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There are a couple of ways to update the actual schedule performance. The way I have always done it is to: 1) save a copy, 2) change the data date, 3) recalculate (F9), and 4) update actual progress for each activity with Actual Dates on an activity by activity basis.
But like I stated, there are other ways to perform an update. I hope this helps.
Firstly you have to be very clear about the definition of the term data date; The definition of a data date is the first available hour for new work to commence or existing work to continue. For eg: If your status is current as of Thursday at 16:00 (end of working hours), then a data date of Friday at 08:00 (start of working hours) might be appropriate.
When we first prepare a schedule, the start date of the first activity will be same as data date.
Further, for all future schedule updates the remaining early start and finish dates will be scheduled from the current data dates as per the logical relationships. (if any activity was planned to start prior to the current data date and did not actually start, primavera will re-schedule the new start date of the activity from the current data date)
Also note that if an activity has an actual start, % progress and remaining duration left and has some logical relationship SS+lag , FF+lag which drives the remaining early start or finish; you will see that the remaining early start or finish will be driven by the predecessor relation ship away from the data date.
Answering your queries:
a) "Before you shift the data date, do you "actualize" the start date of the activity or do you do this AFTER you shift the data date? "
Always enter your (actual dates, % complete or remaining duration as the case may be or both depending on the type of activity % complete set) prior to pressing F9 or scheduling which will shift the data date
b) How do you update you dates in P6? BEFORE or AFTER you shift your data date?
I hope the above clarifies your queries. (Update your progress and then shift the data date by pressing F9 or tools->Schedule)
In Principle all your progress is recorded before data date and then the"remaining start/finish dates of partially completed activities + early start dates of not started activities are scheduled"