Thursday, 21 February 2008

Focus for breakthrough

My nephew once challenged me to break an egg by putting it in my palm and squeezing it by tightening my fist.  I thought, sure, because of the shape of the egg, it might be harder to break this way than cracking it, but it shouldn't be that hard, right?  Well, I was shaking from overexertion and the egg was still intact, as if mocking my great effort.

I finally broke the egg by applying uneven forces to my fingers.  It was a fun lesson for me.

Most of us think of eggs as being fragile, and it is.  We don't need much force to break it.  Just crack it on a corner or an edge and it's done.  But, by applying even forces over the egg, it becomes rather resilient toward outside forces.

Sometimes our problems are like eggs.  If we cut through complexities, narrow down our point of attack, we can make a breakthrough using less effort.  However, for the same problem, if we lose focus, it might be way harder to solve.

Friday, 8 February 2008

The decline of reading

I came across this article from "The New Yorker" about the decline of reading, a brief history of reading, and what that seems likely to happen.  Interesting article:

How I work: prioritize

Many successful people claim that prioritizing is the most important technique that makes them so efficient at what they do.

It is a given that to be successful and competitive, it is impossible to do and learn everything we want.  To optimize our performance we can only choose to do the most of what's most important.  In fact, we do this all the time.  If there were an assignment worth 10% and a midterm worth 20%, both use 10 hours (which is all the time we have), most of us would choose to study the midterm and forego or put very little effort into the assignment.

That was an easier example, but our lives are full of tough endeavours that require our full attention and sacrifice performance in other areas.  Having a set of goals and prioritizing accordingly will make the choices of what to embrace and what to sacrifice easier, allowing you to focus and gain the most reward from an area that MATTERS to you.

Prioritizing is useless if our executions don't reflect those priorities.  We sometimes attend to something because it is urgent and forget those that are not.  We check our incoming emails, pickup phone calls, even when sometimes they are not the most important thing at the moment.  We neglect physical exercises or quality time with loved ones because they may not have immediate effect although they might be very important.

So: set goals, prioritize, focus, and execute.

How I work: An organizer system

Have you tried writing an essay while talking to someone else and ended up writing something wrong and incoherent and had to go back and rewrite some parts?  I have.

Our brain works best with one thing at a time.  When your mind is working on more than one thing, it is like that other person trying to speak and grab your attention, and it ends up decreasing your performance in the primary task.

Organizers were invented for this purpose - to clear things out of your mind, so you focus on one thing at a time, without fear of missing things.  I'd say as long as you have a system to achieve this, you're good.  You don't necessarily have to have an actual organizer.  However, to make this system work, you must make sure that you 1) use it, and 2) trust in it.

You should come up with an organizer system that you have faith in prompting you to do "the right thing" at the right time, and frees up your mind any other time.  For example, I put post-its on my desk, my laptop, or shoes to remind myself what I need to do when I get to these locations.  I use alarms to remind me of my appointments or scheduled tasks.

Whatever system you chose, you must trust in it.  Once you start using it, don't worry about it not working.  Just use the system, and forget about the task until your system prompts you at the right time/place.  This will ensure you spend your valuable brainpower for the task at hand.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

My "work rhythm" in the morning vs. at night

Have you paid attention lately to how your "work rhythm" changes throughout the day?

I find that in the earlier part of the day my brain is best at receiving and retaining information.  This is the time when I am just starting out the day with my brain like a blank sheet of paper.  Anything written on it is ultra clear and stays for longer.

So, the first thing I do to start the day is to really think about what goals and tasks I want to accomplish today, convince myself that it is realistic, compelling, yet realistic.  Doing this in the morning helps me steer through the day before distractions occur.

Then, I jump to my tasks.  I usually do things that require intense reading/memorizing in the morning, because I can remember it well.

As the day gets closer to the end, I start to shift my work mode from "input" to "output".  i.e. from reading/memorizing to writing/reflecting.  At later part of the day my brain is not sharp enough to receive input efficiently, but this is when all the information starts to click!  All the experience, emotions, and facts during the day start to form pictures, ideas, and patterns.  My writings at night are generally more coherent and richer with context.  If I write in the morning, many times I'd hit a writer's block.

So this is my brain rhythm: morning = absorbing and night = synthesizing.  What's your work rhythm?

Snowing hard in Toronto

Boy, this winter has just been waves and waves of snow storm.  The one that is hitting us right now is quite brutal.  I've already shoveled 3 times within 12 hours.  The following is how much snow pile up there is at the side of my driveway.  That is my brother who is about my height.  As you can see, the storm is still going strong:


Friday, 1 February 2008

Bill Gates talks about "creative capitalism"

I find this to be an interesting concept.  Our market economy is driven by incentives.  If we can create incentives to work for developing countries, perhaps we can see a wave of effort to help the needy.  What do you guys think?