How to think

I was reading an interesting article from Ed Boyden on "how to think" a while back ( and I liked the concept this researcher highlighted. These really fit well as part of a healthy GTD-like process, trying to optimize a knowledge worker time.

Read the full article for more details, but here are his 10 points, and how they relate to each-other and to GTD.

In a nutshell his concepts can be summarized around:

  • Generating and acting on ideas
  • Planning
  • Documenting
  • .. and a few more that are good concepts but not new ones.


  • Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model…
    How often do we think of something and quickly forget it because we either think we’ll remember it or we don’t have an easy way to take note?

Linked with that point, the following 2 "rules" help those ideas to either die quickly or come to fruition sooner rather than later.

  • Keep it simple.
  • Make your mistakes quickly.

On learning, his first one (rapid prototyping) is complementary to the previous 3 rules, while the other is more GTD like: Learn how to learn (rapidly). Which Boyden boils down to 2 key things:

  • Be able to rapidly prototype ideas
  • Know how your brain works. This is very similar to GTD’s model of doing things that demand lots of brain power when your brain is in its best shape for this kind of work. In my case it’s more later in the afternoon than early morning but the key point is really that it’s unique to each of us.

If you take his planning advices to the letter, however, you’ll spend most of your day planning:

  • Always have a long-term plan. Even if you change it every day.
  • Make contingency maps. Draw all the things you need to do on a big piece of paper

But he does have a point that at least thinking about those at high-level really helps to get ready. The trick is to find the balance between too much planning (vs. doing) or not enough.

The next two are about knowledge and how to capture it:

  • As you develop skills, write up best-practices protocols.
  • Document everything obsessively. If you don’t record it, it may never have an impact on the world.

Both talk to a plague of the information economy: knowledge often leave a group or company when the worker leaves. And I don’t even mention things we used to do and forgot how to do or the best way of doing them. Once again, the key is balance between not enough and too much.

Finally his two last points are actually very similar to what was heavily detailed is the "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" book (whose author Stephen Covey unfortunately recently left us) so I won’t comment more.

  • Work backward from your goal. (i.e. set clear goals !)
  • Collaborate

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