You may think that going through a list of instructions for carrying out a computer task is daunting – and the longer the list the more daunting it looks

Cartoon of a long listI’ve often thought about this subject and it certainly occupied a large chunk of my mind as I was writing the instructions for next week’s blog about printing a list of albums in iTunes. I’d like to think that the list looks more daunting than it actually is. The key to such lists is to ignore the fact that it looks difficult. Just start at the beginning and concentrate on one instruction at a time. It will, of course, take a lot longer to go through any specific list the first time than it would if you were to go through it a few times. Don’t be put off by a list of intructions just because there are ten items in it. If you want to achieve the promised result, then just give it a go.

However long it takes you to go through a list written by me, I can promise you that it took me longer to write it! Next time you find a list of computer support instructions hard to follow, just imagine what it’s like for the person writing them. Not only does he (or she, of course) have to check the specifics of each step, but s/he must also take an informed guess at the level of knowledge of the person who will carry out the advice in the intructions.

Imagine for a moment that you have been asked to write down the instructions for your house guest (a martian) to boil herself an egg. It’s no good saying “put egg in boiling water for 3 minutes, lift out with spoon (not hand/tentacle)“:

  • Does the martian know how to boil water?
  • Does she know what to put the water in?
  • Having decided on a saucepan (and defined “saucepan”, maybe), where do you keep the saucepans?
  • Where does she get the water from?
  • Where are the eggs kept?
  • What do they look like?
  • What’s an egg timer?

And so on…

Cartoon martianIf you were really trying your best to be nice and accommodating to this martian then you could end up with a very long, deeply considered and carefully worded, list. She might well take one look at the length of this list and mutter to herself “blow this for a game of soldiers” and head for home (hungry).

This, I suspect, is what a lot of my readers do when confronted with lists of instructions that I create for this weekly blog. Fair enough. However, I’d like to offer a few hints:

  • Make a conscious decision about whether it’s worth spending 15 minutes of your life (which you won’t get back, of course) tackling this list. What you’re doing here is putting a value on reaching the (promised) result.
  • Only tackle the list when you’re in the right mood for it and can concentrate on it one step at a time
  • Allow the 15 minutes that you’ve already decided it’s worth putting aside
  • Think of it as a challenge that’s also fun
  • Remember that it’s not going to matter if you don’t achieve it. If you really want to achieve it and can’t – either because my instructions are at fault or because your brain has gone on holiday – then call me

Cartoon of computer frustrationI know that a lot of people find computers very very frustrating and quite intimidating. That’s good for me, of course, because I might starve otherwise, but I’d still like to encourage the frantic and the fearful by saying that most computer issues aren’t a matter of life and death and almost everyone can get a sense of achievement by successfully working through a list and then being able to do it more and more easily with practice and growing familiarity.

Do give it a go, but if all else fails, you can always pay me to come and help you!

© 2011-2018 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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