Recently, during an extended stay in Taiwan, I started with floating sessions.
Every other week, I float for about 70 minutes in a tub filled with magnesium-sulfate-saturated water, a so-called flotation tank, also known as an isolation tank.
The water is kept at skin temperature, and the tank is supposed to be sound and light proof. Upon closing the door or lid, it is pitch dark, and you hear almost nothing. Float therapy was originally devised to answer the question “what happens to the brain in the absence of sensory stimulation?”
In the meantime, it has become a popular tool to reduce stress, solve creative problems, help with insomnia, and improve performance, among others.
So far, I have done two sessions, with more coming up.
I have found that floating can be very relaxing and uplifting. With this post, I would like to inspire you to try it yourself.
In this post, I want to share with you how I read, annotate, organize, and summarize the web.
Here are the benefits I have gained:
I read with pleasure.
I remember more and can re-find the important info I come across on the web.
I save a ton of time.
Most of us who read online waste enormous amounts of time: We hook our brains up to massive news streams to keep up with things. Unfortunately, even most of the information that matters to us and could help us in our life gets drowned out and is forgotten the next day, or at best a few days later.
It doesn’t have to be that way!
Yes, a lot of what we consume doesn’t really have an impact on our life; it is purely for entertainment and distraction, so it makes perfect sense to forget it.
But what about the really important information bits you come across while reading? Do you forget these too?
And if you remember these nuggets, can you quickly reconnect to the web pages where you found them? Can you remember the ideas you had when you read an article?
Simply bookmarking all “worthy” articles you come across, or worse, clipping them and putting them in a giant archive doesn’t solve the problem.
If you do that you will often have to re-read the whole page to remember why it was important.
Most of the information in your archive, you will never look at again, yet it will become a burden and demand time and effort to be maintained.
My two most common reading scenarios:
Reading to answer a specific research question, such as “does NAC help with sleep?”
Capturing information nuggets and the thoughts I had while reading the daily news or following a subject that interests me.
Let’s get started with scenario 1, answering a research question:
Meditators are often advised to focus on a meditation object, and when they realize that their mind has started wandering, to just bring it back to the object of their meditation. The standard advice is not to follow any thoughts and emotions that may arise.
This, however, is often easier said than done. As soon as I am trying to quiet my mind, thoughts and reminders start coming from all directions.
Like a monkey of whom I have limited or no control, “my” mind bounces around, jumping from the cup of coffee I had before the meditation to yesterday’s cookies, and from there to the chat I had with a friend last night.
Quite appropriately so, they call it the “monkey mind.”
But is this monkey mind good or bad news? I have been contemplating this for quite a while and over time have come to appreciate it. Why? This state of mind can be used to harvest plenty of good ideas. I let the mind loose and it turns into a treasure trove of creativity.
How do I use meditation for creativity? How do I harvest ideas and gain insight?
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 →
There 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →