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.
For several years now, I have been an enthusiastic practitioner of time boxing—working in fixed time intervals (time boxes) of 25 to 40 minutes, interspersed with short breaks during which I get up from my desk and do some physical activity.
Over the years, I have tweaked my time box length several times to optimize my productivity.
If I made it too short, I would interrupt work too often; if I made it too long the time box would drag on and exceed my attention span.
I also needed a shorter time box length for reading than for writing, in particular when learning complicated material.
But that also means that I might miss the alarm going off at the end of a time box. Often, I just didn’t hear it.
So I started using the vibration alarm of my Fitbit. That worked great because a brief vibration would always alert me to the end of a time box. I also didn’t disturb others with audible alarms.
Paced Time Boxing (PTB): Augmenting time boxing with intermediate reminders to pace yourself
Many fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit, have an interval timer, designed for high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate between move and rest intervals.
This got me thinking:
“I could solve the problem of dealing with different time box lengths for different tasks and at the same time introduce a pace setter.”
So this is how I have been doing for a while now:
I set both the move and the rest interval in my Fitbit to 20 minutes (the maximum) to make up a time box with a total length of 40 minutes. In other words, I use both the move and the rest interval to make up a time box.
To begin a time box I start my interval timer, and it starts counting down. After 20 minutes I get two brief vibrations on my wrist.
But this first vibration alert only signals that half of my time box is over.
After sitting up, I drink water from the big bottle right in front of me.
After drinking water, I get up and make my bed.
After making my bed, I shave.
After shaving, I brew myself a cup of coffee…
This is the routine I follow every morning after waking up: It is an autopilot sequence of behaviors—“a stack of habits”—where the completion of one action triggers the start of the next one.
This routine is extremely helpful and contributes massively to my happiness and productivity every day.
It also keeps me from going off the rails and into cyberspace:
You see, I have an iPad and a smartphone sitting on my nightstand.
In the past, I have always been tempted to use them after waking up: “What is the news?” “What is going on Twitter?” “Let’s check email real quick.” More often than not, I have given in to the temptation.
The next thing I noticed was that half an hour was gone, and I was running late.
You might have noticed that over time I have written a lot of posts that somehow relate to noise.
For example, I have covered how noise directly affects memory and performance for students and professionals and how it affects our sleep.
I have also covered how sleep and memory consolidation are directly related. More noise means less deep sleep. But deep sleep is paramount to reorganizing what you have learned during the day and connecting it with other memories.
Being constantly exposed to disruptive noise at night and you can kiss the fruits of your hard learning good bye, despite becoming prolific at and using the best memory techniques.
Incessant noise also increases stress hormone levels: another killer of memory and well-being.
Noise is insidious. Exposing yourself to constant levels of more than 85 decibels doesn’t hurt; it’s quite easy with good headphones. But, over time it can wreak havoc on your hearing.
When I was a teenager, I was completely oblivious to what the ringing in my ears after a night in the disco or in front of a speaker wall actually meant. After all, the ringing was always gone in the morning. I even built some enormous speakers for my living room. That was then.
Over the years, I have become fascinated with solving noise problems and using sound more consciously to help me learn better and become happier.
About three months ago, I decided I needed more space for this ongoing project.
It was time for a blog to shut out the noise, and so NoisyWorld.org came into being.
NoisyWorld focuses on:
Practical solutions for stopping obnoxious noise. This includes both general noise that impairs sleep, performance, and well-being and noise that is loud enough to damage hearing.
Using sound to improve sleep, performance and productivity, and happiness.
It is Saturday, June 30, 9:30 am. I just broke my fast with some cashew nuts and almonds.
This was my fourth fast, and it was a bit harder than the previous one. My hunger never completely subsided. I changed a few things that may have contributed to this experience. For more on this, please see below.
But – this fast also made me appreciate the value of food again.
I still went to coffee shops to do some reading and drink black coffee. When friends ordered food or a takeout, I felt they were so lucky they could have nice looking and clean food and eat it.
It doesn’t feel nice to be hungry and not to be able to eat when food is plenty.
Feeling hunger, I felt connected with people who don’t get enough to eat.
I had to go to bed without food for 5 nights. But I knew that after 5 days I was going to have great meals again.
I have the cash to go to the supermarket and buy stuff to my heart’s content. I was already planning the great meals I was going to have.
Other people don’t have enough resources. They often go to bed hungry without knowing when they will have a satisfying meal.
They might only have a bowl of instant noodles with some cheap oil and lots of flavor enhancers. Not too bad if eaten once in a while, but while the noodles are high on carbs, they are low on protein and contain almost no nutrients.
But then, a bag only costs 50 cents. Mind you, the almonds and cashew nuts I broke my fast with cost more than that.
I sometimes eat these noodles too, because they taste good. Or a cheap fried rice dish. But then I remind myself that apart from energy there isn’t much in there and go and get some real food.
It might be a roast with potatoes and nicely grilled vegetables. Or I might go for Sashimi or Oysters.
Some people only have a dollar a day to spend on food. If they have children, the food goes to the kids first.
Today I pity them. Sometimes, I forget.
I am a lucky bastard to have a credit card and a bank account with money to buy nutritious food.
Giving someone good food to eat is sometimes better than money. The person gets to taste the happiness that comes with eating a hearty meal. The food pulls them right out of their hunger and feeling of dissatisfaction.
During the last couple of weeks, my mind wasn’t as fluid as it used to be. Reading, writing, analyzing, whatever I did, I tired much easier.
Also, about three hours after each meal, I felt a dip in energy, which I only slowly recovered from until the next meal. I have had this before – and I interpret it as a sign that my body has a hard time changing from feeding to fasting.
It appeared to me that as soon as most of the energy from eating was used, stored in the liver, or stored as fat, I ran low on energy.
What’s more, my weight was slowly increasing, my sleep was deteriorating, and I was getting digestive problems.
I was concerned that my fatigue might be due to increasing insulin resistance
I had been feasting excessively, drinking too many beers, and maintaining an irregular sleep schedule. As a result of all this, I suspect I was becoming increasingly insulin resistant. My blood sugar values were still OK, but I clearly wasn’t doing too well.
In a nutshell, my metabolism wasn’t running smoothly, I tired easily, abdominal fat was accumulating, and I was having a hard time burning fat (as indicated by my increasing body weight).
As I mentioned, I have had this before.
I resorted to the tool that had helped me last time to do a reset: Fasting.
I wanted to press that reset button again, so I committed to a 5-day fast. At the end, I made it a 6.5-day fast.
As soon as the headless chicken wakes up, it starts running in circles. It becomes frantically active, checks its mail, and feels the urge to do something. Anything that can relieve the stress and the worries will do.
While handling the phone, it opens the pantry to refill the coffee maker. Too bad, there is no more ground coffee left. Well, instant coffee will do for now.
“Shit, it put the coffee in the kettle instead of the cup…”
The chicken has no time; it wants to do everything at once.
And so it forgets some of its papers on the nightstand and runs back and forth and all around the house to fetch everything for the office.
It truly has lost its head.
Fortunately, the drive to the office is without any major incident. While still at the wheel, the chicken’s head is already at the morning meeting.
It doesn’t see anything to its left or right. Neither beauty nor danger! Had a little chick suddenly run out from behind the parking cars, it would have been flat!
In fact, a little bit earlier, there was a little chick.
Luckily, by the time the headless chicken drove by, the little chick had already safely crossed the street. An elderly couple saw it early and stopped to allow the chick to cross safely.
The headless chicken didn’t know anything about this though when it angrily flashed its headlights at the slow moving car in front of it – the car of the elderly couple that had just spared the headless chicken a nightmare.
What does this have to do with me?
I have been a headless chicken at some point in my life. Sometimes I still am, I am afraid.
But now I have more experience and strategies to re-find my head in most situations. I am still learning, mind you.
In this post, I want to share with you how we often lose our head in the craziness of our busy mind, and eight simple techniques that help me to stay happy and productive.
If even one of them helps you to get back your peace of mind and cruise through the day, this post has served its purpose.
How the chicken lost its head
At the root of our frantic activity are worries that we are going to run out of time or money and the realization that we have no control over this world.
We feel we have to do something, anything to get back in control and on top of things.
Here are some common causes for our headless-ness:
Working in intervals of 20 to 40 minutes (so-called timeboxes) interspersed with 5-minute breaks is an excellent way to increase productivity, overcome procrastination, and do something for your health at the same time. In an earlier post I have outlined some ideas on how to implement time boxing.
In the 1980s, Francesco Cirillo devised the Pomodoro Technique, a complete time management system based on the concept of timeboxing. According to him, the optimal length of a timebox is 25 minutes. He called this 25-minute interval a pomodoro. Cirillo’s technique has spawned a variety of productivity apps and timers. I’ll introduce you to one cool app below.
I have used timeboxing more or less for several years, but have also varied the work period depending on the task at hand.
If a task is very difficult or boring, starting out with only 15 minutes is fine, if that helps you to get started and avoid checking your phone. I can always do 15 minutes.
For writing, I much prefer 45 minutes of even an hour.
Recently, I got myself a Fitbit Charge 2 fitness tracker. I bought it to encourage me to move more during the day and track my sleep during the night. It also continuously tracks my heart rate and automatically recognizes and records different exercises. For example, it detects and records when I am walking, running, or using a cross trainer or treadmill and supplies stats such as duration, calories burnt, heart rate graphs…
I have come to like my Fitbit a lot – and it can help with time boxing / pomodoros as well.