Compound and Atomic Tasks

An everyday system, TM, is a simple, commonsense solution to an everyday problem, grounded by a pun or metaphor. Propose/discuss new systems here.
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reinhard
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Compound and Atomic Tasks

Post by reinhard » Fri Mar 02, 2007 9:53 pm


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Post by reinhard » Mon Mar 05, 2007 6:12 pm

Oops. I published this as an aac file instead of mp3. Just fixed.

Why did apple have to invent this redundant and incompatible format? It's such a pain in the aac.

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Post by stevecooper » Thu Mar 08, 2007 8:33 am

I've found this surprisingly more useful that I'd have thought. Initially I was uncertain of the value, but it's surprisingly good.

For me, I'm using two compounds; first thing in the morning, and last thing at night;

Kitchen medley; box up some muesli and a sandwich for the next day. Gather all the washing up on the ground floor, wash it, and clear down the surfaces in the kitchen.

Teshatorun; (teeth - shave - toilet - run) is my wakeup routine. I can get out of the house in fifteen minutes like this. And I can get out without my head wondering whether I'm ready or not, or whether I've forgotten anything. It's the entire list of thing to do before getting to work.

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Post by reinhard » Thu Mar 08, 2007 9:37 pm

I'm glad you're finding it useful!

There's a computer programming saying, "prefer convention over configuration" which reminds this reminds me of. A naming convention (like a mnemonic compound name) is easier to remember and deal with than explicit "configuration" (writing down or struggling to remember each individual subtask). You pay a slight cost in terms of flexibility, but if your conventions are well thought out, it's worth it.

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Post by stevecooper » Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:20 am

(warning -- geek alert)

I'm a programmer myself, and one of the things I've noticed about the everyday systems is the very small amount of state each one requires, and how few inputs.

This is great for humans, because we're awful at accurately remembering things for very long. Ever heard of the Hrair Limit, or "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two"? It's an idea about how much humans can remember, and the idea is that our limit is 7+/-2 distinct pieces of information.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hrair_limit: In [the paper] Miller showed a number of remarkable coincidences between the channel capacity of a number of human cognitive and perceptual tasks. In each case, the effective channel capacity is equivalent to between 5 and 9 equally-weighted error-less choices: on average, about 2.5 bits of information.
(The name Hrair comes from Watership Down; it's the rabbit's word for 'a number too big to count. For humans, counting goes '1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, hrair.')



Applying that to everyday systems; they seem to be coming in under the hrair limit. ShovelGloving, for example, uses no state at all; you do it, and you're done. Nothing is remembered. It's has zeros bits of state.

Comparing that to free weights, not only are there more inputs (more weights, a more complex training calendar, more time, a more constrained location) but free weights uses complex state; to do it properly you need to keep a log of what you've lifted, and when, then refer to that in your next session. There's quite a lot of state.

No-S is a two-bit system; a number from 0-3, representing how many meals you've eaten. Counting calories requires you to count much higher, and involves a lookup into a huge dictionary of values. The state is a combination of your calorie-intake-to-date, exercise-output-to-date, and a book of calorie values. No wonder it drives people nuts; it's beyond the capacity of our brains.

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Post by Kevin » Sun Mar 11, 2007 12:51 am

Silfay hraka. (Kidding!)

Watership Down is one of my favorite books.

During the course of a compelling read, you learn the ficticious Lapine language well enough to blow through a fairly complex sentence near the end of the book, perhaps without noticing that it's in a different language. It's sort of the the same slow and steady approach demonstrated by the EDS systems.
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1/13/2011-189# :: 4/21/2011-177# :: Goal-165#
"Respecting the 4th S: sometimes."

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Post by reinhard » Tue Mar 13, 2007 2:35 am

Thank you for posting this, Steve!

I'd never heard of the "Hrair limit."

I love it! Sci-fi with references. And right on, as you point out, for everyday systems. Gotta stick this on the home page somewhere... I wish I'd seen it before doing my "top 5 arbitrary numbers" podcast.

Maybe I'll see if I can get a hold of an audiobook of Watership Down.

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Post by stevecooper » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:04 am

I was interested by your idea of pushing habits down into the unconscious, and the podcast about habit management; I'm finding it really interesting that 'you can't make unconscious anything that involves counting' one reason might be '... because humans can't count to eight.'

I guess a programmer is a maker of systems with huge capacities for storing state. When I've thought about self-improvement before, I've not considered the massive memory constraints of the human brain; I've treated myself like a computer. But it doesn't work. It's like we've got the memory capacity of one of those nasty 80's wristwatch/calculator combos.

---

One of the very nice ideas in Dave Allen's 'getting things done' book is the idea that the brain is abysmal at remembering things. His theory is that people tend to feel overwhelmed by things because they choose to remember in their brain, and frankly it's not up to the job. (In his words, 'psychic RAM is extremely limited')

His solution is to write down every single last one of your commitments, getting them out of your brain and into, say, a notebook (in programming speak: serialise psychic ram to a external database). When you trust that the book has everything, your brain can relax and you have more capacity for real thought. (programmer speak: you can't do complex work if five of your seven memory registers are full.) There's more to it than that, and I'd recommend the book strongly.

It's working well for me; I've got a complete list of everything I need to do, but I don't remember it at all; when I'm planning, I make sure every outcome has some kind of physical action which will take it forward; when I'm working, I look at my list of actions to take and work down them fairly mechanically. If I'm on, I can get a lot done.

---

Anyway, the overriding thought for me is 'the brain is really, really rubbish at remembering arbitrary things.' That leaves you with two choices; (1) don't rembember things, and (2) give things meaning in order to remember them.

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Post by kccc » Wed Mar 14, 2007 12:07 am

Steve, I do GTD as well, and really like it. Well, more accurately, I mostly do it, and am gradually getting better. The more I do it, the better life is.

Reinhard's systems are tremendously compatible, and the general notion of "habit building" is one I find very powerful.

Enjoy your comments. :)

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Post by stevecooper » Wed Mar 14, 2007 8:45 am

GTD really does make you think. Particularly, I think GTD and EDS make a nice complement because there are two types of things you have to do;

1) repeated things like exercise, tidying the house, paying the bills, etc.
2) one-off things like organising a holiday, writing a program, or visiting mecca.

Everyday systems focus on the repeated actions and habit-formation. Stuff you have to do every day. GTD focusses on one-off actions -- stuff you can declare 'done'. But both have common ground: do as little forward planning and remembering as possible. I think they go well together.

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Post by kccc » Thu Mar 15, 2007 1:51 am

The other thing that goes well is Flylady (if you can get past the cute factor, which is rather high). I found GTD works extremely well for projects, but didn't work for housework and similar kinds of work. In housework, any individual task takes 2 minutes... but you could work yourself into total exhaustion in 2-minute increments, because there are so many 2-minute tasks. Flylady blocks time into 15-minute chunks with rest breaks, AND works with some general habit-formation.

One thing I particularly like is that her methods help you divide up monolithic work (for housework, anyway). One needs to feel a sense of "done-ness" at the end of the day, which is hard when the work doesn't segment neatly.

Anyway, these three ideas work well for me, in not-quite-overlapping dimensions. The notion of habit management here is especially powerful, I think - neither Flylady nor GTD will work if you can't establish the underlying habits.

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Post by stevecooper » Thu Mar 15, 2007 11:09 am

My fiancee likes flylady; I should give it a bit more of a look, I think, because in our house, I'm responsible for the kitchen; the cooking, washing up, keeping the kitchen tidy, shopping. Thanks for reminding me about it.

I'm always striving for an overall pattern to life; recently, I've become convinced that happiness comes from having the right structures in place.

I'm interested in trying to blend together EDS, FL, and GTD into one coherent whole. As you say, they don't quite overlap, but I think it's close.

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Post by reinhard » Thu Mar 15, 2007 9:18 pm

I finally got the GTD book a couple weeks ago, and it looks great, but as I mentioned in my audiodidact podcast, I have very little time I can devote to sit down reading so I despair of ever getting through it....

BUT I have just ordered an audiobook version through my library network. So hopefully I'll finally have a bit more of a clue about this highly regarded system that keeps coming up.

I'll spend a little more time on flylady.com, too. With baby #2 on the way, I'll need to squeeze every drop of efficiency out of my household routines as I can get...

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Post by kccc » Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:30 am

Reinhard, congrats on #2! :) How wonderful!

I have often wished we'd had another... though my husband and I feel blessed to have our son at all. (Long story short, after multiple tries/losses, we gave up when I turned 40... and then, a happy surprise. Life is just amazing sometimes.)

But yeah, with a baby in the house, any streamlining you can do for the rest of your life is a BIG plus. I started making lists of daily tasks when David was born, b/c I was so sleep-fogged I could forget the most basic stuff without a checklist.

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Post by kccc » Fri Mar 16, 2007 1:33 am

On the original topic, as a non-computer-programmer I was intrigued by your comments on naming conventions and how a boring convention can be more useful than a striking unique name.

Any tips for those of us who don't normally use naming conventions in our daily life?

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Post by stevecooper » Fri Mar 16, 2007 8:02 am

I got intrigued, too; I'd not heard this one before. Here's what I discovered. 'Convention over Configuration' seems to mean that how you name things determines how you treat them.

This could mean using the way you name things to remind of supporting behaviour. For example. my mum tried to instill this behaviour in me; tidy your toys up after you play with them. Had I been a scary child, and maintained a todo list, I might have written

[ ] Play with Death Star

which I'd just do, leaving the death star there on the floor. What my mum wanted was an implicit task;

[ ] Play with Death Star
[ ] tidy up Death Star

So there's a 'trigger phrase', 'Play with', which expands one item into several others. That means you can write down one thing which means many things. That makes your todo list more compact. You design your work at a higher level.

----

This may be useful to me at work; as a programmer, my main job is to write code. But each piece of code I write has to be designed, tested, and distributed. That is,

[ ] Code feature X

is really

[ ] Design feature X
[ ] Code feature X
[ ] Test feature X
[ ] Distribute feature X

With that in mind, as long as I have the habit of wrapping my coding tasks in those three other tasks, I can just write down one todo item to refer to four.

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