Screencasts vs. Written Processes

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One of the unique concepts that I am most proud of is “The Manual of You”. This manual is a series of exercises that takes a granular look at the processes we all go through on a regular basis and analyzes the steps required to complete those processes. Whether that process is paying a bill, posting a new podcast to your blog, or even making your lunch, everything you do can be broken down into descriptive steps.

 

We have two systems in our brain: the automatic, energy saving system, and the more analytical, higher-level thinking system. Anything you do on a regular basis will be relegated to your automatic brain. The problem with that, however, is that stop adapting. We cease to look for inefficiencies in the things we do everyday, simply because that's the way we've done them for so long.

 

While the initial purpose of this manual is to help you identify the holes and redundancies in your own daily processes so that you can perform them more efficiently, the ultimate goal is to try to automate those process completely and outsource anything that requires external human input.

 

To do that you will need to be able to describe the process, including it's flow and any integrative aspects, in a manner that someone without any specialized training or prior knowledge can simply follow the steps and execute the entire process.

 

A lot of people resort to creating screencasts in order to accomplish this. They simply record themselves going through every mouse click and keystroke, while verbally explaining what they are doing. However, there's a major problem with doing it that way. You basically abort the whole idea of making the process better by transferring your automatic thought process to someone else.

 

I firmly believe that processes must be written out in order to relay them to an outside party. You may be dissuaded since this requires both more work and time on your part, but I assure you that it is an investment worth making. Of the hundred or so processes that I have added to my “Manual of You” (an Evernote notebook, in which each note is a different process that can be shared with the individual completing that task) not one of them ever required a screencast. The most complicated one is my podcast production process, which involves eight different web services and five different people.

 

If you do a screencast that ends up being 17 minutes long, you could probably write it on one page using roughly 30 different steps. Now realistically, which one would be easier for someone to follow step-by-step? Which one is easier for you to update when your password changes or you add a new plugin to your blog? Which one can be translated to other languages or broken up into sections that can be completed by multiple people?

 

If you absolutely have to have a visual component than use a static screenshot in a program like Skitch to annotate it very clearly using text, arrows, and highlights. Then insert this image in line with your text under one of your steps.

 

Again, no process is too complex to be explained in writing and if it is, you must break it down and simplify it. Start thinking in terms of optimizing, automating, and outsourcing EVERYTHING.