Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to Learn a Productivity System Part 1: Capture

In high school I started writing computer programs to do math and physics homework so I could reduce trivial work.  

I can still remember the first equation I solved using a computer program on my Apple IIgs. It was the quadratic equation. Yes, the quadratic formula was a piece of mathematical beauty to solve for ‘x’.

Quadratic formula

But, I could not stand to write down all that math on paper and do the calculations.  My bigger problem was that I would rush so fast to get homework done that I would make silly errors. My hurried approach would result in getting the problem incorrect.  

How could I be fast and accurate?

Doing math on paper was neither fast nor accurate.  Doing math on the calculator was faster, but because there wasn’t fancy solver button on my calculator, it was still susceptible to errors.  

Remember Shu-Ha-Ri from the previous article, “How to Pick a Time Saving Strategy or System.”  This is the learning model that describes how people move from beginner to master:
  • Shu (shoo) - leaner - do everything in rote fashion without too much analysis.
  • Ha (hah) - practitioner - understand the theory and tweak the systems based on reflections, analysis and experience.
  • Ri (ree) - master - innovate and create, potentially breaking with previous systems.

Shu ha ri

Shu - the Learner

With programming, I started from scratch without google, without help, just a computer manual and a desire to get simplistic, accurate answers without a lot of manual effort.

Knowing that programming can be fast and accurate, I spent a couple days creating my first simple program to save the quadratic equation.   A re-creation of the old Apple basic code is shown below along side of the terminal output.

Quadratic programing apple basicQuadratic programing apple basic output

The first version was simple and solved quadratic equations quickly.

While programming this first iteration I learned how to create non-trivial math equations in Apple basic.  I also learned how to navigate and fix bugs and how to print out the values so I could easily extract the results. 

Ha - the Practitioner

The next version of the program dealt with the dreaded case where the roots were imaginary.  Remember these types of numbers? They are numbers that don’t exist in the real word, but we still have to deal with them in the universe of math.  

In this particular case, if you try to take the square root of a negative number, normal calculators and computer libraries will give you a big fat error.  “OVERFLOW” or “NaN” which stands for Not a Number.

The code had to be modified to address this concern and even more fancy attributes were added later to allow me to type in the values of A, B and C at the console and avoid re-writing the program for every input.
Even with this program, I hardly taxed the computational and power of my Apple II. 

Apple Basic:

Quadratic programing apple basic2

Ri - the Master

And after many years of programming, I learning Java and C++ and one could say I became a master by applying the learning of my first program in two totally different programming languages.


Quadratic program2


Quadratic programing c++

Shu-Ha-Ri as Applied to Productivity Systems

You want to adopt a productivity system to make life efficient.  To remove the trivial and accentuate the important.

And I believe that adopting systems for productivity can be similar in nature to the Shu-Ha-Ri experience of my first program on my Apple IIgs.  

We can adopt and system and it can take a while for us to actually understand how to make very adaptable and powerful system work for us. 

Patience is required when we adopt a system that has so much to offer and we are an apprentice or a newbie.  The initial effort may seem too high.  We may expend more energy in the beginning and not reap results until much later.

Patience with self if probably the toughest challenge because when learning is hard it feels inefficient and that friction leads us to believe that we are going backwards instead of forward toward our goal.  

Take heart.

Start Simple with Capture

Let’s assume you are adopting GTD as your starting point. David Allen suggests that you do a 1-2 day deep dive and gather all your assets, thoughts, ideas, muses, every itty bitty mental trace into lists.  Then organize those lists.

This may be an appropriate way to do a comprehensive all-in adventure.  I’ve had real problems trying to embraced GTD in that manner.  I’ve had more luck with starting the system by “Capturing” everything starting from today.

The key in capturing is to simplify life for your brain. David Allen suggests that when you have a thought about “I should probably do …”,  “Your subconscious brain never forgets, even if you conscious brain is no longer thinking about the ’todo’ item.”  Since we have tens of  “I should probably do …” moments in the day, your brain is compiling a big list of items.  This is my definition of stress.

Stress quote

Stress is when the “I need to do …” list in your brain is too full and the consequences of not doing the items on the list creates emergencies in your real personal and work world.
And perhaps that’s a place that capture is at it’s best.  The goal of capture is take the list and put it somewhere that gives your brain a little relief.  

Capture does not come easy. It’s a habit that really takes a time to develop.  The inputs in your life include internal and externals sources.  Internal sources are all things generated from within your own consciousness: your thoughts, your feelings, your desires and your goals.  Externals sources include things hear (a verbal request from someone, a comment in a business meeting), things you read (e-mail, post mail), or things you see (broken dishwasher, something in the sporting goods store).

Capture read see hear

So this week's tips is to get a notepad (any size) or sheets of blank paper and write down your thoughts and actions one per page.  If you have a notepad, I suggest keeping a lot of white space.  Keep notes for each meeting and/or thought on separate pages.  If you have 5 meetings, you should have five (or more) pages.  

That way you can FOCUS on these items independently later on. Or if you have thoughts about individual items, you can also FOCUS on this type of item one at a time.
That’s it for this week.  I’ll talk more about how to deal with your new stack of items next week.

I would love to hear your feedback.  If you had one thing you could do consistently that would make your life better, what behavior change would that be?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Pick a Time Saving Strategy or System

Have you looked at the number of breakfast cereal choices at the grocery store? I get dizzy when I walk down that aisle. 

I almost prefer going to Costco to buy breakfast cereal because I they have at 1/10th of the selection.

Doesn’t it drive your brain crazy trying to pick out a strategy for saving time? There are so many choices.

And then when you try one, it feels like you are broken or the method is broken or something about the whole system doesn’t flow.

Have you had the experience where you adopt a system and immerse yourself in the system and get overwhelmed and then quit because it’s too hard to keep up. Ever had the feeling like you are a weakest link because the “system works” but you can’t make it work consistently for you.  
Productivity Process Failure Cycle

Wow. I let's take deep cleansing breath.

Where are you with your productivity system

  • happy with where you are (which means either you reached a level of productivity that is meeting you goals or you don’t know if the investment in a productivity systems is worth the effort, so your good with where you are)
  • frustrated with where you are (which could mean you want to pick a better system, or just want to go on vacation for the rest of your life)
  • optimistic that you can find better ways (which means you probably found a system, but are looking for some tweaks)

First let’s be real about learning stuff.  It takes time.  We are engrossed in a  world that wraps up difficult murder cases in 1 hour or creates massive inter-personal conflict then resolves the issue into forever-love in 1 1/2 hours or even 30 minutes for really good plots. There is an expectation that good things can be embraced and achieved in a short time window.

This is mostly a big fat lie.

So let’s reach back into some ancient philosophy to get a glimpse of how people really work.  This is in stark contrast to modern media.  Please enjoy this as if it were a breath of fresh air.


Shu ha ri
Shu-Ha-Ri is a concept from Japanese martial arts describing the stages from ’leaner’ to 'master’.  And it is directly applicable to developing personal habits and mastering productivity systems.
The short summary of this is as follows…

  • Shu (shoo) - leaner - do everything in wrote fashion without too much analysis.
  • Ha (hah) - practitioner - understand the theory and tweak the systems based on reflections, analysis and experience.
  • Ri (ree) - master - innovate and create, potentially breaking with previous systems.

The the cycle of failed productivity systems that I described earlier in this article is really part of the Shu experience - a natural part of learning.  But how do we move to the next level.

I’m going to let that question hang in the air for now and I’ll talk more about that in a future article.  Right now, we need to pick a method to start with so we can begin the journey at Shu.

Here is a productivity system short pick list

In order to “Save a Million Seconds in a Year” or "Save a Million Minutes Minutes in Your Life Time" you’ll need some consistency in your time savings methodologies.

Please leave a comment on your latest experience in working with a productivity system.  How did it go? 

P.S. for some serious depth read this article “Shu-Ha-Ri"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Save a Million Years of Time in a Life Time

This is the last article in the “Save a Million” series — for now.  

All the articles have been building to this point.  In fact I have a big spreadsheet with the number of minutes versus time frame versus number of people required to meet each of these “Save a Million” goals.

But building exponential articles is not my goal.  Nor is building a nice spreadsheet.

Building a greater vision for myself and others is really the bottom line.

As so I’d like to introduce how to save a million years of time in a life time.
Every year I listen to my favorite books to keep my ruder steady.  I just finished listening to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It’s a very densely packed book where every other sentence is a quote I should paste on my wall or share in a blog post.

Covey’s center piece for discussing time allocation is the 4 quadrant system. The time allocation matrix is composed of “Urgent” and “Not Urgent” columns, and “Important” and “Not Important” rows.  The intersection of these columns and rows creates 4 quadrants that include “1-Important and Urgent”, “2-Import but Not Urgent”, “3-Urgent but Not Important” and “4-Not Important and Not Urgent” as depicted in the diagram below.
Time Mgmt Matrix
The next diagram takes the grid and applies real-world examples. An interesting exercise for you is to contemplate the time matrix and find one additional example from your life for each quadrant.
Time Matrix Examples
Notice the red arrow on quadrant 2?  That’s where time savings takes place.  And of course, it’s impossible to save time, so we are really investing our time in things that will produce the joy and results that we desire in life.

Covey goes on to describe how to approach these different areas so that we can do the things that matter.  
Time Matrix Actions
It’s very exciting for me to think about the vision of a million people living more effectively, that is a million people living daily in Quadrant 2 activities.  

Which brings us back to How to Save a Million Years in a Life Time.

Let’s do a little math to see how a million people cumulatively save a million years of time in a lifetime. According to my spreadsheet are 525,600 minutes in a year

      Multiply this by 1,000,000 and you get 525,600,000,000 minutes in a million years.  

                Let’s call it 526 billion minutes.  

Stay with me.

There are 14,600 days in a 40 year lifetime (365 * 40 = 14,600).   

        Multiply the days by 1,000,000 and you get 14,600,000,000 people-days in a lifetime.

So now we just need to divide the total minutes to be saved by the people-days and we’ll get minutes per day saved.

526 billion minutes / 15 billon people-days = 36 minutes per day per person.


In the previous article we talked about numerous ways to save time.
To make this type of savings sustainable, we need to create systems that enable good behavior.  

Component #1: Written Vision

I discussed vision statements in the article, “How to Save a Million Minutes in Your Life Time”.  Writing this down on paper or in a word processing application will force you to think sequentially rather than randomly.  And those sequential thoughts about what you want life to look like in the future will challenge you to do some work inside yourself.  

The internal examination that you do will sharpen your self-knowledge and also bring tremendous humility when you compare your goals to your current situation.  The humility is good because you will see more clearly what needs more focus to move closer to the goals and what must be abandoned because it is wasteful.

One method to extract a simple written vision is picking out high level principles and then identifying the associated behavior:

I want to be a person of Integrity. [Principle]
At home I want to demonstrate consistency to my children and not be emotionally reactive. [Behavior]
At work when I say I will do something I do it. [Behavior]
My life exhibits humility [Principle]
When I find out I’ve misunderstood or done something wrong, I will absorb the moment with a sense of learning rather than becoming defensive. [Behavior]
When there is a conflict or argument with my kids, I will listen closely to learn why they think or act in a certain way before I judge. [Behavior]
You can easily write down have a dozen or more of these vision statements and behaviors.  This is Quadrant II work, and it will challenge you.

Component #2: Committed Time

This is a must.  At first this may be hard but it gradually gets better. The goal is to create time blocks in your calendar for your time savings (investing) activities.  Start by getting up earlier. Put “Run” or “Yoga” on the calendar when you want exercise.

Some say it’s hard to go to bed early and that’s a huge barrier to getting up early.  Someone else said, “If you get yourself up at 5 am for 5 days in a row, you won’t have any problem going to bed early.” 

The time block is the best way to block off the calendar.  The second best mechanism is the “all day” event that will ride along the top of your Google, Apple or Outlook calendar.  This acts as a checklist for you.

Component #3: Daily Reminder

Keep yourself on track by creating an acrostic or note that expresses your vision.  Put this somewhere public or just remind yourself periodically.

Some like notes on their mirror.  

Some like sticky notes on their monitor (not the every changing urgent moment sticky notes, but ones that contain your higher goals or reminders about good behaviors or how you want to be).

Some have a mantra they repeat to themselves in the morning right when they get up.

Some like an acronym for their purpose that then use to remind themselves how they want to behave and who they want to be.

Component #4: Reinforcing Environments

Habits contrary to your written vision increase the struggle to move in positive time-savings direction.  

Reduce Counter Productive Environments

For example, if you really like TV and you have 1000 digital channels available to you, you will have a hard time saying no to TV.  A very positive step for you might be to cancel your cable subscription and/or digital satellite service. 

Embrace Reinforcing Environments

Instead, consider a steady diet of really good books that can help change your thinking (which is the how you will steadily and exponentially achieve better results with your time and energy).

There are so many good books it’s hard to say where to start, but you can find a few of them in my previous article, “How to Save a Million Days of Time in a Lifetime”.

Please leave me a comment and tell me the following:

  1 - counter productive environment that you want to change.
  1 - reinforcing environment that is working well for you.


In case you wanted to see a summary of my spreadsheet…

Save a Million Spreadsheet

  To Save a Million …  …In a … Requires this many people to save this many minutes per day for a total of this many minutes in a total of this many days
Milliseconds Day 1  16.67  16.67  1.00
Seconds Year 1  45.66  16,667  365
Minutes Lifetime 1  68.49  1,000,000  14,600
Hours Century 25  65.8  60,000,000  36,500
Days Lifetime  2,000  49.32  1,440,000,000  14,600
Years Lifetime  1,000,000  36.00  525,600,000,000  14,600