Book Launch: Remember Everything You Want and Manage the Rest

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Dear Friends,Remember Everything You Want and Manage the Rest

I am delighted to announce that my book – Remember Everything You Want and Manage the Rest – has been launched on Amazon Kindle.

UPDATE, Thursday, May 12: Remember Everything You Want and Manage the Rest (version 1.1) is available on Amazon. This is the time to read it!

What is this book is all about?

It is a no-nonsense guide for anyone who wishes to improve their memory and learning and acquire powerful techniques and tools to organize information from all kinds of sources.

It merges highly effective learning and memory improvement techniques with information and knowledge management to provide a complete solution for students, professionals, and life-long learners. The techniques are accompanied by easy-to-follow examples.

Memorizing Information is not enough

Many memory books claim, “You are only using 10% of your brain.” “Create a memory palace and multiply your brainpower.” Yes – mnemonic techniques work and are fascinating. You can use them to memorize a large number of facts or foreign language vocabulary fast and with confidence. They allow you to give a speech to the point completely from memory. Mnemonics are a real time saver, so we cover the most effective memory improvement techniques and accompany them with easy-to-follow examples.

But contrary to what some people might claim, you will forget a large part of this information after a relatively short time if you don’t use it. This is just how the brain works. You have to reinforce what you want to keep. Did you know that you have to spend about 50% of your learning time practicing recall to create a reliable long-term memory? And you have to do this over time.

We take an in-depth look at the most powerful memory technique of all – Reviewing by practicing recall using effective methods and modern computer software.

What’s more, information and knowledge management are equally important for modern learners:

These days an enormous amount of information is available on the Internet, in databases, and in huge libraries. A lot of this information will be outdated in a few years. You’d better not “store” everything in your brain. Remember, you need a considerable time to keep the information there. Most of it you shouldn’t even download to your computer or smartphone.

This book shows you how to extract the important information and organize what is relevant for your business, research, or studies, so that you can re-find it with ease while it is relevant. We introduce smart and mostly free computer applications allowing you to distill and manage information from all kinds of sources with the click of a few buttons.

In this book, you learn:

  • Highly effective memory improvement techniques: Learn and review faster, pass exams, memorize foreign language vocabulary with confidence, and improve your memory in all areas of your life.
  • Methods and mostly free computer software to distill, organize, and review information from all kinds of sources.
  • How to re-find your information with ease, build your personal digital library, and create bibliographies for your own writing by clicking only a few buttons.
  • How to take and manage notes in innovative ways, including techniques such as mind mapping and outlining.
  • How to improve your attention span and concentration and beat absentmindedness and stress.

So this is it.

If you like what you are reading, check out Remember Everything You Want and Manage the Rest on Amazon.

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read this book. In fact, I think it looks great in the Kindle App. Just download the Amazon Kindle App, which is available for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry.

Thank you very much for all your support!

Have a great day,

Helmut Sachs

How Varying Your Work Environment Spurs Creativity

This morning, I felt an outright aversion to just going to my desk and starting my work. This is an indication that I am about to get stuck with a problem and need some change of scenery to get my creative juices flowing. So I packed my computer and went to a nearby outdoor café. The café is situated under trees along a small river, providing for a very different view, different sounds, and different smells. Sitting there with a cup of coffee and just looking around, I felt like in another world. And this is just 5 minutes from my desk.

Vary your work environment: outdoor cafes foster creativity.

Does this sound familiar to you? Maybe you prefer going for a stroll through town or a walk in the park or forest when you need to get some new ideas or fresh insight into a problem you have been pondering?

I know why I like sitting at the table with the blue table cloth. I get to gaze into the distance. I have an unimpeded view of the stream, the sky, and the iron bridge, yet at the same time I feel protected, I am in the shade, and I am shielded from prying eyes.

Well, after sitting there for an hour and a half, brainstorming, taking notes, and looking at the scenery, the noise coming from an angle grinder at a nearby construction site started to annoy me. I wanted to turn inward to play with my new ideas. I was longing for the peace and quiet of my room, so I packed my bag and returned to my desk. That’s where I am sitting now. Now It feels just right sitting there and doing my work.

What do I make of this? There is no single perfect environment to do creative work.

And there are good reasons, why you might want to vary your work environment to be more creative and productive. Continue reading

Alternating Group and Individual Brainwriting: Together and Alone

In this post, I want to point you to some recent research into alternating group and individual brainstorming using brainwriting. Recent studies suggest that so-called hybrid brainwriting leads to more ideas than both group and individual brainwriting.

alternating group and individual brainwriting

This is good news because several prior studies have indicated that individuals brainstorming by themselves tend to generate more ideas than groups containing these individuals. Hybrid brainwriting is straight-forward; you can use it right away to generate more and better ideas.

Traditional group brainstorming is somewhat of a double-edged sword.

We organize brainstorming groups with members from different fields to create synergy. That is, we hope that by building on other’s ideas, participants can come up with more unique and better ideas. Almost every one of us has shared a problem with a good friend and by bouncing ideas, come up with something they wouldn’t have been able to think up by themselves.

What’s more, group brainstorming leads to a better acceptance of ideas and helps to communicate them to fellow team members.

Generating ideas is only the first step; subsequently ideas have to be evaluated, developed further, and ultimately implemented.

You can’t do it alone: great products and systems are usually the work of great teams.

On the other hand, controlled for time, face-to-face brainstorming groups often generate fewer ideas than so-called nominal groups (the pooled ideas coming from a comparable number of individual “brainstormers”).

And what is important here: studies have also indicated that the more ideas are generated, the more good ideas are generated!

Why do face-to-face brainstorming groups come up with fewer ideas than teams where everyone brainstorms individually?

Here are the three most common reasons for the drop in productivity.

1. In groups, only one person can speak their idea at a time. Others have to wait for their turn. What’s more, by attending to someone else’s idea and hoping to expand on it, you are interrupting your own train of thought.

2. Despite being assured by the brainstorming rules that criticism is not allowed and that wild and crazy ideas are encouraged, individuals might withhold ideas for fear of being negatively evaluated by their peers or their boss (who might also attend the session).

3. In a group activity, there is less individual accountability: some participants might not pull their weight.

However, there are approaches to brainstorming that do not have these short-comings: one of them is brainwriting.

What is brainwriting?

Continue reading

Can You Reuse Your Memory Palace or Number Rhymes?

In this post, we look at when and how you can reuse a memory palace or a peg list such as the number rhymes to memorize multiple sets of information. We will go through an example where using the same locations multiple times works like a charm and look at other situations where you should rather use a different room or peg list.

Palace St. Petersburg

In the following, I will mostly talk about locations along a journey or in a room in a memory palace. However, the same applies also to peg lists like the number rhymes and the number shapes. I have written a post on the memory palace technique, also known as the method of loci, in case you are not yet familiar with it. At times, I will also refer to locations as loci. These two terms mean exactly the same: Loci is the plural of locus, the Latin origin of the word location.

The question of re-using a memory palace can refer to two very different cases. We will cover both of them.

  1. You have already used the locations in a room or along a journey to memorize a set of information for long-term use. Now you are wondering whether you can add a second set to the same loci or should rather use a different room or memory palace.
  2. You have used the locations for short-term memorization and hope to overwrite the information in these locations with new information.

Can you safely add an additional set of information to a room in which you have already stored information for long-term use?

Continue reading

The Bose QC35 Wireless Headphones – A Practical Review

A couple of months ago, a friend let me try his Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling headphones in a coffee shop. They were playing some fast-paced music with a pronounced thumping bass through the store’s sound system. To my astonishment, with the QC35 on, the annoying bass almost completely disappeared. It was as if someone had removed the sub-woofer from the sound system. I was pleasantly surprised.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Review

Low-frequency noise annoys me and stresses me out, so over the years I have looked at many options to remove rumbling machines, humming air conditioners, traffic noise, and sudden impulse noise from my environment.

I have also done a few experiments that showed me how greatly a noise-free environment can improve cognitive performance. So you can imagine these Bose headphones got my attention. Continue reading

Natural Project Planning to the Rescue

Natural Planning ModelThere are plenty of project planning approaches and software tools out there. But when do you actually use them? For most of us they are overwhelming and overkill. Getting caught up in complexity, we often miss the point.

On the other hand, not planning at all, and hence not knowing how to bridge the gap between one’s current place and a desired outcome, often leaves us lost in the woods and breeds procrastination. I have “occasionally” 🙄 experienced this myself and observed plenty of people in my work and private circles idling and killing time.

Fortunately, our brain knows quite well how to plan and execute a project. Once you make this planning process explicit, you realize that it doesn’t have to be complicated at all and are more likely to make a plan. And yes, very often it will fit on a paper napkin. You are also more likely to question why you are doing something.

So how does our brain plan naturally? Continue reading

On Getting Stuck, Procrastinating, and Pulling Your Cart out of the Mud

You don’t seem to be getting anywhere. You only slept 5 hours last night, and now you are tired. You have to write another chapter of your paper or another blog post, but the ideas just aren’t coming and the research seems too hard.sick-and-tired-procrastinating

Yet, you want your next article to be great. You hold yourself to a high standard, so you won’t just write some crap – just to be done with it.

You realize that nothing great can ever be accomplished in one go, that you need to take steps, learn and research individual pieces, and get on top of new concepts to create something of value. But – everything seems to be so high up in the clouds, out of reach. Will it even be worth the effort?

Well, now you have time. So you might as well start somewhere and do something else but procrastinating. Read a little article that gets you further. Start writing something. Shoot a question from the hip and outline the answer, even if you don’t know much about the topic yet. Having something concrete in front of you will point you in the right direction.

Why am I procrastinating again?

Continue reading

Is White Noise Good for Studying and Work?

Generally Yes, but it depends…

It depends on you, the kind of white noise you are using, the task you are working on, where you work, and even the time of day. This post looks at some of the intricacies and helps you to decide whether, when, and how to use white noise for your work and studying.

Is white noise good for studying

Speech and varying-state noise (e.g., typical office noise) are distracting and can significantly impair mental performance:

Experiments have shown that cognitive abilities important for both studying and cognitive work are negatively affected by noise: This includes serial memory (remembering the order of things), reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, proof-reading, and writing.

Most of these studies have included silence as a control condition. Some experiments have also included white noise for comparison. The results for white noise were ambiguous: White noise was mostly but not always benign.

My take is, compared to silence, it didn’t affect the average (!) participant’s performance negatively, but it also didn’t boost it.

However, people respond differently to white noise. Some people and tasks thrive on it, while others are slightly negatively affected. Read on to find out who benefits. Continue reading

How to Block out Snoring Noise

In my previous post, I explored how day-time noise impairs our cognitive performance and what we can do about it. But there is another big elephant in the room – our night-time sleep. Sleep or the lack of it has a big impact on our ability to perform at our best, both physically and mentally.

Less or disrupted slow-wave sleep, for example, entails poor memory and poor wound healing.

Among the worst offenders interrupting our night-time sleep is the all too familiar sound of SNORING. Snoring can be loud – very loud indeed. A loud snorer can reach more than 90 decibels of peak sound pressure level. That is about as loud as a lawn mower.

How to block out snoring noise

Intrigued by the capabilities of some of the newer devices to block out noise and sophisticated white noise apps, I decided to run an experiment to answer this question: What is the best way to block out snoring noise?

Test equipment and candidates

  • An iPad equipped with a sound level meter (Noisee for iOS).
  • Two different white noise apps: myNoise for iOS and White Noise by Tmsoft for iOS and Android.
  • Earplugs of different sizes by Hearos, 3M, and Mack with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 29-33 (an NRR of 33 is about as good as you can get).
  • Good-quality earbuds (a good fit is vital for sound quality and noise isolation).
  • The best earmuffs I could find, with a noise reduction rating of 31 (3M Peltor X5A).
  • DIY noise isolating earbuds and sleep headphones.
  • The best noise cancelling headphones I could find (Bose Quiet Comfort QC35).

Testing the snore blocking effectiveness

Continue reading

How to Block out Noise before It Kills Your Work and Study Performance

Noise affects you as a professional, office worker, teacher, and student. It impairs your ability to read and write effectively, remember what you have learned, and do math. Everyday noise can cause a performance loss of 50 percent or more. This is easily the difference between an A and an F. Luckily there are some smart ways to block out and mask noise so it doesn’t disrupt you.Block out noise and improve cognitive-performance

A good 18 months ago, I was sitting on my balcony watching an online lecture on my computer. My balcony is facing a small aisle, but the traffic noise from a nearby road is still very noticeable.  I was wearing decent earbuds, so the noise wasn’t bothering me – or so I thought.

Just out of curiosity, I put on a pair of earmuffs, which I had purchased earlier to block out noises that often startle me during my early-afternoon naps.

Well, they did a hell of a job with the traffic noise: I was sitting there, and all the honking, squeaking and rumbling had receded into the background. It wasn’t completely quiet, but everything was so faint. That’s very nice indeed, I thought.

Why not try continuing the lecture with my earbuds underneath the earmuffs?

The first thing I noticed was that the voice of the lecturer was now way too loud. Annoyingly loud.

I had to turn down the volume from 10 to 3 to make it comfortable again.  I also noticed that I could hear the finer nuances of the lecturer’s voice. I could even understand other students’ questions. These students weren’t equipped with microphones as this was a normal computer science lecture recorded at MIT in a big lecture hall (part of MIT’s Open Courseware program).

Wow – it was so much easier to follow the lecture and take in the whole experience. One of the great advantages of watching a recorded lecture is that you can stop it and re-listen to parts you couldn’t comprehend the first time. After putting on the earmuffs, this became almost completely unnecessary. Not only was I able to listen at a much lower volume and make out previously unheard details, I was also comprehending faster!

Bolstered by that experience, I experienced with earmuffs in other learning and reading situations as well

Continue reading

How to Take the Perfect Nap for Performance, Mood and Memory

how to take the perfect nap

I have been an afternoon napper for more than 14 years. I started napping after moving to a country where most people took a siesta. For various reasons, I just couldn’t get enough sleep during the night, so it was easy to fall asleep.

Over the years, I have tried short power naps, 60-minute naps, and occasionally 90-minute mid-afternoon sleeps. In this post, I would like to share with you how to nap for better mood, alertness, concentration, improved memory, and restoration of learning capacity. We will cover how long and when to nap for maximum benefit, how to avoid after-nap grogginess (sleep inertia), and the possible risks associated with longer naps.

As a final point, I am going to share my personal napping experience and my favorite napping hacks.

The benefits of napping are numerous

For me personally, the most important benefits are improved mood and decreased sleepiness. I just feel happier and ready to tackle my afternoon after a nap.

Napping studies have found a large number and variety of benefits of napping in all kinds of workplace and operational settings.  Studies looked at drivers, commercial airliner pilots, shift workers, doctors and nurses, students, children, senior citizens…

Here is a non-exhaustive list of research-proven benefits:

  • Improved cognitive performance
    • Increased alertness and concentration
    • Decreased reaction time
    • Speed and accuracy improvement on cognitive tasks
  • Better mood
  • Less sleepiness and fatigue
  • Significantly reduced number of driving incidents such as drifting out of one’s lane in a car simulator experiment: the number of incidents caused by drivers who had taken a 15-minute coffee nap (see below for details) was 91% less than for drivers who had just taken a break. Coffee alone reduced the number of incidents by 66%.
  • In a NASA study, pilots who took naps were able to maintain their performance and reduce incidents during a demanding multi-day schedule. Pilots who weren’t allowed to nap experienced deceasing performance and a significantly larger number of incidents, including during the descent and landing.
  • Significantly Improved memory and protection of learned information from interference: a study that focused on declarative learning found a 60% increased memory retention for nappers at a final test one week after initial learning, compared to learners who hadn’t napped.
  • Nappers perform better at abstracting general concepts and making connections that weren’t directly learned but can be inferred from what was learned (relational memory).
  • A nap can restore the capacity to learn, which otherwise deteriorates considerably with time awake.
  • Performance on a creative problem solving task where subjects had to find a linking word between three seemingly unrelated words was improved by more than 40% after a 90-minute nap containing REM sleep (see below) compared to rest and naps containing only non-REM sleep.

To better understand what nap length you should aim for, here is a sleep architecture primer

Continue reading