Structured Programming – The Power of Organization

Taking control of your environment and life

In his book The Anatomy of Power, John Kenneth Galbraith stressed that organization is the source of power which deserves the most attention: Organization, the third of the sources of power, normally exists in association with property and, in greater or less measure, with personality. It is, however, more important than either, and in modern times increasingly so.

[1] His opinion is echoed (by Adolf Berle, Jr.):

No collective category, no class, no group of any kind in and of itself wields power or can use it. Another factor must be present: That of organization. [2]

These two authors obviously feel that organization is a crucial asset. Yet upon even thinking about the word “organization,” many people shudder. It conjures up images of factories, armies, your mother yelling at you to clean up the room. This is an incorrect perception. Organization is something that any person aspiring towards success must learn. It is something to be appreciated. Too many people mistake organization for routine. As the British author, Sir Arthur Helps, wrote:

“Routine is not organization, any more than paralysis is order.” [3]I do not associate organization with a schedule. Schedules are too inflexible. They are only for people who cannot think for themselves. By being organized, a person should be able to anticipate and deal with anything that comes in his way without need of resorting to routine and habit.

According to Galbraith, the power that is derived from organization is three-fold. First, it derives the ability to influence events outside of its own structure from the strength of integrity – or discipline, for lack of a better word! – internally. That is to say, you must stand by your commitment in organization of your life. Like an army containing dissenting ranks among itself, disorder within will disrupt effective control without.

Secondly, the power of an organization is “dependent … on its association with the other sources of power [property and personality] … and on its access to the instruments of enforcement.” What Galbraith is telling us is that organization itself is not enough. There must be other sources of power to “energize” the structure of organization. In other words, organization alone cannot provide you with long-term strategic advantage without the various tactical advantages – for example, your memory skills – that fit into the larger scheme of things. This is why I stressed earlier that a system of unification is necessary to take maximum advantage of all these separate skills and tools. Finally, Galbraith states that “there is an association between the power of an organization and the number and diversity of the purposes for which submission is sought.” Here, he uses the word “submission” to mean the achievement of objectives. Using the terminology we discussed before, this final attribute of organization stresses the point that the more concentrated the power, the more effective the action.

Therefore, in our paradigm of the cyborg, we cannot build a cyborg without a “metal skeleton.” If you remember the movie, The Terminator, recall that near the end even when all the other parts of its body were destroyed, the cyborg continued to operate with minimal power via its metal skeleton, walking out from the massive explosion that fried all its other components. This image conveys the incredible advantage of good organization. It serves to hold everything else up, and keeps us supported even when individual mechanisms – individual skills, or tools – fail us.

Most people’s incorrect perception of organization stems from faulty childhood exposure to the term. Teachers and parents probably told them to “get organized” and set up a schedule for them so that they would do certain things at certain times. This is a horrible way of looking at the concept of organization. By shutting the person inside a steel cage of daily routine, there is hardly any room left for creative problem-solving. If something unexpected came up, something that the person – and indeed, the schedule itself – did not anticipate, then disaster results. Strict “organization” by attempting to control for all variables is impossible. We learned this lesson from chaos theory, the branch of mathematics that deals with unpredictability in complex systems. Perhaps some of you have come across the concept of chaos theory in Michael Crichton’s book (and movie) Jurassic Park. In it, the character of Ian Malcolm describes exactly why it is impossible to anticipate each and every scenario, and that it would be arrogant and useless for us to try to do so. Thus, the real value of organization lies in the fact that we can place certain items in strategically advantageous positions, so that when the unexpected strikes, we are maximally prepared to deal with it. Therefore, the virtue of organization is not success via constraint, but success via freedom – freedom achieved and afforded by the strength of a well-constructed foundation, so that risks are minimized and the limits of protected exploration and experimentation are consequently extended.

Spatial Advantage – Establishing your HQ

How to acquire some elbow room in which to manoeuvre

When it comes down to the basics, there are only two things in the universe which really need our attention concerning organization: Space and Time. In fact, according to scientists, space and time are the same thing. So in our organization of our life, we are in fact making Space/Time work for us.

To begin with, let us tackle space first. Answer this simple question: Is your room organized? That is, can you honestly say that it is neat and tidy? Have you emptied the trash-can, or is it overflowing with garbage? Are there books and magazines everywhere? Are your clothes strewn about the floor? Do you have mountains of paper – especially those ubiquitous receipts from automated banking machines – on your desk? Can you even see where the desk is?

A good way of assessing whether or not your room is a suitable place to act as your headquarters of operations, your HQ, is to stand in the centre of it, and consider whether or not your mind is calm, clear and relaxed in this environment. If everywhere you look there is something bothering you, or something that disrupts your attention, then you need to get rid of those items. You cannot hope to maximize your studying performance if your attention is constantly compromised by extraneous variables.

There are three steps to cleaning out your room:

  1. Throw out the useless junk.
  2. Throw out more junk.
  3. Throw out the rest of the junk.

These three steps are more serious than they appear. In the first step, you get rid of anything that is obvious trash such as gum wrappers and used tissue paper. Empty your garbage can. Launder the bed sheets if that is necessary – it probably is. Vacuum or sweep the place. Do a really good job of cleaning the junk out. You will not likely clean your room as thoroughly, for a long time to come!

Having thrown out the existing garbage, you now get rid of anything that will soon become trash. This includes old magazines and newspapers that you have read and don’t need to keep (If you are keeping a certain periodical because you think some of its articles would be useful in a termpaper, or presentation, be advised that a good library would probably have that publication on microfilm – alternatively, you can just rip out the specific articles and store them away). Store away in a box (or sell) those books that you never touch, never will read, and are simply a waste of space to keep around. Move out useless items on the desk or on the floor. Relocate or store away extra clothing that is just taking up closet space. Get rid of anything else you can think of that is not important at all but you just kept it because you didn’t know what to do with it, or didn’t know who to give it to.

Finally, you must consider every item that now remains in your room. Carefully assess its worth. Do you absolutely need it? Will it help you achieve your objectives, or will it turn out to be a nuisance? The more items that are unrelated to your tasks, the higher the probability of your mind being distracted, and the lower the chances are of you hanging around and doing your work like you’re supposed to. For example, imagine you’re reading your textbook when, out of the corner of your eye, you spy a poster of your favourite rock group. Now, unless the poster means absolutely nothing to you (in which case, it shouldn’t be around anyway) you might daydream by reminiscing about a concert you went to with your friends. You may then start to entertain the prospect of going out to party as an alternative to studying. Now, regardless of whether or not you actually abandon your work, you don’t need that kind of temptation. This goes for anything else that will be distracting. You be the judge. The exceptions are items such as cassette players or a VCRs, because these are tools that you can utilize – as you will later learn. Various decorations, such as flowers or pictures, may also be essential to your general ease of mind when working in your room, and certain items may even serve as inspiration or support. While I was studying for my final exams one year, I had on my wall a large painting of an ancient warship ravaged by a stormy sea. My father had given it to me a long time ago, and I focused on it with renewed interest. I admired how it refused to be capsized and majestically overcame the torrential wind and waves, and told myself that I, too, can brave the pressures and demands surrounding me.

When your room is finally free of clutter, finish the organization process by putting your textbooks, pens, pencils, calculators, dictionaries, and other essential items near your desk, for easy access. Make sure your trash can is big enough so that you can throw away any garbage before it starts cluttering up your room again, and promise yourself that you will empty it every other day. The last, and most important thing you have to do is make sure your computer system – if you have one – is ready to be used. Is there enough paper in the printer? Is the ink or toner supply abundant? Do you need new diskettes? Do you need any upgrades? Get your computer hardware and software up to specs so that at the very least you can use it for word-processing. Primary Defense Systems – Armor in the Space/Time Continuum Pushing Back the Boundaries of Personal Time Now that you have established your spatial domain, it is necessary that you find the time to do your work. This is not as simple as it sounds. I will explain by using the concept of shielding:

Light Shielding (or light armor) is psychological distance from things that drain your time. This includes friends and relatives that make non-vital demands on you. I will go into this in more detail later. Other things to defend yourself against are television shows (especially soap operas) and magazine articles that provide nothing more than “pure entertainment value.” The reasons to avoid these things will become evident.

Heavy Shielding (or heavy armor) is physical separation from sources of distraction. The simplest example is shutting and locking your door and preventing surprise visits that take up your room and time. Another example is unplugging the telephone. An extreme example would be to move your entire base of operations into the mountains somewhere in the north pole (although getting to school might then become a rather perplexing problem). Heavy shielding is used when light shielding fails to work. If you cannot prevent yourself from watching soap operas, then remove the television, or give it to someone.

Unfortunately, the use of shielding requires some strength of character on your part. One of the things that some people find they cannot stop themselves from doing is talking endlessly on the telephone on numerous (and trivial) topics. If you cannot stop yourself from wasting time like that, I would not recommend throwing the telephone out the window because you may need to use it in an emergency. However, turning off the ringer, or unplugging the phone usually suffices. When people cannot hear their phones ring, after a while they settle down and become somewhat anti-social. This is good (to some extent) for people who are hooked on going out, or “partying” with their friends. Perhaps you’ve already experienced this some time in your life already and know what I am talking about – perhaps for a certain period of time you were able to isolate yourself because you decided you really had to “get down to work” and found that you actually desired your solitude and peace. Sometimes when I get into this Zero-Zone (“Zero” referring to the term “social zero”) I try to maintain it (at the cost of social status and interaction, which turns out to be a surprisingly small price to pay in order to be able to focus on your work and success) I don’t want to get out of it, and try to avoid all forms of social influence completely. Sometimes, a voice in my head might rationalize that I need a “break” and should go out and party for a while to “relax,” but in actual fact, disrupting the Zero-Zone state of mind like this will not “recharge” you, but instead ruin your placid mind state, and introduce horribly tempting options that take you away from your work. For example, if you went out and had a real blast one night, but still had a big exam or assignment due the next week, then upon your return to your work you may find that your tolerance for continuing to work has been lowered. In other words, you find it harder to concentrate on your work, and easier to rationalize that you can “go out just one more night” since the exam or due date is so far away, or rationalize that you “deserve” it.

I am not advocating total seclusion or a life as a hermit, but unless you are honestly and absolutely uninfluenced by social temptations (which is hardly likely) then there is no reason why you should put your important work in jeopardy by relatively trivial social events. You must judge for yourself whether or not an opportunity for socializing, or recreation, is justified in light of the fact that it may well hinder the successful completion of your projects – by ruining your “zone” state of mind. When considering if a certain social event is really worth your while, remember what Sarah Conner was told: “Look at it this way, in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?” But if you don’t do your work, maybe in a hundred years, your descendants will care!

With regards to the telephone – a device which either leads to a social excursion, or is a distraction in itself – if you find that you cannot help but allocate a significant part of your unconscious attention to it – wondering constantly whether or not it will ring, or has rung, and whether or not there is a message for you – and that you are concerned that you will miss an important call, by all means use a telephone answering machine. Keep the volume off so you can’t hear your friends screaming at you to pick the phone up because they have a really juicy bit of news to tell you). The new digital answering units perform marvellously because, unlike the regular cassette units, you cannot hear the mechanism work, and thus you don’t know that it is recording an incoming call. So-called “invisible” answering services,provided by your phone company, can silently route an unanswered call to a computerized answering device and likewise excellent for our purposes. The key is to avoid a situation in which you are heavily focussed into your work, either reading something or solving a problem, and then finding your attention broken because you heard the answering machine go on, and then sit and wonder who called, and why. If your machine is not absolutely silent, then try to move it out of your hearing range, or wrap it in towels to smother the noise. That way, you can virtually forget all about the telephone, and abandon all intentions of waiting for people to call you. Usually, if someone does call but leaves no message, there wasn’t anything important he or she wanted to say anyway. In this manner, you can screen out the time-wasters and pay attention only to calls that really mean something.

If, even with an answering machine, you’re still concerned about missing a certain special call, then install a caller-identifier unit on your line. This unit will provide information on the telephone number of the incoming call, usually with the time and date of that call. Your telephone company should be able to give you details on these and other “call management” services.There are, for instance, services which allow you to “block” certain telephone numbers from calling you, and this is useful for nuisance or indiscreet callers.

Let us summarize what has been discussed so far:

  • Organization is critical to maximizing power
  • Get rid of unnecessary items that complicate your life
  • Set up barriers to distance yourself from the demands of other people
  • Maximize your personal time by attending only to important things
  • Prevent untimely disruptions of your work mindstate.

You may have noticed that there is a common theme to all these points, and that is the reduction of extraneous factors unrelated to your work. This is a very important rule to take note of, and we can find the rationale behind it by looking at how a computer works.

Ending Multi-Tasking – Applying Concentration of Power to Your Life

Why you shouldn’t chew gum and talk at the same time

A new generation of software has been released into the public for use on personal computers. This new software enables the computer to perform “multi-tasking” or the ability to run several different programs simultaneously. The benefits of this are, on the surface, many. For example, a user could be finishing up calculations on a spreadsheet program, while printing a report from his word-processor program, and at the same time playing the video-game Tetrisâ„¢. However, as veteran power-users will attest, the average time the computer spends on each task is compromised, and while it is nice to be able to do many things at once, usually out of the many tasks there is but a single one of major importance. In our example above, perhaps the job requiring top priority would be the printing of the report. The spreadsheet calculations might perhaps have only secondary or tertiary importance. The video game, obviously, did not need to be running.

Computers are able to perform multi-tasking because they allocate individual “time-slices” to each program, in effect giving each program a certain amount of time before abandoning it and going onto the next program. This time-sharing process fills the need to have a separate computer doing the other tasks, and its major advantage is economic. Unfortunately, the computer’s main processor – its “brain” – does not run any faster under multi-tasking, and therefore each component task now runs slower and at a lower level of performance.

The same thing happens to ordinary human beings – even cyborgs. Someone trying to juggle several tasks at the same time will find it enormously difficult to excel in them. It may be possible to complete all the tasks, but chances of peak performance would be reduced. In other words, multi-tasking is the anti-thesis of maxok and concentration of power.

Remember what we said earlier: The allocation of resources to a single objective are justified if and only if that objective has been achieved. Until achievement, all resources are considered wasted. Since humans aren’t really machines, multi-tasking our lives would result in lowered per-task performance, and higher probabilities of resource wastage. Your best course of action in the successful completion of projects is to remove all other things that have nothing or little to do with those projects. By streamlining your life, you increase “per-task processing power” and effectiveness.

In this concept of minimizing multi-tasking, I am not only referring to the explicit and obvious things that people do. It is easy to see why a person would have a harder time doing a whole bunch of things simultaneously, but there is a hidden aspect to all of this. Even when a student, for example, is sitting down at his desk and ready to study, with no other obligations, that does not necessarily mean his mind is not multi-tasking. It just means his body isn’t doing so. Unnecessary mental multi-tasking includes spending cognitive energies on worries, speculation, unending pondering, and generally keeping ideas revolving constantly in the mind. These additional hidden tasks are analogous to the “background operations” a computer performs in addition to the “foreground” main application. In computer jargon, they are either called Extensions (on the Macintosh computer), or TSR – terminate and stay resident – programs (on the MS-DOS machines). These background tasks encroach upon the performance of the microprocessor and almost always slow down the average performance of the machine. Likewise, not only must we stop conspicuous multi-tasking, but we must remove the additional burden of “background tasks” in our brains.

One way of preventing thoughts from revolving around and around in the mind is to do something about those thoughts. Usually, when people worry about something, their mind is trying to send them the message that they should be doing something about the problem. People who tend to procrastinate almost always feel guilty and worry. The only real solution to preventing all this additional mental baggage, is to attend to all the tasks that need to be done.

On the other hand, people sometimes worry unnecessarily. If a certain problem is beyond the power of the person to handle, then there is really no logical reason for them to be concerned about it. After all, it is out of their hands. But logic almost never wins in the struggle between it and emotion. Organisms, such as cyborgs and humans, are driven by emotion more than reason, most of the time. That is why being passionate about something is a much more powerful motive force than simply understanding the logic behind why you want to do something. Returning to our problem, we need to find a way of dealing with unnecessary worries. One of the best methods is to simply write down the problem on a piece of paper, and stow it away for the time being. By doing so, you are telling your mind “Hey, time-out here. I need the rest of your computing power. We’ll just ‘save’ this background program for now, and come back to it later. I promise.” When writing down your worry, you are freeing your memory systems. Once you you’ve put the worry in a permanent storage place, your mind realises that it does not have to spend any more energy reminding you of it – for whatever reason it thinks so highly of the problem – and gradually lets go. I always write down things that “bug” me at the beginning of a study session, or when I need my mind to be totally focussed. Then, I just forget about all those problems, and go to my present task. I am secure in the knowledge that whatever it was that I was so worried about – by that time I might even have forgotten what it was ! – is written down, and I can go back and read it, and enjoy the luxury (?!) of worrying about it after I finish the current job. Most people keep their worries in their minds at a high-level of awareness because they are afraid that they will forget this very important problem, whatever it is. Writing it down guarantees that they will not forget it, and without a good reason why it should keep the thought active, the mind decides to shut it down.

Therefore, regardless of the type of background task you have to disable, you can do either of two things about it, after you have written it down: If the task is an important one, you can read it again later and so that you can something about it; or if the task is something beyond your power to deal with, then just leave it. What I mean, however, is not that one should forget about all the things that one cannot directly affect. For example, a person can do something about his worry that he won’t be able to hand in his homework in time, but the same person is powerless against preventing an earthquake from happening. That does not mean he just sits and lets everything crumble around him. He takes action to minimize the effects of this natural disaster, but he should not spend time worrying about the earthquake itself. In other words, he can worry and do something about his material possessions, getting his family to safety, and things like that, but it is useless for him to worry about how terrible the earthquake will be, or what a stupid thing an earthquake is and who the hell invented it anyway, or how unfortunate the timing of it is (since it’s his birthday, and he was looking forward to a birthday party with lots of presents, but with the earthquake now he’s hard-pressed to find friends who are crazy enough to celebrate with him!). By differentiating between unnecessary worries, and those that we can and should take action to deal with, we free our minds and maximizing our overall cognitive processing power. In addition, we save yet more time and energy.