Monday, December 18, 2017

Upgrade your personal operating system

It is not hard to make analogies, because all analogies are to some extent inaccurate. When Paul Graham made the analogy about hackers and painters, many people criticized and said that there are many other hackers and vocation analogies. But analogies, while inaccurate, can also be useful. Analogies can give you a new perspective, and can help you translate things from one domain to the other to check if it is possible to learn something from that.

Computer and brain analogy has been made for several decades now. It is not surprising that trendy technologies of the times (hydraulics, mechanics, steam engines, clocks, electricity, telegraph) have been historically used as metaphors explaining the brain. So the computer metaphor is in all likelihood as laughable as the earlier ones. But again that doesn't mean it can't be useful.

The Getting Things Done system has made the brain and RAM analogy. It stated that unrecorded tasks waste space in the RAM, and you need to move those out by recording them externally with an agenda system. That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks.

I think that was a very useful analogy. Before integrating the emacs org-mode to my life, I always had open loop tasks that caused me worries, and eating up cycles in my brain: "Oh, I should remember doing this", "Woe to me, I am procrastinating on this", etc. After successfully adopting emacs org-mode as my to-do list and agenda manager (which, took a couple years, and several aborted tries), the benefit I got out was the clarity of mind, and the release of all that background anxiety.

Many people also say that they get the same "RAM garbage-collection" benefits from their daily meditation practice. I think writing a daily journal, or freewriting morning pages also works wonders for "garbage-collecting" your RAM.

A personal operating system?

Let's stretch this analogy further to see if we can get some mileage out of this.

We all have modes of reacting to things and going about our lives. Some of these may be very primal: fight or flight. Some of these can be bad and damaging for you: go for the lazy option, save energy, maximize pleasure, be a couch potato and procrastinate on things until a crisis/deadline looms. These are some examples of the processes or modus operandi of your personal operating system (POS).

It makes sense to be aware of these processes and try to improve them to your advantage. 

I was fascinated to learn about the OODA loop: the observe-orient-decide-act process. Since then I have been creating OODA loop customizations for common tasks I encounter. For the writing tasks I encounter, my customized OODA loop is the mess up, tidy-up, revise loop. (Here is an instantiation of that for writing research papers.)

For studying, writing, or researching, my process is also to take on the task in units of 30 minutes. I use the pomodoro technique and customized it over time a lot. I am right now on my 3rd version of pomodoro process. I will write about my recent pomodoro setup later on. It involves detaching and going meta for 4 minutes in the beginning and end of pomodoro. In these slots, I step back and force myself to think meta: Is this the right approach? What else I can try? Am I making good progress? Can this be made transformative?

Upgrading and patching your POS

Going along with this personal operating system (POS) analogy, you should realize that you should patch, upgrade, refactor/rewrite your POS regularly. You don't want to get stuck with Windows 98, do you? It doesn't matter how good your hardware is, you will be limited by what OS you use. And a good OS can do wonders for even a low-end machine, as I saw first hand when I installed FreeBSD+xfce on an old laptop.

For patching your POS, you should have a monitoring and bug tracking system in place. You should monitor yourself, and should also consider feedback from friends/family as well. Of course, you need idle time to reflect on your processes, and identify/consider the bugs in your processes. Writing these down, ruminating/meditating on them helps. Of course, for this, you should set aside idle time and guard this idle time. If I were to identify malware and viruses for the POS, I would put anxiety inducing news, social media, and mindless Web browsing among the top. Those eat away and infect the precious self-check cycles our POS needs to maintain itself.

For upgrading and an occasional upgrading of your POS, I think it is important to seek and embrace new paradigms. A great way of doing this is by reading books (i.e., downloading new apps to your POS). Of course as you read books, you should apply your filter to them, and be willing to live for some time with multiple conflicting opinions/views on an issue. As time goes you can slowly distill these, and come to your own conclusions. I find that most of the time, the conclusion is a nuanced compromise perspective. To change the world, you need to start by changing how you view it and redefine your role.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. -Rumi
A new perspective is worth 80 IQ points. -Alan Kay

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi I am looking forward to your 3rd version of pomodoro process, could you write something ahoout it? thank you