Productivity: Watch, Doc, Do

How to learn just about anything quickly using this self-teaching technique.

When you have to learn something new and execute quickly with low margin for error, WDD is your best friend.

Over the years, I have had continuously relearn, rehash, and re-adapt my methods to respond to changes in the design industry as a whole at the drop of a hat.

In this article, I’m going to share with you a step by step method that I developed over years, to learn a brand new skill as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Its called WDD or Watch, Doc, Do, and by the end of this article I sincerely hope that you are able to use it to absolutely dominate your learning goals from this day forward.

So what is WDD?

Critically WDD is a pattern that I use to quickly learn, internalize, and implement brand new skills with alacrity.

WDD framework for learning and executing essentially anything as quickly as possible.

When you use WDD, you forgo the constant grinding, follow-along, stop-starting, and staccato stair-stepping of traditional learning methods that force you match mental positions with the person teaching you.

WDD instead allows you to take a brand new skill, rip it apart, build your own mental model of it, and execute at bullet-train speed.

How does WDD work?

WDD is broken down into three phases that work in tandem to help you tear a skill apart down to the frame, understand exactly how it all fits together, and rebuild it in a way that adapts the approach to work for you.


The is the first, and by far the most crucial phase of WDD. In this phase you are observing the skill being taught to you with rapt attention.

This is not the time for distraction, you are observing to learn as if your next meal depended on it.

You are not on Facebook, you are not side-surfing, you are not “muli-tasking,” and you are not splitting your focus whatsoever. You make the object of your learning observation your singular focus and you observe the absolute hell out of it while taking an insane amount of notes.

Take in as much data as you can.
▸Split notes
▸Cornell-style notes
▸Voice memos

It doesn’t matter as long as you know what it means in the moment and can accurately interpret it later.

The biggest things you’ll want to focus on here are the what and how of the skill you are trying to learn, as typically these present the most challenges during execution in the real world.

An example of this would be programming in JavaScript:
What is the correct command?
How do you write it with the correct syntax to get it to execute properly?

I don’t care how good of a note-taker you are, you’re not going to catch everything even with absolute laser focus. If you come across something makes your “this is super important,” detector tick, STOP PLAYBACK or
make a note to double-back on this later and get more information.

When you are learning something new, regardless of what it is, you will find that in practice you will use about 20% of the knowledge regarding that skill to execute tasks about 80% of the time.

What this means is that a fraction of the total scope of skill is used far more than the skill as a whole on a regular basis. Identify the things that you are seeing repeated over and over, and focus especially hard in those areas.


Short for document, this is the part after you are done watching, observing, and taking notes, where you formulate a synthesis of your findings.

This is where you are creating a synthesis of all of your observations that will become the scaffold of your eventual execution method.

This is the area in which you will deliberately cut out any and all fluff to separate signal from noise.

If Sturgeon’s Law holds true here, as it does essentially everywhere else,
90% of everything that you observed during the Watch phase is complete crap
and must be eliminated so you can focus on the golden 10% that isn’t.

Now is not the time for theory or a history lesson, if it doesn’t help you execute get rid of it.

Things that can be eliminated include but are not limited to:
▸“Fun” facts

along with anything that does not directly relate to the planning, preparation, and/or execution of the skill in question.

You must be absolutely ruthless in this phase, because as you organize your findings into a workable synthesis, you are building your own user manual on how to perform a particular skill as a procedural function.

Once you have done this, you will have living document that you can use to reference, along with the memories of the skill you watched being done, which will allow you to execute the skill in a way that makes sense to you.


At this point, you’ve made it to the last phase, congratulations. This is the part where you’re going to get your hands filthy by jumping in feet-first and using your docs as a guide.

Check your docs early and often to keep your execution tight throughout your process.

As you move through your execution, keep your docs handy and know where certain pieces of information are within them so you can quickly access them and easily glean information on the fly.

You will more than likely screw up at this point, and that is totally okay.

The goal while doing is to take mental notes on any time you have to stop and wonder what you are supposed to be doing next. Identify pain points, note bottlenecks, and keep running through the process until you are done, or at least as done as you can get.

After you are done, take stock and consider what worked well, what didn’t, and where you can improve your docs for the next
round of execution.

Fail fast, fail often, fail forward

This is the mantra of WDD, it is what this protocol encourages, and what allows you to get exceptional results in record time.

Failure is the beginning of success, not the end.

Watch, Doc, Do essentially takes nebulous, qualitative data and transmutes it into procedural, actionable steps that you can use to achieve a desired result.

Whether it’s learning to how draw hands or how to design & implement complex network architecture, WDD can help you learn it.

So the next time you are looking to learn a new skill: stop what you’re doing, grab some paper, get focused, and watch, doc, do.

Nick Lawrence Design
Website | Portfolio

UI/UX designer with over a decade of experience in the design industry.

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