Friday, January 13, 2017

Reduce Your Chess Stress with Workflows

Obviously, the highest type of efficiency is that which can utilize existing material to the best advantage. -Jawaharlal Nehru
Chess is a complex game. Getting better at chess can be complex as well (although I've made efforts at trying to simplify it for myself and hopefully, my readers). Besides the actual "nuts and bolts" of chess knowledge - e.g. openings, pawn structures, endgames, tactical motifs, etc., we also have the training methods we use to study these. I know I've shared a few of these here on Better Chess Training as well as on the Chess Improver site. It can all be a bit overwhelming and I apologize for any contribution I may have made to that.

In this article, I want to help you process all of this chess "stuff" that you do to improve and enjoy chess. Today, we're going to discuss how to use workflows to help you automate and systematize your chess training activities.

What is a Workflow

A workflow is a process or series of processes to accomplish a task from beginning to end. You might call it a system or a routine if you wish- the name doesn't really matter for our purposes. 

A workflow should give you the following information:
  • Who should do that task - e.g. unless you're a professional player or have hired a coach, for the most part this will be you.
  • What needs to be done
  • Where the information/output will be stored - e.g. notebook, chess database, etc.
  • When it should be done

Benefits of Workflows

I just wrote earlier about the complexity of chess training and feeling overwhelmed and now I'm telling you to create workflows. Why would you want to consider using them? Here are a few reasons:
  • Workflows keeps things from falling through the cracks. For example, we all know that analyzing and studying our games is beneficial and important. However, I know I have dozens of games that I've played an haven't analyzed. Creating a workflow to handle this will eliminate this problem. 
  • Workflows reduce "decision fatigue." By deciding in advance how you will process aspects of your training, you reduce the stress and strain of having to decide later. In a game where we spend a lot of energy making decisions - oh, and "real life" decisions we have to make as well - reducing decision fatigue seems important.
  • Workflows build confidence. When you have a process in place to handle all of the incoming chess "stuff" in your life - e.g. your games, chess books you read, articles, etc., it feels good. I know when I started instituting a few simple workflows (which I'll describe later), my belief in my own ability to learn and improve at chess increased. 
  • Workflows save time. Because you do not have to "decide" on a moment by moment basis what to do with certain aspects of your chess training, you save that time (and as mentioned above, mental energy). In the long-term, worksflows will help you save time because it will help you learn faster and more effectively.

What Should I Create a Workflow For

Since part of the premise of this article is to help you overcome the complexity of chess improvement, I'll provide a few questions to get you started:
  • Are there specific training methods that you want to try but don't feel you can fit them into your time allotment for chess?
  • Are there repetitive training or study methods that you use - but perhaps not as consistently or systematically as you want to?
  • Do you have a method for deciding which chess articles and sites to review? Would creating a routine help you capture all of the articles for future review?
  • When you play a game, do you have a process for studying the game? Do you fall behind?
The idea is to find an aspect of your training that is inefficient or non-optimal, and find ways to improve them.

Here are some workflows you might want to consider creating (with a couple examples below):
  • Post-mortem game analysis and review.
  • Storing and reviewing interesting positions and games you see in articles and books.
  • Learning and remembering openings.
  • Studying and reviewing tactical problems you got wrong on Chess Tempo or Chessity.

How Do I Create a Workflow

Creating a workflow can be as complicated or as simple as you have time, energy, and skill for. Let's start with a few simple steps and I'll provide resources for those of you who are interested in this topic. For this, I will share my workflow for processing games I play.
  1. Start with your beginning condition or cue. In this case, it is playing a game.
  2. Decide what the next step in the process is. Also determine if there are any conditionals or questions that need to be asked as well as when the step should be completed. In our example, the next step is to enter the games into my "My Games" database. In the case of online games, it is fairly easy to have the moves e-mailed to me or to move the games from one database to the "My Games" database. 
  3. Basically, you continue to do step two, while focusing on asking whether or not there is a choice to make. For example, in this workflow, the next step would normally be to analyze the game. However, I realized that I often don't have time to do the full analysis process I outlined in 4-Steps to Analyzing Your Game for Improvement. So I had to include a step where I determine how much time I can or should spend on a game. These included three separate steps (I'll show you below) depending on what the answer to this question was.
  4. Continue adding steps until the task is complete. For our example, additional steps include the actual analysis of the game and addition of review materials in their appropriate places - such as Chess Position Trainer for review positions and opening variations.
If you're interested in digging further into this topic, you can check out this video and article by PNMSoft for a general overview of what a workflow is. I don't have any affiliation with this company, but found the video very easy to understand. 

Game Analysis Workflow Example

Here is a visual representation of the example we discussed above. Note: I'm not a process engineer or workflow expert, so my uses of the various icons seemed logical to me - I'm not sure if they're technically "proper."
Game Analysis Workflow
My Game Analysis Workflow

A couple things to note from the above diagram and the process in general.
  • The amount of time I spend on a game is determined by a few factors. First, how much time I have that particular week or so. Second, how instructive the game was - I tend to spend more time on losses than wins. Third, whether the opening was a major one in my repertoire - I tend to spend more time on the most frequent openings rather than offbeat or sidelines I see seldom. Also, I tend to spend more time on tournament games rather than blitz or casual games.
  • I found that putting a deadline on when this has to get done is helpful - hence the step to schedule it on the calendar. I usually give games about a month. After that, I start to lose the emotional connection and thought process I had during the game, which to me, is just as important as the moves played.
  • In terms of the distribution of games that fall into each category, I probably only do the full analysis on about 10-20% of games - usually games that I will publish in a post or that I found particularly instructive. About half of my games I use the process I outline in Seven Questions to Ask Yourself After Each Game. The rest of the games, I do a quick analysis.
  • I haven't systematized the quick analysis yet (although perhaps I can write more about this in a future post). Basically, I look up the opening in my database and perhaps browse a master game or two that I find in the line. I also have the chess engine running to point out any "surprises" that I may have had. Finally, I might comment on a position or two that I found interesting or confusing during the game. I usually set a timer for 20-30 minutes and try to mine for as much gold as possible in that time. By doing things this way, I know I at least gained some insight from the game and can move on without feeling that I neglected something.
  • CPT stands for Chess Position Trainer, which I find very useful for reviewing my openings and specific positions. (I am also a fan of Chessable for studying and learning openings and I wrote a review detailing some of its features).

Practical Advice

We've covered quite a bit in this article and even though my initial intention was to help simplify your life, you may find this whole concept overwhelming in itself. I encourage you to give it a try. Here are a couple final tips that might help you get started.
  • Try to create just one workflow in your chess program. 
  • Try to diligently follow that workflow for 90 days.
  • Measure the impact it has in terms of efficiency, stress, chess improvement.
  • Keep it simple at first and build on core processes.
Finally, remember a workflow is a tool. If you find that it doesn't serve you, then let it go. I don't have workflows for every single activity I do in chess. The ones I use work very well for me and I continually tweak and try to improve them. Sometimes, I just want to play through a Bobby Fischer game or watch a chess video on Youtube. Chess is a game to enjoy after all. When used properly, workflows can help you enjoy chess even more!

Your Turn

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, please share it with your chess friends.

What workflows are you going to create?

What workflows in your life do you already have?

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