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Decision-making: Using Quicksilver to run long-term PMIs

I've mentioned before how much I dig the PMI tool for helping to make decisions. In a nutshell, it's a granular way to quantify all the likely good and bad things about a given decision, as well as the implications of making the change.

Typically you'd do a PMI at a sitting within a tabular program like Excel, and that's probably still the easiest and fastest way. But let's say there are things you just want to ruminate on for an indeterminate amount of time--low-impact changes that would still benefit from a large data set. You might try what I've started doing with Quicksilver and the mighty "Append to text file" command.

Create your PMI text file

  1. Open a new plain text document in the app of your choice
  2. Type the potential decision on the first line
    • Post it like the "Resolved" point in a debate
    • For our purposes, this resolution is: "I should move from Explorer to Firefox"
  3. Save your txt file someplace that's included in one of your searchable Quicksilver Catalogs
    • ~/Documents/ is a safe bet
  4. On the second line, type your first Pro, Con, or Implication for your thesis statement
    • I typed "Firefox lets me use Greasemonkey to re-jigger sites"
  5. Hit TAB
  6. Type an integer to express the degree to which this turns your crank or affects your decision-making
    • 1 to 5 is Pro, with 5 being "Very important: good reason to do this"
    • -1 to -5 is Con, with -5 being "Huge reason I shouldn't do this"
    • For those keeping score at home, I gave good old Greasemonkey a "+4"
  7. Save and close your document
    • I called mine "PMI_ie_v_firefox.txt"
  8. Get on with your life until something else occurs to you

Add to your PMI

Now, just go about your business as usual. Work, sleep, juggle kittens, watch Deadwood, and let the world go by. But if over the next few days or months you suddenly think of a new factor that should weigh in your decision-making, adding it to your list is a doddle, using the now-famous append trick.

  1. Invoke Quicksilver (usu. CTRL-spacebar)
  2. Type until the name of your PMI text file appears
  3. Tab to the second pane, and type until Append to... appears
  4. Tab to the third pane, and hit the period to get the variable input field
  5. Type the factor (be it a plus, minus, or implication)
    • I said "I won't see any more popup ads for Girls Gone Wild
  6. OPTION-TAB within the variable input field
    • the OPTION part is important--otherwise you'll just whiz into the next pane
  7. Type your integer as above
    • I typed "+2"
  8. Hit RETURN or ENTER

You can continue in this fashion forever or until you're ready to actually make your decision. At that point you can open up your PMI file and tally up the results. For longer PMIs, it's even easier to copy the contents and paste them into Excel (where ole Clippy is smart enough to read the TABs as new cells).

How and when this is a Good Thing

I still think PMIs might work best and have the most value when something is really actively on your mind--when the nervous energy of an imminent decision makes this such a perfect tool for fast capture and for untangling the spaghetti in your head.

But, on the other hand, a lot of our best stuff comes along when our mind is technically on something else. The intrinsic beauty of Quicksilver and a life in text files is that you have instant access to your files from anywhere with a bare minimum of modal change. On the day when freaking out about one thing gives you unexpected insight into another, appending from where you are can be a pretty cool hand.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
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