Using some simple computer science concepts can boost your effectiveness in life. They are very simple to use. You can use them with a pen and paper if you want to.
The notion of algorithm is a fundamental concept of computer science. Algorithms are also extremely useful in our daily lives, private as well as professional. An algorithm is simply dividing a task into several smaller tasks. It has a well-defined set of inputs and output. It gives you clarity about which step to execute at each time. You can think about it as a plan with precise action steps.
A cooking recipe is an algorithm. It has a list of inputs, an output, and action steps. The inputs of a recipe are the ingredients. The output is the dish. The action steps are the steps that you take to cook the dish.
What are the benefits?
Every time you write down the action steps to complete a task, you actually write an algorithm. Writing an algorithm for a task might sound like a waste of time to you if you aren’t familiar with the concept, but it has a lot of benefits.
Writing down an algorithm provides clarity. It eliminates confusion. You exactly know what to do at each step. You don’t need to think or hesitate what to do at each step, which saves a lot of time and energy once you are in execution mode.
Working from an algorithm enables you to focus on a single step without worrying about the rest. It eliminates the need to figure out what to do next after completing each step.
Writing an algorithm takes some time to think through the steps. It prevents you from making decisions in the heat of the moment. Both of which reduce your error-proneness.
Algorithms save time. This is especially true for repetitive tasks. Instead of trying to figure out what to do each time, you simply go true the steps.
An Example from My Own Life
I have an LLC that requires weekly, monthly, quarterly administration. Even though I have this LLC for seven years by now, I don’t know every step I have to take by heart. These administration steps are not my core competency. I prepared a list of action steps, basically an algorithm, to execute every week, month, and quarter. I just go through this list every week, month, and quarter without thinking much about it or trying to learn it by heart. Even if I learned it by heart, I’d worry weather I remembered all the steps correctly or forgot a step. Now, I have complete peace of mind knowing that I do what I have to do, because these steps are outlined clearly in front of me. I use Evernote for this type of note taking. It’s a free tool for most purposes and has sufficient features to satisfy my needs.
As you can see you can write algorithms for a one-time complex tasks, as well as repetitive tasks. I prefer to write down the action steps no matter how simple a task is, unless it’s a single step task. This gives me the opportunity to reflect upon how to do it properly in advance, so that I don’t choose a less efficient way to execute the task.
Level of Details
If you have a very complex task at hand, algorithms are especially useful. You can always choose the level of details in an algorithm. If you have a complex task at hand, divide the task into five to seven action steps. If the action steps are not precise enough, you can always take an action step and write an algorithm for that action step. You can break down an action step into further action steps. You can go into as much detail as you want. At the end, you will have a set of algorithms that consist of further algorithms and each algorithm is simple enough to be understood, maintained, and executed easily. Computer programs are written this way and why should you not apply the same principle to your everyday tasks?
You can apply the concept of algorithm in your life by breaking down bigger tasks into smaller action steps. Writing an algorithm for a task in advance helps you think through the process in advance. Having an algorithm during the execution gives you mental clarity which action to take next. It eliminates confusion, hesitancy, waste of time, and error-proneness.
If you have done the exercises in the posts about finding your direction and perspective in life, you can apply the concept of algorithms to your answers. If you haven’t done them yet, what are you waiting for? Do you need some motivation?