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« Time for another Competition | Main | Sarah's Day - A Demo of SuperFocus »

All in the Mind?

I got quite interested a few years ago in the soroban, the Japanese abacus, thinking that it might be good exercise for the mind. One of the fascinating things I discovered about it is that people can get so good at using it that they don’t need a physical soroban in order to do calculations. They can simply visualise one in their minds. See the video below.

After writing my piece yesterday about SuperFocus and brain power, I began to wonder whether the same might be true of SuperFocus: that after using it for a long period it might actually be possible to work SuperFocus without needing a physical notebook or electronic list. My thinking was that it probably wouldn’t be a case of visualising a list, but more that after constant use SuperFocus lays down patterns in the brain about how to handle just about every type of task. I have already discovered for example that I can do the daily recurring tasks in SuperFocus without needing to refer to the list.

What do you think?

Reader Comments (4)

I think this all makes perfect sense.

In music and martial arts, we benefit from mental walk-throughs of our performances. My piano teacher encouraged three types of practice, of equal importance, one of them taking place without a piano. I know a practitioner of Tibetan Dumo, a meditation technique in which the body generates unbelievable amounts of heat. He said the key is visualizing a mandala composed of ten thousand elements--actually seeing them in one's mind all at once. I cannot even imagine this, but these guys are able to dry a wet sheet draped over their naked bodies in freezing temperatures, so I'm not going to dispute their methods! (And I can't help but wonder what this thermodynamic feat does to the definition of "brain power.")

Talk about motivation: if SuperFocus could really teach me to be *so* good at managing my time that I don't need to see the list ... wow, let's get crackin' ...
March 18, 2011 at 15:16 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Yes, I quite agree, and have found it true in my experience: recurring tasks become habitual and need no reminders or entries in order to do them. I find writing them down more a bother than a help, and so omit them.
March 18, 2011 at 15:22 | Unregistered CommenterSerry
Recurring tasks will become indeed habitual, because of the repetition. That’s not the same as internalising the SuperFocus process through, discarding the written list.

One of Superautofocus's greatest assets is the fact that the list is NOT stored inside the head. As David Allen pointed out, the head is a great place to have ideas; it’s a lousy place to store them. Relying on natural memory strategies to capture and store the items and the list and process them could undermine the system for a lot of people.

When tasks are captured in writing, they’re less likely to be forgotten, ignored, or sidelined. The written list also as a visual focus for attention when selecting tasks.

Re. the soroban: the abacus is a physical object representing & handling number, which is formalised logical and numerical information. A chess board & pieces could be seen in a similar way. Potentially, there are vast numbers of permutations and states such systems can represent, but only a few types of piece within a constrained and finite system.

Repetitive use by soroban user & chess player can internalise the model & its states & pattern. Moreover, some people with high levels of concentration & visualisation (e.g. Tesla) can visualise objects with great consistency and precision.

However, SuperFocus isn’t like the abacus or chess. The items being captured and handled are neither formal or consistent. They're verbal natural language notes of Projects, Tasks etc. This would make remembering them a different kind of mental task, requiring very different mnemonic strategies to maintain the list. Clustering related or similar items would almost certainly be necessary, which would alter the order and structure of the ‘pages’ and list.

A technique like the Roman & Medieval 'Locus' techniques, might make it possible to dispense with a written list, as it would support capture and systematic review. Locus involved visualising a place (like a temple or street), which was well known & used its visual and spatial structure to organise memory. Vivid symbolic objects were placed in locations in the location place, storing information and ideas. However, as John Crowley observes in his novel ‘Little Big’: “The whole process was immensely complicated and tedious and was for the most part rendered obsolete by the invention of the filing-cabinet.”

These days, we have easily-available pens, notepads, Moleskines etc. as well as electronic devices like smartphones, apps, cloud services that can capture the material & store it for consideration, processing, action, dismissal.

It might be that in time repeated use of the discipline MIGHT train the mind so that it didn’t need the written list, especially if roles and projects kept involving the same kinds of tasks, but I’d argue that one of the main strengths of the system is that, like Kanban, SuperFocus makes tasks and workflow external & visible, which is one of its strengths and virtues.

, or even a chess board, the items that the list is handling can be very varied in content. The only way to make sense of that in the head would be to group & cluster related items, which would produce a very different list format.

Human memory has strengths and weaknesses.
March 19, 2011 at 10:03 | Unregistered CommenterJames Precious
I think that the reason SF works so well for me is that it mimics what my mind does naturally. Or did. I think I've mentioned this before.

I think that when I was younger and had less obligations and responsibilities, my mind worked very much like SF on it's own. I had a spot for a list of urgent items and not-so urgent items. But as time passed, I couldn't keep all the items in my head. There were too many items and/or my mind became less agile. Or I realized/read that I didn't have to keep them all in my mind.

But SF just clicked with me from the get-go.

I think the opposite is true for all the one-off items. I don't want them in my head. I think that, perhaps, for the repetitive items they might end up not needed to be on the list after much repetition within SF. I think we all have some things that WE need SF's help with (for me it might be taking my vitamins, for you it might be doing the dishes) and some that we don't. And SF might train us to not need it for those things. But for remembering to MOVE CALLA LILLIES or to RESEARCH MAINTENANCE ON X or to CALL VET RE: ED'S SHOTS...SF is a big help. I don't want to remember that stuff until I might be able to do it.
March 20, 2011 at 16:27 | Registered Commentermalisa

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