” (Yes, I have a personal horror story here, too, which, again, I will not share with the intertubes.)
If you are a young-for-grade applicant, either because you skipped grades a while back, because you’re in some form dropping out of high school to go to college, because you’re homeschooling, or for whatever reason… all of this required professionalism goes double for you. If you’re getting letters of recommendation written for you, then you’re entering the phase of life where “really amazing for his age” needs to start being replaced by “really amazing, period.” If you’re not good enough on an objective scale to get in to whatever you’re trying to get into, then you don’t get extra credit or a bye or anything for being young when you try. Same with the letters — there’s going to be a presumption on the part of the reader that you’re “normal” for your age and hence immature as compared to other applicants. If the recommender can’t say honestly that you’re on a par (or better) maturity-wise with the other kids they write letters for, then you run a risk of being portrayed as “mature for her age,” which is the same thing as “not as mature as the older kids.”
Overall, your goal is to help your recommenders feel terrific about the whole experience. Let them see that you can handle the whole situation in a professional, responsible, adult fashion. And send a warm and personal thank you note afterwards. Chocolates and flowers aren’t necessary, unless you had them write an inordinate number of the darned things. It’s very anxiety-provoking, but if you choose well, realizing what others are willing (or even eager) to say about you can be tremendously validating.
(just in case anyone is wondering, I am still blogging. Or rather, I’m still trying to get “real” work done so I can feel okay making time to blog. But I’m still here. I have an article that I’ve been writing in the tiny bits of time between clients at the clinic, which I hope to post before it’s out-of-season.)
I just read this post:
and I think it’s really worth reading. So often, I think, parents have had their own educational or social traumas, or they’ve heard countless stories about the problems and pain other people have had, that they come in assuming that all teachers are dumb, hostile, clueless, nasty, evil, you name it. In the shrink biz, we’d call this a transference phenomenon, where your prior experience creates a distorted lens through which you view your current experience. Quite naturally, you expect that what happened before is going to happen again. But that often leads people to behave in ways that create the very problems they are afraid of happening. Thus, the trauma becomes re-enacted, proving, of course, that you were right to expect that sort of thing to happen, and continuing the cycle.
Are a lot of teachers clueless about giftedness? You bet. Are some of them hostile? Yes. But they’re not the norm. The overwhelming majority of educators do it because they like kids and because they like teaching. (After all, the pay is pretty crappy and the working conditions are terrible.) They don’t get up in the morning thinking, “Okay, how do I ruin little Freddie’s life today?” Build the relationship and see if you can find a different ending to the story.
Okay, I promised some ideas on planners and how to keep track of assignments. This got a lot longer than I thought it would… there is a lot of complexity!
As I feared, Little Bird’s middle school has handed out Their Official Agenda Book that they plan to Periodically Check that the kids are using the way they have decided is the One Right Way. Given that the notebook system they’ve chosen is even worse than I’d feared (I might even need to do another rant!), let’s just say I’m a bit skeptical. Sigh.
I can’t say as I’ve found a bulletproof system for keeping track of tasks (what needs to be done) and time (when it will be done and when it will be completed), but let me at least raise the issues I think need to be considered in the process.
Simplify, simplify. As with the paper-management system, I advise keeping things as simple as possible. The goal is to have one object that handles all of the task-related information and time-related information in as simple a fashion as possible. I lovingly call mine my “portable brain.” If you have two different things, then you’re going to (a) put information in the wrong place or in only one of the places (b) look in the wrong place or in only one of the places and thus miss something you need to know. It needs to be easy to put information into and easy to get information out of.
Paper or plastic? Since you only get one object to play with, you have to decide whether it’s going to be a hardcopy paper calendar (like they hand out at school) or whether you’re going to use an electronic system. Personally, if you can afford to implement it, I favor the electronic solutions, because they offer some advantages that are hard to duplicate in paper form.
- If the writer has bad handwriting or doesn’t like to write, typing is likely to be more legible, particularly at smaller font sizes, and most non-writers don’t mind typing as much. Workaround for paper: Try preprinting some small stickers with typically-used words (e.g. “test”) and stapling those to the inside cover.
- Remember that being able to write small also contributes to keeping the whole object small, too (see below).
- When there are (inevitable) changes in task or time information, they can be changed easily without leaving lots of scribbly mess.
- Electronic systems can be set to harass remind you of upcoming tasks or deadlines.
- Electronic systems can back up to a main computer or store the information in the “cloud.”
- If there are multiple people within a family who might need to look at, add, or change information, electronic systems can be set up to enable this. (More on this issue below.)
- You don’t have to deal with discontinuities in time. Most pre-bound systems that schools hand out and that are easily available in stores don’t handle this elegantly, and you’re stuck copying some pages as you make the transition from one year to another.
(Note that both paper and electronic systems are likely to be royally messed up by laundering, and both can often be restored by various heroic means. Choose your poison. I will say, however, that many disorganized kids (including everyone in my household old enough to need an organizer) do manage to hold onto electronic devices, despite everyone’s fears, so don’t assume that the kid who loses everything will also lose their electronic portable brain.)
If you would like to use a paper system, I’d recommend something like a DayRunner or Franklin Planner, which allows you to customize sheet types and to keep adding new sheets and retiring old sheets as you go. To reduce costs, try just a regular half-sheet 3-ring binder, for which you can buy refills (check that they’re compatible in hole placement!) or print/chop/hole-punch your own. (eww, that’s starting to sound like work… will you really do it reliably? Or will you procrastinate and run off the end of the system?) If what you find doesn’t come with a zip or other means to close it and protect the pages, try adding an elastic strap or rubber band.
Size: You could, I suppose, use 8.5″ x 11″ sheets, whether purchased or homebrewed, and integrate this right into the front of the traveling zip-binder I describe in this post. However, I usually actually prefer the planner to be a separate item that is small enough and portable enough to be with you on a constant or near-constant basis. For kids in school, that may not be a show-stopper; the times they get told things that need to get into the binder usually are the times when that zip-binder will be right with them. For us oldsters, or for older kids who are homeschooling or who do a lot of out-of-school activities, the smallest item you can get the information into reliably and neatly and can keep on your person, without forgetting it’s there and laundering it (sigh) is probably best, because it facilitates efficient idea capture. Which brings me to…
Capture method: Think your way through a typical week. What are the kinds of things you need to write down? Is it just homework, or do you have other activities that also create things you have to do and pulls on your time? When and under what circumstances do you get information, either from other people or from your own head, that needs to get recorded in the system? What are the precise kinds of things that need to get entered? What might interfere with your getting those exact things into the system at those exact moments?
See, I have a Crappy Working Memory ™, which means that if I don’t capture an idea within about ten seconds, it will be gone gone gone. Within about thirty seconds, I won’t even remember that there was an idea that I was supposed to remember. So I advise making a personal rule: ”I will not say, ‘I’ll write that down later.’” (I know, your kids think they’re super and will remember. Tell them that it’s not an admission of fault or imperfection that they develop and use a system so that they don’t have to waste brain cycles remembering.)
If you aren’t going to have your actual planner ready to hand all the time, what will you have with you that will enable you to capture information that needs to get into the planner? Some ideas on this front:
- Email can make a good capture site and a good way for members of a family to send each other information, but only if you then also take the oath that you will immediately transcribe any information found in your inbox into the proper place later, or create a folder (better: one with an automatic sort-int0-this-folder rule!) that is only for these to-be-captured items, that you then empty regularly (see below). Otherwise, your inbox will fill up too fast with stuff that doesn’t need to be in the capture box and stuff will get lost.
- There is a paid-but-not-expensive service called www.jott.com. You basically register a phone and an email. You call their number from the phone (they have an iPhone app, too, of course), say your voice memo, and it gets transcribed and sent to you in an email. It’s not perfect, but it’s nice for situations where writing doesn’t work well (like, say, if you’re driving). Remember, though, that in most situations in which you could make a phone call or send an email, if your electronic device were also your portable brain, then you wouldn’t need to use this.
- A low-tech concept, particularly useful if your planner system is too large to be on your person all the time, is to have an index card jotter (here’s an example) to scribble things in.
- I know this might sound silly, but if your capture system requires a writing implement, then you need a writing implement attached to it, so no time is wasted searching.
But remember that you now have a two-step process. You need to set up some kind of regular routine that will remind you to empty that capture-box into the actual planner. Think about how often this needs to happen in order to be useful (if your deadlines tend to be only a few days after you find out about them, then a weekly process is too slow!), and how you will make sure that you don’t forget to do it. Consider putting a repeating appointment on your calendar, or a repeating task on your task-list, and setting your system to nag remind you to do it.
Loose slips sink ships. There is a tendency to let a handout or flyer or or appointment card email stand in for the event or assignment, to hold onto the paper that someone else gave you and to say, “Oh, I’ll enter that into the system later.” (Yeah, right.) But if you’re not entering it immediately, it needs to actually physically be put in the capture inbox, and it must get emptied into the real system with everything else.
To avoid the problem, I make it my personal goal to get rid of those pieces of paper as soon as possible by entering the relevant information into my system. Literally, I say, “No, please don’t give me a reminder card, let me just write the appointment down right now.” (Permission slips and forms, where someone else wants the sheet of paper back, are not assignment sheets — they go into the hot-folder system in the binder, silly!)
Home sweet home. Whatever you choose, losing it will be a time-wasting and anxiety-provoking crisis. So think about the routines you create for its movement. Does it need to have a special place of honor on your bedside table? A specific pocket in your purse or backpack? Do you always wear the same type of jeans (or whatever), such that it could always live in your pocket? Just like you need one object, it needs to have the fewest possible places where it could be. If you ever spot it outside one of those places, it needs to get put back in one of its permissible “homes” right away.
A family affair. Organizing tasks and time is a lifelong skill. Everyone in the family needs to model the skills that you want your kid to develop. Plus, most families have a raft of out-of-schooling activities and other pulls on their time. In order to prevent the crises when events collide, it really does help to have a system that everyone can use. In our family, we manage time with Google calendars — we have one for the kids (they might end up with one each when they get older), one for the parents’ public information, and one for each parent’s private information. (My family needs to know that on a certain day between certain times, I am seeing clients and am therefore unavailable. They neither need to know nor care which clients I’m seeing each hour.) The nice thing about this system is that any member of the family can make changes which then everyone can see, and any member of the family can create an appointment for anyone else — I can let Little Bird know that we have company coming on a certain evening, so she can’t count on homework help then, for example.
Similarly, we have a family set of task lists — since we’re an iPhone / iPod Touch family, we use an app called GeeTasks that interfaces with Google Tasks. Each of us creates the tasks we need, but anyone can edit any list. Very useful for groceries and errands, too! It can handle some level of hierarchy, although for most complex tasks, I think it’s okay to maintain the separate assignment sheet the teacher handed out, or the separate outline you created for yourself in something like OmniOutliner or FreeMind (more on that below).
The low-tech version, of course, is the Official Family Calendar, located at some central place in the household (usually the kitchen). You can use an ordinary monthly calendar, or whatever other calendar system is both easy for everyone to write in and easy for everyone to check. A whiteboard that shows two months is okay, but I tend to prefer systems that allow the entry of information arbitrarily far into the future and don’t require periodic recopying. If you like that size/form factor, try using a large desktop monthly-organizer pad pinned to a corkboard. The problem I have with this system is that it’s usually hard for kids to write in these, just because they’re not in the kitchen when most of the information they need to write down is given to them. So they need to capture those ideas — essentially, creating an assignment for themselves to write the information into the family calendar. Again, I tend to be skeptical of two-step systems, but they’re better than an implied system where one of the steps is inevitably going to be, “Forget to enter the information where it actually needs to go.” If you have a system like this, consider also implementing a regular adult task that involves sitting down with the kid and extracting the relevant information from the kid’s planner. (Yeah, I’m not enthusiastic about that, either.)
For whichever version, teach kids to write down all of the pulls on their time. Sports, music, arts, classes, practice times, religious services, family dinners, parties, company, hang-out-with-friends, TV shows you can’t bear to miss, whatever it is that you spend time on, if you’re going to want to spend time on it and you’re not going to want to do homework during that time, it’s a good idea to put it in the calendar. Obviously, some things might have to get moved or deleted if there is too much homework. But the goal is to avoid those last-minute crises where the Science Fair project and the cousin’s wedding come into sharp conflict.
A word about school-based online systems: These are nice things to have, as a backup for when some information escapes the best efforts to corral it, and as a way for adults who are helping a kid to know the answer to the question, “What do you have for homework tonight?” before they ask it. Having them is better than not having them. But they cannot substitute for having your own planner, for several reasons.
- Teachers are, um, not always entirely reliable about writing in them. If I had a buck every time one of my slippery-fish kiddos with ADHD said, “Oh, I didn’t think we really had to do that assignment, because she didn’t put it up on the website,” or, “I can’t do it because I didn’t write down what the teacher said because I thought they were supposed to put it up on the website so now I don’t quite know what it is I have to do,” I’d be rich. Kids need to know the rule: It is your job to get the assignment written down, even if your teacher screws up and doesn’t write it on the website. You will be marked down, and it will be your fault, and I will have no sympathy. (Personally, I have a comic-villain evil laugh that I reserve for such situations.)
- Using them requires that you check in several different places in order to find out what you have to do.
- They don’t include the information for anything not related to school.
Task focus vs. time focus: This is complicated. To-do lists are good for managing tasks, while calendars are good for managing time. The two aren’t the same thing, but they’re intertwined. In fact, I think this is the single most tricky and dangerous aspect of system design, and one on which I have the fewest specific suggestions. Think about what information you need to have available to you, and under what circumstances you need to have it, what you want it to do to tell you about it.
Most kids are not appointment-driven; rather, they are project-driven (for adults, it depends a lot on the type of job you have). Now think about most appointment books: they show you your day in terms of half-hour blocks. Is that the information kids need? Nope. In fact, the only nice thing I can say about most planner books provided by the school is that they tend to be organized by subject, rather than by time. You can mimic one, sans the huge amounts of chartjunk usually found in kid-oriented ones, and with enough lines for the different “subjects” in kids’ real lives, if you buy a teachers’ planner, except that teachers are often assumed not to need to plan anything on the weekends. Sigh. You can design and print your own pages pretty easily in any word-processing software, if you prefer.
You want it when? Most folks never even think about this issue… On which day in the planner do you write your homework?
- The day it was assigned? That’s what most teachers tell kids to do, but it’s probably the least useful time to write something — it’s going to vanish into the “this-already-happened” ether much too quickly.
- The day it’s due? That’s what most grownups tend to do with major projects. The danger point here is that you aren’t going to be reminded of the task until the last minute. This practice tends to support procrastination. Not that you shouldn’t include a note on the day something is due (after all, it will help you remember to hand it in!), but that’s rarely sufficient. I recommend also writing tasks on…
- The day you’re going to work on it. Interesting idea, eh? Plan a time to work on it, so that when you sit down to work on any given day, you have an agenda in front of you. Good for avoiding collisions and encouraging kids to work on things before the last minute.
Planning work time also requires kids to predict how long they think a task or subtask will take… and thus provides a good opportunity for them to also track how long something actually took, so that they can become more accurate predictors in the future. I suggest that kids plan in liberal amounts of “slush time,” planning a set of benchmarks that keeps them comfortably ahead of schedule, to deal with the inevitable complexities and delays that arise.
Of course, sometimes that planning is itself a nontrivial task — in fact, it’s the first task in the assignment, and should probably be done as soon as possible. So teach them to write an assignment for, e.g., ”Schedule time to work on book report,” the day the book report is assigned. Kids are likely to need a lot of guidance in the process of breaking down tasks, keeping track of subtasks, redoing the schedule when things don’t work out the way they planned, and generally keeping any complex project on track (beyond the scope of this already-very-long post).
Extensive assignment sheets (for major projects) usually belong in page protectors (each page in its own, please, so that you can read them easily, don’t stuff a multi-page stapled thing into something that will require you to take it out to read the inside pages!), placed in the rings at the beginning of the relevant section of the binder. Personally, since I type rapidly, I often take the time to simply retype those sheets into my computer (or get an electronic copy from the teacher or the website), which eliminates concerns about losing them. Teach kids the habit of rechecking the assignment sheet as they go, rather than trying to remember what the teacher expected and when any intermediate due dates might have been.
Routine Maintenance: You need to create structures and routines for when you look at the planner and what you do with it — every night before bed to preview the next day? Every day before you leave school to make sure you’ve gotten the right items from your locker? Every single time someone asks you to commit to doing something on a specific date? Every week to check the status of ongoing projects? Every month to offload old pages and make sure you have new blank ones? Do you need to create “ticklers” to remind you of things that you’ve put off far into the future?
If you have an electronic system, think about how you are going to use reminders intelligently. What will you need to be reminded about? When will you need to be reminded about it? How you would like that reminder to happen? Alarms may be useful, but not if you’re just going to snooze them or ignore them — think about what moment you’d like a reminder to come such that you will actually do the thing before forgetting about it (we call these “point-of-performance” reminders).
Whoof! That’s a lot of stuff to think about and chew on. Partly because both technology and paper products change so quickly, it’s easy to get mired into trying to design a single best system, or to invest a lot of money and effort setting up something that seems cool only to have it collapse under its own weight. The key is to get something that you can get all of your information into (so that you can trust that everything you need to know is in there), and get all of your information out of… reliably and simply. Don’t overcomplexificate things. See what works and where the bugs are, solve the problems and improve the system over time.