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Problem Solving

77 SAVED IDEAS

Overcoming project fatigue on long projects

Working on a project with no visible end in sight is like running a race without knowing where the finish line is.

Even if one can pick off small tasks, one can still feel weary. However, we can build resilience in progressing on these projects by following the principles of mise-en-place or translated "put in place."

@evan_yy15

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Problem Solving

From early on, chefs and cooks are trained in the art of mise-en-place. In preparation for a particular dish, every single item needed is in front of them before they even turn the water to a boil. They know what ingredients need to be added first and which utensil to use. They always know what step they're working on and never confused about what comes next.

We can make projects feel like a recipe where we move through the work step-by-step, starting with the end in sight.

At a start of a big project, it can be difficult to split up the work. You may not have all the information you need to define the steps.

How to get the necessary information to break down a big project:

  • Call on colleagues who have worked on a similar project, and ask for their advice.
  • Revisit previous projects. How did you break up the project?
  • Ask your manager if you're feeling stuck.
  • Look to templates. Sometimes the recipe already exists.
Being smart changes how you learn things

Intelligence is likely associated with a better generalised working memory.

A working memory is the ability to hold multiple ideas in your head at the same time. Those who are smarter have a bigger capacity to hold multiple ideas.

Intelligence is partly heritable, but there are ways to improve it in a general capacity. The best way to improve your working memory is to simply learn a lot. Learning creates chunks, which allows you to deal with more complex ideas.

The downside of learning is that it tends to be narrow, while intelligence is general.

Some subjects feel like they require more intelligence. If understanding an idea requires you to take different ideas into account, it may be more challenging to keep track with a lower working memory. e.g. mathematical proofs.

Conversely, if a subject requires a large volume of memory, but each fact or idea is separate, it may require lots of practice and less working memory. E.g. history or law.

Because we can increase our working memory within a subject, we can create new chunks and master very complicated ideas. The perceived difficulty is often the way subjects are taught. Only the smarter students will remain, the higher you go in maths or science. This leads teachers to skip over "trivial" steps, leading you feeling like you can't master it.

Solutions are for teachers to slow down the class or for the student to slow down the class using, for example, the Feynman Technique.

Any subject can be learned with some practice and patience. Some subjects may appear harder because of the speed at which they are taught.

To fix this problem, you may need to put in more work. If you can't see everything at once, it just means you need to practice more of the pieces, so your mind does not have to juggle so many ideas simultaneously.

Note-Taking

Note-taking will always be at the core of learning and education. We are often encouraged to take notes during lectures to have a record of the knowledge being shared by our teachers and gain a sense of familiarity with the subject.

There are many note-taking systems such as outlining, guided notes, and the famous Cornell notes. However, they do not result well when being recalled. No studies suggest that Cornell note-taking improves a student's performance better than free-flow writing.

Note-taking:

  • Usually done while listening
  • Fast-paced
  • Uses the author's original language

Note-making:

  • Commonly done while reading
  • Self-paced
  • Uses our own language and understanding of the material

The biggest difference between the two is that the former is easier to forget than the latter.

With note-making, it is easier to understand and remember because of the generation effect - the phenomenon wherein information is better remembered if it is actively created from your own mind rather than simple read in a passive way.

To make good notes, you must take note of these three things:

  • Rephrase the original idea and translate it into your own. Use your own words to distill it in your mind better.
  • Connect ideas together. Create links between your ideas for better understanding and recall.
  • Build upon the ideas. Add your own examples, own questions, and other ideas related to it.

In summary, actively engage with your notes. There are great methods such as mind mapping, digital gardening, and the Zettelkasten method.

What to focus on when learning something

People can fool themselves into believing they understand something more deeply than they really do. It often comes from being focused on learning the wrong thing, such as the name of something instead of what it really is.

We have to learn when we know, when we don't know, what it is we know, and what it is we don't know.

  • Step 1: Pick something you want to learn. Spend time with the idea until you have internalized it as best you can.
  • Step 2: From memory, write everything down that you know about the subject in a way that a child can understand. Write the items down that you don't remember and find answers for those items.
  • Step 3: Question every line you have written down. Some things you will understand, but at some point, you will write things down that you don't know. Then find the answers to these new topics.
  • Step 4: Repeat step 3 until the questioning adds no incremental value. Reorganize the various information you found interesting. Then question your own information to see if there are more gaps in your understanding.
Good decisions

To make good decisions, we generally need to do the following:

  • Identify the decision: recognizing the need to make a decision, and identifying what that decision involves.
  • Set our goals: establishing what we want to achieve with the decision and how important each goal is to us.
  • Gather data: collecting the necessary information to make a decision.
  • Identify options: researching the options that are available to us.
  • Assess the options: identifying the pros and cons of the available options.
  • Select the preferred option: Rating options based on their pros and cons, and choosing the one that’s best for us.
  • The main reason why decision-making is hard is that every decision makes us go through a process that is most times difficult and complex, and having difficulties with any part of it can hinder the whole process.
  • The emotional difficulty that we face when we need to pick only one of multiple possible options means that we have to forego several alternatives that we may find appealing. This is associated with the concept of FOMO (the fear of missing out).
  • The decision-making process can be very demanding, from a cognitive and an emotional perspective. Also, the act of making a decision is tiring in itself, since it depletes the cognitive resources.
  • Being tired and sleep-deprived can make it more difficult for us to process information, and more likely for us to suffer from various cognitive biases that get in the way of making good decisions.
Barry Schwartz
“The existence of multiple alternatives makes it easy for us to imagine alternatives that don’t exist—alternatives that combine the attractive features of the ones that do exist. And to the extent that we engage our imaginations in this way, we will be even less satisfied with the alternative we end up choosing. So… a greater variety of choices actually makes us feel worse.”
  • Complexity: the more complex a certain decision is, the harder it is to choose. A common reason for added complexity in decision-making is that there is a large number of options to choose from.
  • Uncertainty: the more uncertainty is involved with a decision, the harder it is to choose. A common form of uncertainty in decision-making is not knowing what possible outcomes your different options can lead to.
  • Consequences: the more serious the consequences are for a certain decision, the harder it is to choose. A common serious consequence in decision-making is missing out on a unique opportunity by choosing to follow an alternative path.

There are a few personality traits that are found in indecisive individuals:

  • Neuroticism: the tendency to be prone to negative emotions and psychological stress is strongly correlated with indecisiveness, as is perfectionism.
  • Indecisiveness is associated with the tendency to interpret ambiguous situations as threatening, and to engage in worst-case reasoning.
  • Indecisiveness is also related to procrastination, and particularly with a type of procrastination called decisional procrastination - unnecessarily delaying when it comes to making decisions.

When making decisions, using your intuition is not essentially good or bad; this depends on multiple factors, such as the circumstances at hand and the way you use your intuition.

While you should be willing to use your intuition where necessary, you should assess the situation first, and make sure that using intuition is the best option for you, and that when you do use it, you do so in a proper manner.

Our emotions can makes us act in an irrational way and make bad decisions. But don't ignore your emotions entirely; they are not necessarily the cause of our bad decisions.

You should take your emotions into account in a rational way, without giving them the power to prevent you from conducting a proper decision-making process.

  • Be aware of the cognitive biases that might influence your thinking, and then use debiasing techniques to reduce those biases (imagining you're you’re giving advice to a friend, for example)
  • You can rely on your intuition when it’s appropriate to do so in quick decision making, but make sure to limit the amount of information you take in, embrace the concept of good enough, and identify the cost of delaying.
  • For hard decisions, when you’re struggling to choose, you can focus on the concrete facts, eliminate weak options, look at secondary factors, and visualize the future outcomes of choosing different options.
  • Exploratory indecisiveness: a long and drawn-out struggle to make decisions, even after all the options have been explored thoroughly.
  • Impetuous indecisiveness: quickly making decisions but constantly also changing one’s mind about them.

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