Planning Projects with Pen n' Paper…

Heracles does battle with procrastination



This month I return with a primer on the planning long term projects (i.e. lasting longer than a year) with the aid of papery products and a really nice pen or pencil.

According to ‘Joe Stalin’s Airbrushed History of the Universe’ productivity started with Drucker, moved swiftly through Covey until Olaf the Viking (Olaf Bluetooth) discovered a way to bring about world peace through shaking hands (The Olaf protocol). Unfortunately for the world his scribe carved it on the end of a very long and runic to-do list. Finally the 21st Century appeared and with it Allen’s GTD. However GTD is not without it’s faults….

Please note this article is not a critique of GTD or a replacement for one’s current system. It has been written as simple supplement to aid one’s personal system. However, as with most of the DIYPlanner.com this article is system agnostic and extremely witty.

Why should I waste time Planning?

The simple answer is you shouldn’t, you ‘should’ save time by planning. Let’s take a quick look at the brain shall we?

Most human thought occurs at a subconscious level. By this I mean the thoughts are automatic or habitual rather than involuntary behaviours controlled by the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Examples of the latter include riding a bicycle or writing in one’s planner. The former, breathing. However, most is not all, deciding what to have for breakfast can still occur at conscious level and this leads us to the concept of ‘working memory’. Although it may appear seamless the brain actually processes information in small chunks rather than a stream of conscious thought.

For example: I have here a basket (my Long Term Memory) containing one dozen eggs, which I intend to examine. However, I only have room for three eggcups on my table (my working memory). Therefore in order to examine every one I have to return at least one of my eggs to the basket before picking another.

Let’s look at another example: This time my Long Term Memory has been replace by a Recordable Compact Disc (CDR). I can add memories; memories can be corrupted or damaged in some way, however, I am unable to erase them, also I have no direct access to my data I need an extra layer to interpret it; I this example a CD drive.

"And with this equipment you can access the full 650MB?"

No, my CD drive has a relatively small (256kB), volatile memory chip called a cache (Working Memory) which act as a buffer. An explicit representation (think of it as a music track, recorded at a live concert) is taken from my CDR and placed in the buffer for processing (in this example I am listening to Plaisir D'Amour) before it is discarded for Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’. However only the representation is discarded, the original memory remain on the CDR(1).

Still sceptical? Try this simple test:

Without the aid of pen and paper name the six possible combinations of A, B, and C. E.g. ABC, CBA, BCA…

Now try the same test with A, B, C, and D (Twenty-four possible combinations).

Repeat the tests using paper and pencil. Which did you find the easiest?

As we can see the amount of discrete information held in working memory at any one time is quite limited. However, by writing things out as we process our information rather than simply listing the desired outcomes we can formulate a greater number of possibilities.

Let’s look through our planners and pick a to-do. Let us suppose we wish to communicate good tidings to Macbeth and hail him Thane of Cawdor. The most obvious choice is to climb to the top of the highest tower and contact him via semaphore. However this would be time consuming not to mention hazardous. What are the options? By exploring the alternatives on paper we have provided ourselves with three choices each one conveys the main message- ‘Macbeth you are now Thane of Cawdor’ plus a deeper more subjective one. For example:

* Carrier pigeons – Speedy yet impersonal.

* Messenger – slower but makes the receiver feel important.

* Three Fates wearing false beards appear out of thin air – dramatic; the sender is prone to histrionics.

Note: For those living outside of mediaeval Europe try substituting the above with e-mails, a letter and three students wearing "I love Google" T-shirts.

Not all to-dos occur in isolation however, some form part of a larger project. While some authors refer to multiple, related tasks as projects this can form a dangerous over simplification in the student’s mind. A 'to-do' has an objective (a goal or desired outcome) and at least one task (the doing part). However, unlike a project it does not have to form a discrete unit it could easily refer to a recursive task with multiple steps. For example, making crêpes can be seen as a set of recurrent actions, as can punching Surfs – heavens forbid - yet few people would consider either of those projects. I prefer to think of a project as having a well-defined objective or goal that has been designed for very specific purpose, a task set which runs for a predefined number of weeks, and a measurable outcome.

How to plan a menu *cough* project the easy way...

The planning and organisation of a project is analogous to a tasty meal. One can nibble at snacks or one can sit down and plan a seven-course meal. Left to own devices most of us are nibblers and why not? Well for one thing nibbling can lead indirectly to weight gain and procrastination(2). Instead of eating properly we play without food, grabbing snacks hoping something better or more enjoyable will come along and it usually does. Then one starts to put on weight negative thoughts pervade one’s mind “I never complete anything therefore I am a failure” whispers the dreaded epaulette monkey sitting on one’s shoulder. The underlying assumption in this case is 'good people achieve their goals'. So the question is how does one do it properly?

Look through your field notebook or journal again and choose one idea or topic you would like to focus on. Take a sheet of paper and write at the top the projects reference number (say foo30507R301009), followed by the topic, and today’s date.

Note: unlike plan ‘B’ there is nothing mysterious about the project reference number it is there so we can keep track of all the files, sheets of loose paper, letters, and request forms which will some take over one’s workspace. And for those with nothing better to do foo = food, 30507 = the starting date, R = Review, and 301009 = the projected finish date(3).

Look at your idea. Whether one is planning to build an interstellar superhighway or make a cup of tea one has a specific objective in mind. The objectives form the building blocks of any project. How can one be sure they selects the right stone for the job? Well a good start would by to ask ourselves the following questions:

What are trying to achieve? For example; are trying to design the ideal chair or a new protocol for getting work done? Perhaps it is research into why primates like tea?

Have all the primary objectives been made explicit? For example:

* I wish to bake a cake – The scope is too broad

* I want to bake a large and delicious chocolate gateau – The objective is too nebulous

* Bake a twenty-four inch (600 mm) three layer chocolate gateaux - Well formed and well done

* Take 100g of plain flour… - This is a 'task' not an 'objective'

Is the objective achievable with the resources available? For example; after agreeing to carry out a linear regression analysis on a lot of big numbers by morning you assess your resources only to find:

* it will take too long by hand. (Missing resource = time)

* your Intel-based MacPuter will not run SPSS(4). (Missing resource = equipment)

* you are unsure as to whether SPSS will run from the Citrix client for the MacPuter. (Missing resource = knowledge)

Does the project have value? For example; knowing that the only thing capable of travelling faster than light is bad news the Hingefreel of Arkintoofle Minor set about finding a way to harness the power for use in their interstellar warp engines. After 50 years of careful research the first engine rolled off the assembly line. Unfortunately for the Hingefreel nobody likes to receive bad news and they are rapidly becoming the pariahs of the universe with only the bad news engines keeping them one step ahead of the game. (Adams 1992)

How will I measure success? In the case of the seven-course meal it could be how many of the guests enjoyed eating or perhaps it is to be judged as part of a competition. However the larger the project the more likely it is you will have multiple objectives each with its own group of tasks. For example; before we can prepare the meal we must procure the ingredients. In this case ‘success’ will equal having the ingredient not only at the right time, but also in the correct amounts to move the project along.

So to recap our project must have clear goals (the projects stated objective); be achievable with in certain amount of time with the resources we have available. The project should have a measurable outcome and provide 'value' to all the project stakeholders i.e. will the project provide anything new and useful to the people involved.

Taking Actions to Task:

Having defined our objectives we now have to glue them together using ‘tasks’. Unlike the objectives, which are mere statements of intent, tasks are doable(5). For example: I wish to make a cup of ‘English Breakfast’ (a blend of tea) in my favourite china mug at six on the morning of the 23rd of June 2099 is an objective. While ‘fill the kettle with x amount of water’ could be one of the tasks I need to complete in order to achieve my objective. However before I fill the kettle I would be wish to check if there is any water already inside my kettle and if so how much…

Take a second sheet of paper and list or ‘map’ (Mind/Concept/tree) anything you think will help you achieve your objectives:

Project Ref: dog14680R3010670 Kerberos 07/04/680 BCE

Primary Objective: To capture Hades dog Kerberos and show him to cousin Eurystheus

* Book passage to the underworld.

* Arrange audience with Hades and Persephone

* Pack luggage –list A (Heracles travels a lot and has therefore had the good sense to make various travel lists over the years)

* Make copy of SWMBO favourite CD in order to sooth the savage beast

* Check passport

* Check visas

* Buy truffes au chocolat just in case Kerberos hates Youssou N'Dour and Johnny Holiday…

Look through to see if any of the tasks can be carried out in parallel e.g. buying all the ingredients for a lavish dinner all in one go rather than a separate shopping trip for each course. Sometimes one will need to book a specific resource or attend a short course (say on dog taming). These are usually date and time specific. Some may need completing in a specific order i.e. one cannot make and omelette without procuring eggs. Read through again after a few days has anything been missed?

Now no one will be foolish enough to believe a simple outline can solve all our planning problems, we need to combine it with a process map.

Before we move on a quick note on N@: In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen suggests we should brake down our to-dos and only write down the very next physical action, which if we were evil robots from the future would be excellent advice. However few humans need this level of planning. For example if I write ‘put on shoes’ I can safely assume I mean my own shoes and automatically tie the laces. Unlike the evil robot humans can infer the missing data. The degree to which one needs to break down a task depends on levels of previous experience, knowledge and the ability to transfer concepts from one situation to another. Or in the words of Einstein (who was in fact restating Ockham’s Razor in a simplified form) “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

Drawing the map:

The next step in on the path to happy planning is the process map or flow chart. The idea is simple; we will draw a chart that will take use through the entire process as we identified in the last exercise. This in turn will help us spot any flaws in our thinking, weak spots, appointment clashes and other silliness. If you look through the previous problem, Heracles has forgotten to list something to play the music on, plus gifts for his hosts.

Note I will be using boxes (nodes) and arrows (arcs) for this exercise so please feel free to substitute index cards and a lengths of yarn, circles for boxes or brightly coloured crayons to denote your own various activities… All that matters is the structure.

Starting a large sheet of paper write out the first objective and draw a box around it. O1

A2, A3 and A4 are parallel tasks. As we can see from Fig 1 all three must be completed before we can move onto A5, however the order is unimportant.

A5 represents a task that needs completing before A6.

The lack of an arrow between A6 and A8 tells us that although WF7 is a missing resource (in this case we are waiting for [WF] a cheque from number 6 who is trapped inside a giant rubber ball) it is needed before we can proceed to A8.

network diagram

Figure 1

Time, if I Only Had Time:

"The time has come", the walrus said, "to talk of many things: Of milestones - and time estimates - and whether planner need wings".

Simply put a milestone is a summary added to the end of a group of tasks and can be represented by the letter M. i.e. M3 equals the third milestone on one’s outline. The main reason for using them is to break up the never-ending horror of longer project cycles. However, I have found by putting one just before I go on holiday I can relax safe in the knowledge that my project has been put to bed.

Why projects need ‘time’: Einstein tells us, time travel is possible but only in the one direction. However Doug has asked me to stay away from theory so let us hide the ring and never speak of it again. Estimating time can be difficult and yet for longer projects it is time well spent. Let’s look at the basics:

* Earliest Start (ES). As the title suggests this is the earliest date one can begin a particular task. I.e. the task could be attending a course or it might be dependent on the time of year. Who would be foolish enough to cross Antarctica in the middle of winter?

* Latest Start (LS). Would you believe the latest start date? As the tasks are chained i.e. one task is dependent on another and it is likely we will have other duties to perform away from the main project it is important to account as many variables as possible.

* Earliest Finish (EF). Would you believe the earliest date one can complete a task but wait. Large projects need plenty of resources, which might only be available on a certain date. For example; the machine that goes ping or the most expensive machine in the laboratory. On the other hand replies from a survey could become available sooner than anticipated reducing the over all time.

* Latest Finish (LF) The task deadline. Remember your project is a very long chain of interdependent tasks – look sharp! A time ogre is pulling on it.

* Float (F) This is the difference between EF and LF measured in weeks. Float time is for covering contingencies rather than dressing up as an heiress, getting drunk and running over trees. If you have less than a week left to start a project, you have run out of float mon ami.

Note: not all tasks ‘Float’ some are ‘Critical Activities’. Let us assume I have bad teeth and need a dentist. The time is set via an appointment and I have to be there or the ‘task’ – replacing my bad teeth with golden gangsta ones – will fail to be completed. Another, and possibly more realistic example is one has booked the machine that goes ping! Although not the most expensive machine in the laboratory it still has a very long waiting list (months in fact) and without it no one will take your work seriously.

* Duration (D) This is the amount of time actually spent carrying out a task. Not the duration of the entire project. For example; one task could take a total of 49 hours to complete, however most people would prefer to take breaks for eating and sleeping rather than working straight through especially if the duration runs in to weeks.time box




Our updated task box should look something like this:







Milestones:

* Earliest Time (ET) This is the earliest date one can reach a particular milestone. Again it is dependant on the tasks which can before being satisfactorily completed

* Latest Time (LT) Milestones have deadlines too. This can also be viewed as a wake up call to review one’s schedule. If one misses a milestone deadline look to the next phase of the project it will more than likely need some adjustments to keep the how project form derailing itself like some for of spiritually possessed railway engine

* Float. Yes again, we like float

Remember the maximum time between Milestones should be no more the three months.

How can I know how long my project will take if I have not completed it yet?

Well you could adopt the ‘Wild Eyed Builder’s Guess'dimate'… Or:

* Examine similar tasks from previous projects E.g. Roux takes the same amount of time to prepare whichever sauce one finally ends up making.

* Ask others who have completed similar projects. However we must not forget they skills could differ. For example: Peter Parker (Spiderman) will take far longer to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower than Clark Kent (Superman). Who as we all know can leap tall objects in a single bound.

What else should I budget for? Any time not employed on the actual project. For example; sleeping, eating, holidays, other duties such as admin and teaching, travel time, and remember we can all fall sick, suffer from equipment failure or get jump’d by fate for When sorrows come, they come not single spies But in battalions.

From plan to planner:

By now we should have a relatively long rambling list filled with data and a process map flowing in the right direction. (Left to right for those writing in English, French or modern Viking).

The process map looks rather good pinned to the door of one’s refrigerator (note to self: stop sticking pin in to the fridge door). However, it needs to start earning its keep; we need to carry out a network analysis. Don’t Panic! Simply put we look through the process map and make sure we have not missed anything.

Some of us will remember with horror writing our first paper. One day we were happily writing in draft, correcting as we went along the next we munching Pro-plus (caffeine supplements) trying to complete a twenty-thousand word essay before the clock struck three in the morn… It was about this time most of us discovered the magic of the outline and the side effects of caffeine abuse. For of us who have those who have forgotten or to young to know here is the trick: we list all the objectives (O), tasks (A), waiting for (WF) and milestones (M) along with the projected start and completion dates, in numerical order. Then we extract any tasks that will need to be completed within the next three months (or whatever time scale you have set your milestones at) adding them to your diary (calendar) as you go. Anything too difficult or hideous to contemplate doing oneself (Statistical work springs to mind) will have hopefully been delegated. These along with any tasks one cannot get out of can be added to the D*I*Y combined Actions/Waiting For Template, ready for one’s weekly review. Okay I lied there is no trick it is just common sense wrapped in an organisational jacket. However David Allen (2001) offers us one more useful tip for getting the most from our diaries (calendar). Employ them as virtual ‘ticklers’. By writing a lead up a few days before an event is due undergraduates can give themselves a few days notice of impending doom and the rest of us can sleep safely in our beds knowing we have a weeks ‘float’ time.

Footnotes: (For those with more time than sense)

(1) This also provides an example of how a technical dictionary can be used to explain complex concepts to the ‘youth (or pert young woman) of today’. :P

(2) Chronic procrastination is not a disease it is the product of maladjusted thinking. So while adequate planning could help reduce the risk of procrastination in the first place I still recommend those who feel chronic procrastination is interfering with their enjoyment of life seek the advice of a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

(3) ABC filing has its uses; contact management for example, however we are dealing with the long and difficult task of capturing Kerberos while planning a meal for our friend Pholos (who is well known for his horsing around). So instead of Heracles filing his cell phone bill under T for telephone or B for bill he put all of his utility bills into one-area marks it with the financial year and the date that it can be destroyed. Let me expand a little. We can adopt a simple code for all paperwork. P for Permanent -files such as birth certificates, medical cards, and deeds; R for Review - files that will need to be reviewed every so often to make sure they are still relevant; D for Destroy and Rc for Recycle - files that can be destroyed or recycled after a set period of time without further review, e.g. shopping lists can be safely throw in the recycling bin whereas bank statements need a secure means of disposal which for larger organisations might include a secure recycling option.

(4) SPSS = a popular software package used for statistical analysis and data management

(5) Shocking as it may seem ‘doable’ is in the OED

Objective (O) – a concrete statement relating to an intended goal.
Task (A) – the ‘work’ phase of a project
Waiting For (WF) – Someone or something we are waiting for.
Milestone (M) – a way marker used to break up the monotony of larger projects not unlike the chapters of a book.

Adams D. 1992. Mostly Harmless. Harmony Books

Allen D, 2001. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Viking Adult

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

wheat and chaff

Hi.

There's good stuff in here. I didn't get good sleep last night, so I had a rough time wading through the literary references and mixed examples the first time.

This is actually very like the process I use when planning large projects for work, though in my case the objectives are often spelled out by the boss before I ever begin. That and I usually let my software build the flowchart, rather than doing it myself.

I don't generally think about the process in this level of detail. I usually go more like 1. Brainstorm tasks. 2. Set them in order and identify relationships between them. 3. Estimate time per task. 4. Adjust all the time estimates to make the end date suit the boss. *sigh*

The working memory concept is quite interesting. Is it related at all to the movement of short term memories from the hippocampus to the long term storage in the cortex? I find that my memory functions very poorly on short or interrupted sleep, and I'm curious as to whether this would also affect working memory. Well, OK, I'm already pretty positive it affects working memory, I'm just wondering if there's been any study of that aspect. :)

shris

Harvest Moon...

Hi Shris

There's good stuff in here. I didn't get good sleep last night, so I had a rough time wading through the literary references and mixed examples the first time.

Thank you for the support. :) It was originally going to be the foundation for a series on personal development. Hence the references to Macbeth, Heracles (or Herakles to the pedantic), Le Fanu’s Green Tea, Douglas Adams, et al. Sadly it went a little off track. The mixed examples are my fault. I know more about eating and literature than I do about web-sites and on-line technology and I got a little carried away. :)

This is actually very like the process I use when planning large projects for work

Despite what pundits may claim, there are no new paradigms in project management. Although there are some interesting buzzwords, synergy for example: When I first read that I thought the book was referring to combining Pro-plus with coffee so I could get to the end without falling asleep. ;) They are based on either the Performance Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) or the Critical Path Method. (CPM) Both developed in the 1950s. Although there have been advances and modifications to suit different discipline the ‘exemplars’ (if we accept Kuhn view of scientific development)have remained the same.

…in my case the objectives are often spelled out by the boss before I ever begin.

What about personal projects? Let’s say you wanted to build a house from scratch or restore a vintage hotrod? (Sorry, everything I know about America comes from George Carlin and repeats of ‘I love Lucy’).

That and I usually let my software build the flowchart, rather than doing it myself.

Lol, you know how uncomfortable I feel with technology, however if a project is very large or has a lot of individuals from different disciplines then I would use a computer too. My papery limit is around ‘sixty boxes’ in each two-month period. :)

I don't generally think about the process in this level of detail. I usually go more like 1. Brainstorm tasks. 2. Set them in order and identify relationships between them. 3. Estimate time per task. 4. Adjust all the time estimates to make the end date suit the boss. *sigh*

Okay let’s look at this: How do you brainstorm your tasks? Although my methods seem complicated on screen I have been using them so long grabbing a sheet of paper and drawing out the problem has become automatic as your method has for you. :)

Furthermore if you decide to restore Desi Arnaz’ hotrod you will be able to set your own agenda.

The working memory concept is quite interesting.

Yes it is interesting; let’s take a view of the basics:

Working memory is part of a conceptualised or theoretical model of memory. It is distinct from the short-term memory. Although some argue that it is actually a sub-system of the long-term memory. However in this example it does not matter were it ‘lives’ as long as we can understand it. Imagine you are a media student and your assignment is to film ‘A day in the life of a handbag fiend’. You, Carol Executive (central executive) will act as director. Your job is to point things of interest out to the others and to co-ordinate the project. Your friend Phoebe Loops (phonological loop) will record the sound on a small mp3 recorder with enough space to record a few seconds of information. However, she cannot make a direct recording, she uses the student equivalent of ‘echo recording’, i.e. she repeats what she hears rather than the actual sound. (Fans of Queen will remember with much embarrassment singing “the devil has a sideboard for me, for me, for me!”). The third student is Vincent Spatial- sketchpad III (visuo-spatial sketchpad) he will act as cameraman. He will also hold a small stock of spare videotape (visual cache) as well as taking down scene notes and stage directions (the inner scribe) for Carol. The last student is called Edward Buffer (episodic buffer). His role is to edit the film before getting Carol’s approval.

Although we know the hippocampus has an important role in the formation of long-term memories that role is yet to be fully understood. One theory suggests that its role is to build the neural pathways.

I find that my memory functions very poorly on short or interrupted sleep, and I'm curious as to whether this would also affect working memory.

Here we are looking at two different problems; sleep deprivation and sleep fragmentation although the effects appear to be similar. In layman’s terms disruption to the normal sleep-wakefulness cycle has been shown to have a detrimental effect on ‘executive functions’ including working and short-term memory. However, some of the effects sleep fragmentation can be quite subtle, slower reaction times while driving for example might go unnoticed whereas an inability to find focus could be more apparent. :)

How to..

Hi Sard.

What about personal projects? Let’s say you wanted to build a house from scratch or restore a vintage hotrod? (Sorry, everything I know about America comes from George Carlin and repeats of ‘I love Lucy’).

Well, let's see. The personal project that I approached with the most organization in the last 10 years was a kitchen remodel, I think. For that, we wrote down a list of the things we wanted to achieve. We designed the new room in a piece of software so we could see what size cabinets we needed.

When we had a list of stuff, we went to the home center and priced it all out. We had our plan, but it wasn't a project plan, didn't include timelines, and wasn't detailed. It was mostly a rough list of stuff we needed to buy and install.

At that point, we had our go/no go decision. We didn't call it that, but that's what it was. We decided to go, having agreed on our scope and a rough budget. The timeline was mostly a guess.

We ordered the things that needed ordering, and bought the big stuff that was readily available. Then we started the tear down. That was amusing. Originally we thought we might preserve some of the things we were removing, but the wood was so old and dry it shattered. That was the first point when the reality deviated from the plan.

As we got into the process, we discovered more stuff that needed to be done besides our original list, and more stuff we needed to buy than what we had anticipated. This is known as 'scope creep' in my industry. We found a rotten area of floor under the old sink, we discovered that the wall we wanted to cut a hole in was actually a load-bearing wall, we discovered the new cabinets were less deep than the old ones so we had to resurface the popcorn on the ceiling, we discovered that we needed to rewire the entire kitchen with 3-strand.. There were more discoveries, and they all added time and money. We stayed flexible, in part because we didn't have a rigid plan to set our expectations.

When we finished, we had a lovely new kitchen for a little more than twice the money we had thought we'd spend. We also had a new cat. That was *definitely* not in the plan.

Recap: Set goal. Make a list of what you need to buy. Start taking stuff apart. Discover things you didn't know. Start putting things together. Discover more things you didn't know. Finish job late, over budget, but very pretty. :) Pet new cat.
The process is the same for us for car projects too, except for the cat part.

Okay let’s look at this: How do you brainstorm your tasks? Although my methods seem complicated on screen I have been using them so long grabbing a sheet of paper and drawing out the problem has become automatic as your method has for you. :)

Well, usually I open up a piece of software and start making a list. I start with 'big chunks' first, the major milestones or big lumps of effort. After I've exhausted my creativity there, I go back and rearrange them in what seems like a logical order. Then I start with the top one and make a list of the actions that make that chunk work. Continue through the list. Then go back to the top and consider how long each item ought to take and who should do it and what happens in what order chronologically (this might be three separate passes or I might do them all in the same pass). Finally I look at the start and end dates and realize that nobody's going to accept that schedule and look for stuff to trim. Usually my original estimates include some slush, so I start trimming slush and getting more conservative. Then pack the draft off to the boss for his review. After that there's usually a few rounds of revisions or more time-trimming.

Working memory is part of a conceptualised or theoretical model of memory. It is distinct from the short-term memory. Although some argue that it is actually a sub-system of the long-term memory.

In your example, given my lack of/interrupted sleep, Carol Executive has lost her notes about what's supposed to happen today, the camera and the tape recorder are on the fritz and only record about half of what they were supposed to, the sketch guy isn't writing everything down--he's missing half the details he should be catching, the spare tape is in pieces, and Ed's lost random selections of the stuff from the last month when he tries to edit it all together. By the time Carol finds her notes several days later, there's a distinct gap in the sequence, some stuff has to be re-shot, and some can never be recovered.

Oh well. :)

shris

More examples...

Hi Shris

Thank you for the example of how you plan personal projects. :)

In your example, given my lack of/interrupted sleep, Carol Executive has lost her notes about what's supposed to happen today...[snip]

Erm, not quite; remember in my example Carol, Phoebe, Vincent and Edward are students. As students they have been up all night discussing Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in relationship to scenes from the new Harry Potter film and therefore unable to concentrate on the task at hand. ;) Other forces are at work contributing to the problems you describe.

Let us imaging you are the director (president) of a large company. Let’s call it Shris Inc. :) You have the ultimate control over the company but the day to day running is left to others; here are three of them:

In our example the executive functions have been handed over to world famous actor George C. Scott. (think of a Chief Executive Officer in a large company) Scott normally plays the role of a really nice purple shirt wearing, smart trousers type of chap. However if Scott does not get enough sleep he starts to believe he is General Patton dons his steel helmet and employs very ridged thinking.

Downstairs another famous actor, Christopher Walken, has been put in charge of the ‘limbic system’ (memory, emotion, sleep-wakefulness, amongst other functions) Normally this would be a rather fun idea. However Walken ordered pretzels for everyone and they still have not arrived so now he is alternating between oozing menace and dancing

As far as I am aware there is no such thing as a brain pretzel so how can we calm this type of situation? This is where Denzil Dexter (who is not the love child of Sally Fields and Tom Hanks) comes in. with the aid of a Merit chemistry set he is able to synthesis serotonin and dopamine he can even knock up a bit of noradrenaline (norepinephrine) if he is in the mood. Unfortunately Dexter prefers to come out at night when things are quieter. Although some evidence point to it actually being the darkness that he prefers rather than an actual time.

I could go on except I know Doug will already trying to distance himself from my Sally Fields remark and if I compare the Long Term Memory (LTM) system to an Arnold Schwarzenegger film I will be banned for life. ;)

Patton

Hmm.

Yes, I think my toddlers can attest that mommy gets touchy when she hasn't had enough sleep. General Patton has been resident at our house now for over a week. Coincidentally, this is the same period when both children have had fevers, restless sleep, etc. *sigh*

I dunno how menacing Walken is right now..I think he's more drugged up, zombie-like. He would be dancing if I was self-medicating with caffeine, I think. :) I did that yesterday and I was strung up tight for about two hours.

I think I haven't had enough sleep to recognize the professor's role in all this. Though I must say, the sort of absent-minded, disconnected-from-reality vibe is very familiar somehow.

Anyway, I think we've displayed thoroughly just how much too much time we have on our hands these days. Thanks for the responses. :)

shris

Knitting Patton….

Hi Shris

I think I haven't had enough sleep to recognize the professor's role in all this. Though I must say, the sort of absent-minded, disconnected-from-reality vibe is very familiar somehow

Unfortunately I have run out of famous American Actors so we will have to fall back on science or the cast of ‘Friends’. ;)

From our point of view (sleep deprivation – fragmentation) there are at least four important neurotransmitters. (Neurotransmitter = a chemical messenger).

Remember in my last examples George C Scott had been put in control of executive functions? In order for him to carry out those functions properly he needs an effective communication system. In this case it is not Bell South or AT&T but dopamine that carries the important instructions on planning, which memories should be stored and attention span. Sorry what were we talking about? Oh yes dopamine! dopamine also plays a part in the control of fine motor skills. Try writing a note on five hours sleep and you will soon see what I mean. ;)

Serotonin like denim jeans turns up everywhere and is a jack-of-all-trades chemical. From our perspective it play an important role in the regulation of sleep, memory and mood. There are at least fours sites in the brain that synthesise serotonin, of which the pineal gland appears to be the most significant. The pineal gland is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) (think of it as a photosensitive watch). During daylight hours the pineal gland synthesise serotonin from tryptophan then when it gets dark any serotonin left in storage is broken down into melatonin.

Noradrenaline (norepinephrine), dopamine's best friend - As with the other three, noradrenaline is produced in different places for different purposes; for example the heart tissue, the adrenal glands, and the noradrenergic system. Although its role as a neurotransmitter is not fully understood as yet, we do know it interacts with dopamine, has a role to play in mood control and our ability to focus.

I think we've displayed thoroughly just how much too much time we have on our hands these days.

I blame caffeine. We take a sip of tea (or in case of American’s coffee) and the next thing we know we are listening to Leonard Cohen and writing stripped down “I am to tired to think Guides to something or other".... When will it all stop I as myself? ;)

rigid thinking

"However if Scott does not get enough sleep he starts to believe he is General Patton dons his steel helmet and employs very ridged thinking."

Hmmm... does that involve corrugating the brain? Or is it like switching from the snazzy purple shirt to a striped one?

Nature adores the humble walnut…

"Ridged" lol, that will teach me to proof my own copy and not rely on evil computerised spell checks. ;)

…does that involve corrugating the brain?

Lol, some of the human brain is already corrugated which in turn gives it a much greater surface area without making one’s head too big. ;)

…Or is it like switching from the snazzy purple shirt to a striped one?

Much as the ‘Nature adores the humble walnut’ theory appeals I think I should leave the comedy to Steve and admit I made a few typos. :)

As you rightly point out I meant to type 'rigid thinking'. As we get tired our thinking becomes polarised, (less grey areas, more black and white). Sticking with our example Scott’s thinking 'Patton' could go like this: "Wearing a snazzy purple shirt with an open collar and smart trousers is a break from 'tribal tradition' I need the tribe to protect me if I fall asleep therefore I must adopt the 'tribal uniform'". In the case of Scott this might mean a blue and white striped shirt, business suit, boring tie, and steel helmet (rather like the ones worn by CEOs in Europe but without the horns ;) )