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?