Today's Reading



The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most powerful methods for tackling procrastination. To do it:

—Remove distractions.
—Set a timer for 25 minutes.
—Focus as intently as you can for those 25 minutes.
—Reward yourself. Take a 5-minute or so mental break. (Use a timer for the break if necessary.)
—Do another Pomodoro until the work—or you!—is done.

* A pain in the brain can trigger procrastination. Be aware of minor feelings of discomfort when you think about something you don't like to do—these feelings can trigger procrastination. That pain in the brain dissipates once you get started.

* In general, it's best to avoid multitasking. But multitasking is not all bad—it can sometimes help you avoid becoming fixed on a cognitive approach that's going nowhere.

* Set up a distraction-free environment. Do a sweep through the notifications settings on your devices and disable audible, visible, and vibrating alerts. Keep your phone out of reach.

* If you are called off-task by someone or something, try to take mental note of where you were so you can more easily return to it. Take frequent brief breaks. If you go too long on any one task, you will inevitably tire.

* If you like to listen to music when you're working, make sure it isn't distracting your attention. Think twice about listening to music while studying unless you're already learning the material well.


How to Overcome Being Stuck

Olav once crashed a drone into the top of a tall tree, where it got stuck—too intertwined in the leafy branches to come free, far too high to reach by ladder, or even by throwing a rock. Climbing the tree wouldn't work either: the drone was caught in the thinnest branches. Olav felt as stuck as the drone itself. What should he do? Olav decided to do nothing. And that helped him get the drone down. How? We'll get to that in a moment.

Getting stuck and frustrated when you're learning is common—blank pages can leave you unable to think of a single sentence as you try to begin writing, or a new approach to coding can leave you stumped. We've mentioned a few tips previously to help you avoid becoming cognitively stuck, such as briefly switching tasks or taking brief mental breaks. But if you know a little about how your brain works, you can do even more to avoid this frustration and simultaneously speed up your learning.

The Focused and Diffuse Modes to Solve Problems Big and Small

The brain has two completely different modes of thinking and learning. The first is called focused mode. This was what the first chapter of the book was about. It's exactly what it sounds like—you're in the focused mode when you're focusing on something. For example, you may be concentrating on an explanation of a physics problem. Or intently memorizing new vocabulary words.

The second mode is called the diffuse mode. This mode is also important for thinking and learning.1 While you're in the diffuse mode, thoughts are still flowing through your mind, but you're not focusing on anything in particular. For example, you're in the diffuse mode when random thoughts pop up while you're standing in the shower, riding a bus, going for a walk, or falling asleep. When you're in this mode, your brain can connect different thoughts and ideas in a way that it can't while in the focused mode, which is busy suppressing everything except what you are focusing on. That's the reason that people get ideas and fresh insights when they go for a walk or take a shower.

Learning Something New and Difficult Means Alternating Between Focused and Diffuse Modes

Focused mode is all you need if what you're learning is relatively straightforward, perhaps related to ideas you've already mastered. For example, you're in focused mode when you're solving an uncomplicated addition problem, such as 14 + 32.

But what if you're trying to learn something new and more difficult? Let's say you're trying to understand the multi-pump system of the heart or the mathematical concept of a derivative, or master a physical skill such as how to do a double kickflip on a skateboard. You might focus hard, then harder, and then even harder, and you still can't get it. Strangely enough, allowing yourself to take a break, whether for several hours or overnight, often works magic. It's the magic of the diffuse mode. When you return your focus to the issue at hand, you'll have that "aha" insight that allows you to make progress on the issue you've been struggling with.

This excerpt is from the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America by Elizabeth Letts.

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