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Learning Theory and Organizational Methods: College vs Cubicle

50 minutes on, 10 off.

This is classic learning theory. Most human brains can tolerate two or three repetitions of 50 minutes of focused, active learning followed by 10 minutes of walking around, push ups, checking email, or getting water. I like to track my learning at school with toggl. I have experimented with many internet activity tracking tools, but toggl seems to work the best. I like that I can press the start button and see the clock begin. Toggl also provides utility in the work place. I have a dual screen setup, so the timer one one screen reminds me that I am clocked in and need to work on one project at a time. Nonetheless, I have retired to 50 on, 10 off cycle for cubicle life. After my first few weeks as an intern at Organic Valley, I realize that distractions, new projects, and unexpected tasks prevent even 30 minutes of uninterrupted work.

Daily Schedule/To Remember Schedule Method.

It’s hard to find a rhythm in college, so one needs organizational tools that complement a mutable lifestyle. Cal Newport’s method is the one that I have found to be the most suitable. It requires that you define a rough schedule in the morning for about ten minutes. On the left side of an 8 1/5 x 11 or any scrap piece of paper you write, “Schedule” and on the right, “To Remember.” I like to record mine in a moleskin. You follow the schedule during the day and capture any to-dos in the “To Remember” column. The next morning, you add whatever you didn’t complete from the previous and the new to-dos to the “schedule.” Rinse and repeat. This works well in the office. It prevents the scattering of forces that often happens when emails come in and one starts working on five things at once. When the mental multitasking urges begin to simmer, one can refer to the “Schedule” and get back on track. The main difference between college and work is that to-dos or problem sets are called “action items.” I think this is funny for some reason. Probably because action seems to be the last thing anyone is doing in an office. I like this method and will continue to utilize it.

Memory Palace

This is a method of memorizing information that provides little utility in the office. There are no exams, so there is little need to memorize things. The memory palace theory of learning is one of the earliest methods of memorization, used before things were compulsively recorded in ink. It involves first visualizing a familiar spacial location and a path within the location. It could be a palace, or a childhood home, or a familiar street. If you want to remember a grocery list, for example, you begin in the first place, hence the expression “in the the first place” and you imagine the item in a crazy, lewd, outlandish situation. Suppose the first item is socks. You create in your mind’s eye a pile of socks the size of a car, the rotting smell of clothes taken from a gym locker you’re cleaning out after two months, and even some of the socks are crawling around, like maggots. That’s an image you probably won’t forget. The whole point is to take the banal and turn it into a memorable image. Anyway, the time this is useful in the office place is when you need to memorize a speech, otherwise it’s useless.

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