1. Speed Reading
Speed reading is the best thing since sliced bread. I have at least doubled and possibly tripled my reading speed allowing me to plow through books at a rate I couldn’t have imagined before.
The process is rather simple although it takes a little getting used to. There are two major points:
- Use a pen or similar object to track along each line: This keeps your eyes moving along with the pen and prevents them from backtracking instead of moving in a consistent linear motion. As H. Bernard Wechsler notes in Speed Reading for Professionals, “Studies have demonstrated that college graduates tend to backtrack about twenty times per page.” (pg. 29)
- Don’t pronounce the words in your mind: This is called subvocalization and we all tend to do it. We say the words in our mind. People can recognize words much quicker than they can speak or subvocalize them. So if you learn to read using simple recognition, you can drastically increase your speed.
Some other tips I’ve heard include using your peripheral vision to read the edges of the page to limit the distance your eyes have to move and learning to lump certain common phrases together. I don’t use these methods, and am a bit skeptical of them. I’ve been able to speed read without reducing my comprehension, but when I’ve tried to add those, it’s harder to retain what I’ve read.
2. Getting Organized with Getting Things Done®
Sometime back, organizational expert David Allen realized that the human mind is great at coming up with ideas, but terrible at storing them. As he noted,
“A basic truism I have discovered over twenty years of coaching and training is that most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.” (Getting Things Done, pg. 12)
Instead, the way we should react to various stimuli is with a “mind like water.” As he puts it,
“Imagine throwing a pebble in a pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.” (pg. 10-11)
And when you have a firm grasp of all of your commitments, it makes it so much easier to react appropriately to any given input. Indeed, my computer and desk (both the at the office and at home) were awash in to do lists and notes prior to GTD (Getting Things Done®). And I was consistently stressed out. Afterwards, I don’t stress at all about remembering what I need to do, it’s all in my “trusted system.”
To explain the whole system would take too long, but in brief, you filter all of your “inputs” (emails, letters, things to do, etc.) into different categories. If it’s something you can do in two minutes, you just do it. If it’s something you need to do, you put it under “action items” if it’s something you’re waiting for, you put it under “waiting for” if it’s something you want to discuss with someone, you put it under “agenda item” and if it requires two or more steps, you put it under “projects” along with the next action step to accomplish.
There’s of course a lot more to it than that, but it creates a system whereby everything you need to do is right there in front of you and out of your mind. It’s also very flexible and can be adapted to paper systems or online systems using software such as Evernote or Outlook.
And indeed, along with a ton of anecdotal data, there is scientific evidence that implies GTD works. When Roy Baumeister and John Tierney studied what increased willpower, David Allen’s method kept coming up. They discuss the Zeigarnik Effect that saps mental energy when tasks are left incomplete. But if you can remove those tasks from your mind and put them in your trusted system, you can save that mental energy. Baumeister and Tierney conclude “…there is evidence in the psychological literature of the mental stress that Allen observed.” (Willpower, Pg. 80) and mention one powerful anecdote,
“…when the technology writer Danny O’Brien sent a questionnaire asking seventy of the most “sickeningly prolific” people he knew for their organization secrets, most said they didn’t use special software or other elaborate tools. But a good many did say they followed the GTD system… “(pg. 80)
You can learn more about GTD at David Allen’s website. I should also note that I am not affiliated with David Allen in any way.
3. Start Meditating
Most of us live stressful and busy lives. Well that’s where meditating comes in; to unwind that ball of stress, anxiety and frustration. Indeed, meditation actually changes how your brain functions. One study had subjects receive brain scans while meditating and it showed “meditation increased activity in the brain regions used for paying attention and making decisions.”
Furthermore, it noted that practice makes perfect,
“While the subjects meditated inside the MRI, the researchers periodically blasted them with disturbing noises. Among the experienced meditators, the noise had less effect on the brain areas involved in emotion and decision-making than among novice meditators. Among meditators with more than 40,000 hours of lifetime practice, these areas were hardly affected at all.”
OK, 40,000 hours is a bit ridiculous. But the psychological benefits of meditating are well understood. As the clinical psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding explains at Psychologytoday.com,
“[Meditation] makes a huge difference in how you approach life, how personally you take things and how you interact with others. It enhances compassion, allows you to see things more clearly (including yourself) and creates a sense of calm and centeredness that is indescribable. There really is no substitute.”
I’ve struggled keeping up with this one, but when I have I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in stress.
4. Weekly Goals on a White Board Next to Your Bed (or something close to that)
Human beings are a goal oriented species. There’s just something about having concrete goals that staves off procrastination. And the shorter time span the better. Weekly or something close to that (maybe even daily) is best. Don’t get me wrong, yearly goals are fine, I have those too. But when you have 365 days to accomplish something, it’s a lot easier to simply say “well, I’ll take today off and take care of this in one of the other 364 days.” One day then turns into two, two into three, etc.
So what I do is I list out my weekly goals on a white board over my bed. I put things like “finish book”, “learn new song for guitar”, “finish gathering documents for refinance”, etc. And then I cross them off as I get them and give myself a score at the end of the week. And the next week, I try to beat my last score.
And once again, there is empirical evidence to support this. A study from Dominican University comparing those who wrote down their goals versus those that just thought about them concluded,
“The positive effect of written goals was supported: Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals. [6.44 to 4.28]”
And while the study didn’t say anything about having such goals prominently displayed, I think having them staring you in the face every morning, noon and night on a whiteboard across from your bed just drives the point home all the more.
It should also be noted that the study found those who shared their goals and gave progress reports to a friend for support (or competition) made were even more effective.
5. Intermittent Fasting
By this, I don’t necessarily mean fasting for a day and then eating the next, although that qualifies as well. I just mean reducing the amount of time each day spent eating. Say, eating your first meal at 11:00 am your last at 7:00 pm with no snacking before or afterward. I’ve lost 20 pounds in the last couple of months doing this. And after the first couple of days, the hunger pangs basically subsided to the point of being unnoticeable.
And while I’m no nutritionist, there does seem to be plenty of scientific support for this:
-A Study showed improved metabolic state when in fasted state
-A Study showed improvement in neural plasticity with intermittent fasting or calorie restriction
-A Study showed improvement in heart disease factors by alternate-day fasting
-A Study showed that alternate day fasting reduces cancer risk
-Intermittent fasting may even help you live longer.
Much of these results can come from simply restricting calories, but as one study of mice showed,
“…intermittent fasting resulted in beneficial effects that met or exceeded those of caloric restriction including reduced serum glucose and insulin levels and increased resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic stress. Intermittent fasting therefore has beneficial effects on glucose regulation and neuronal resistance to injury in these mice that are independent of caloric intake”
To sum up, Mark Sisson describes intermittent fasting’s results as follows,
“Overall, fasting just seems right. It’s like a reset button for your entire body, presumably across a large spectrum of maladies and dysfunctions. It puts your body into repair mode – at the cellular level – and it can restore normal hormonal function in the obese or overweight.”
So there you have it. Now go forth and become more awesome!