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Intuition and overhead

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  • Intuition and overhead

    Degrees of Reliance on Intuition

    1. Intuition is a calculative faculty inside our heads, the details of which we are not conscious. The end results of our internal calculative faculties are feelings or sentiments. We are unaware of how the calculations were made but we are aware of a pro or con feeling, which is the result of our unconscious calculations.

    Attempts have been made to model intuition by creating mathematical models, so our unconscious calculations can be made more consciously. We incur an additional cost when we try to formalize our calculative faculties because we must get our internal beliefs and feelings out of our heads into a system that is external to our heads. The cost in time, effort, server space, etc., that is incurred in getting stuff out of our heads and into an external system, we call "overhead."

    Most non-GTDers look upon GTD as an irrational pursuit because the overhead of getting "everything" out of our heads and into our trusted system is too high. Most non-GTDers believe that they can rely on internal intuitive systems to keep them on track and the extra effort required to externalize all NAs and projects is excessive.

    GTDers agree that the benefits of maintaining a complete external system outweigh the overhead costs.

    2. A moiety of GTDers look upon linking projects and NAs as an irrational pursuit because the overhead of linking projects and NAs is too high. These GTDers believe that they can rely on internal intuitive systems to maintain these links and the extra effort required to link all projects with their NAs is excessive.

    Other GTDers agree that the benefits of maintaining project-NA links in an external system outweigh the overhead costs.

    3. A majority of GTDers look upon formal systems that calculate which NA is the best one to pursue right here and now as an irrational pursuit because the overhead required to make such calculations accurate is too high. These GTDers believe that they can rely on internal intuitive systems to figure out what NA to do next and the extra effort required to calculate accurately what NA to do next is excessively high.

    A very small minority of GTDers belief that the benefits of inputting data into formal systems to calculate the best NA outweigh the overhead costs.

    Where I Stand
    1. From day 1, I knew that the overhead involved in externalizing NAs and projects into any system --paper or digital--was worth the costs.

    2. After a couple of years using GTD, I found a particular digital system which enabled me to maintain project-NA links with overhead costs that approach zero. If I were to drop those links, the data entry time I might save in a day would be about 60 seconds. The benefits I receive from such links save me tens of minutes daily.

    3. I've dabbled with algorithms that calculate NAs based on importance, urgency, context, etc. I never found them to be satisfactory. I do not believe that wet minds are qualitatively superior to digital machines. I just believe that it is an empirical fact that the data entry overhead required to get an accurate ranking of NAs is too high. I take it to be an open question whether at some future date, a machine might yield a better ranking of NAs than my intuition.

    David Allen's Stand (as I understand it)
    1. Get NAs and projects out of your head. This is the core of GTD.

    2. I am not exactly sure what David believes. I have heard his 43folders podcast where he disparages the endless conversation regarding project-NA links but I also have read a seemingly favorable opinion of ResultsManager. But if forced to judge, I would state that David's podcast represents his most considered opinion at this time. I take it that this is not a principled position on David's part, rather it is an empirical judgement. I imagine that if he found a system that he could use where the overhead costs of maintaining project-NA links were small enough, he would endorse creating and maintaining such links.

    3. I am sure that David does not believe that it is wise to use an algorithm that can tell you what to do next. I imagine that he would believe that even attempting to find such an algorithm is conceptually misguided.

  • #2
    Very nice.

    Just a little something I'd like to add, DAs four-criteria model - context, time available, energy available, and priority - is IMO his attempt to model intuition. The overhead might be high is strictly practiced, but at least being aware of the dynamics of intuitive decision making might create better intuitive choices.

    Maybe during intuitive indecisions, using the model would help clarify what is the best next action.


    • #3
      Originally posted by moises View Post
      After a couple of years using GTD, I found a particular digital system which enabled me to maintain project-NA links with overhead costs that approach zero.
      Could you share the information on this system? Thanks, R


      • #4
        I use Achieve Planner by Effexis Software.


        • #5
          Does anyone else feel we're becoming like the animals on the Serengeti? They had gathered to figure out amongst themselves how to eat better. At first, they shared the locations of watering holes and tips on how to extract berries from thorn bushes. But soon they were arguing:

          "You need a long neck to eat most efficiently!" said the giraffe, and told stories about the succulent leaves only he had been able to reach at the top of the trees.

          "You need tusks to burrow and eat most efficiently!" said the wild boar, and he told them about the many tubers he had dug up.

          "You need sharp claws and teeth to eat most efficiently!" said the lion, and explained every benefit of using claws to dig into the earth and teeth to rip his prey.

          Meanwhile, the baboon leapt around and laughed, because he always knew to adapt what he could of the other animals' habits, without trying to grow a long neck or tusks or sharp teeth.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Brent View Post
            . . .
            Meanwhile, the baboon leapt around and laughed, because he always knew to adapt what he could of the other animals' habits, without trying to grow a long neck or tusks or sharp teeth.
            This is precisely the point we are debating. We agree that our genetic inheritance is not adequte, by itself, to allow us to perform at the level we wish to perform. So we selectively incorporate into our habits cultural artifacts that meet our culturally acquired needs.

            Prior to my birth, the use of arabic numerals spread rapidly throughout many cultures. I use this cultural inheritance daily. Arabic numerals yield many efficiencies compared to roman numerals.

            We all agree that a recursive number system is a nice idea. There was a time when people had to decide which numerals they would use to represent those numbers: arabic or roman. Some people said they were doing just fine with roman numerals, thank you very much, why change a good thing? These people claimed that the overhead involved in using arabic numerals was not worth the added benefits which were the consequence of using arabic numerals.

            Nonetheless, the move to arabic numerals appears, in retrospect, to have been a good one. Cultures that adopted arabic numerals were more efficient after adopting them.

            GTD is like numbers. LifeBalance, Outlook, etc. are like numeral systems. Numerals represent numbers. Some ways of representing numbers are more efficient than others. LifeBalance, Outlook, etc. are ways of representing our GTD system. LifeBalance, Outlook, etc. are embodiments of our GTD system. Some embodiments work better than others.

            If we are baboons, we need to find some culturally-transmitted tool that can accomplish what sharp tusks do in other species. So, we'll try a stick, a stone, a bone, a clamshell. Sharp tusks have a function: cutting. Some tools are better at cutting than others.

            I will leave it for forum members to hammer out what GTD's function is. This community can then figure out which tools are better at fulfilling that function.

            David's system, it is often said, is tool-agnostic. This is a historical fact. The fact is that he wrote his book without committing to any specific tool.

            It is also a fact that, depending on the capabilities of the user, depending on the nature of the user's work and personal needs, some tools will yield greater efficiencies than others. That's why baboons congregate around the watering hole and chew the fat. There's nothing baboons like to talk about more than the comparative efficiencies of different cutting materials.


            • #7
              How poetic!

              This is great! This is so much better than some forums I've been to were they just resort to flaming each other. But, of course, you could use a flame to cut too... hmmm


              • #8
                1. Most nonpractioners are unaware of the concept of getting everything out of their heads. I've read plenty of books on time management and personal organizing, but can't recall the notion of total capture ever being discussed before GTD (except in Time Design). The relatively low portion of people that have an external system at all are typically only using it to track goals and codified priorities.

                Both GTD disciples and the "unwashed" use intuition to make priority decisions. It's impossible to do otherwise. The only question is how to data is necessary before making a judgement. But even a highly informed decision is ultimately an educated guess.

                2. The overhead of linking projects to actions is relative to workload. GTD formally eschews reexamining project headings and reference materials for action triggers because the interrupt-driven day of knowledge workers is unconducive to constant regrouping. Vertical focus requires more concentration than scanning a list provides. Blocking out the appropriate time for short-term and long-term outcome focusing is what project planning and the Weekly Review are for.

                Merlin Mann eloquently reinforced this point in his Productive Talk series with David Allen in the very comment that precipitated the latter's "disparaging" remarks:
                I think what you're ultimately saying is that if these things are truly priorities in your life, then the time to think about them is not when you're sitting in front of a telephone. It's at a time when you're making much more strategic decisions about how you want your life to be working. And if you're thinking about these priorities as part of a tactical approach every single morning, you may not actually be getting the things done that you need to be getting done. You need to give this the respect and the time to firewall time to make this part of your process.
                3. GTD is a scalable system of the kind that used to be called "appropriate technology." If an action takes less than 2 minutes, do it right then, and don't bother writing it down. If an action isn't time dependent, don't put it on a calendar; put it on a list of options. If something needs to done by or on a certain time, use the calendar. If defining the outcome and very next action fails to get the issue off your mind, use more detailed project planning (e.g. outlining, mindmapping, GANTT). There's no one-size-fits all solution.