the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: July, 2012

Five tips for reading faster

by MDY

You know someone’s out of ideas when he not only does another “Five tips for” post but barely even changes the title.

Nevertheless, reading well is the first step towards writing well. If you can read fast – and I’m not talking about skimming pages, but actually absorbing and retaining what’s relevant – you can acquire a lot more knowledge and experience and ideas in a far shorter time. And when writing, that level of acquisition often separates the good from the truly meaningful. The same side of two coins. Not to mention it’s a handy skill when dealing with large volumes of text and larger volumes of deadline.

1. Break it apart. How do you shell an egg? One little piece at a time. The same for reading, which can often be an onerous and repetitive task. Set yourself checkpoints throughout the text (like the end of a paragraph or a page), and make sure you take short breaks when you reach them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but these “refreshers” keep your stamina up and prevent you from flatlining halfway through the marathon that is Civil Litigation Vol. XXVII.

The only exception to this rule is those people who can shell an egg in just a single piece, to whom I say: since you already have superhuman powers of concentration and dexterity there’s probably nothing you can gain from this blog and you should be off curing Ebola or something.

2. Ask yourself questions. What half-boiled joke did I make in the first sentence of this post? How many times have I used egg metaphors so far? By asking yourself questions, you:

  • Start thinking about what the material you’re reading could be useful for;
  • Force your mind to retain the salient points of your reading; and
  • Identify what you haven’t actually retained, either through forgetfulness or lack of attention.

Even when reading fiction for fun, I sometimes ask myself questions about the plot so far, or the characters’ histories, or even what I might’ve written differently. Not only does this improve and focus your retention of the important things, it makes reading into a game. And since you retain more from each pass of the text, you cut down on repeat-reading when studying for exams, passing the Bar, preparing for your next literary salon, etc.

3. Topic sentences. You remember how in school, your teachers said that the first sentence of each paragraph should capture its essence? You can now use that piece of mind-scarring structural insight to your advantage. When searching for specific information (say for an essay or article), check the first sentence of each paragraph in your reference material. Sound useful? Read further. No idea what it means? NEXT.

Of course, this approach can sometimes overlook “hidden gems” in the barren wasteland of your reading material, and should not be applied to any unstructured work like novels, long-form journalism, and this blog.

4. Try to care. Why are books like Twilight and The Hunger Games so popular? Because they’re easy to read. They tell a clear story, with easily-imaginable characters, in situations that excite or terrify or provoke us into thought and feeling. If you’re wading through constitutional documents or financial T&Cs, you are unlikely to be excited or terrified into anything other than drooling on the table.

So make it interesting. Wonder what that piece of litigation might mean to a family or a group of friends. Imagine how that poison-pill clause might play out in a hostile takeover replete with witty one-liners and pineapples. When the reading matters to you, its duration won’t.

5. Do all these things often. Reading is like a riding a bicycle. You may never forget once you learn, but you need to practice to build up your speed. If you hit bumps in the road, don’t just bulldoze through them – use them to build up speed, or take a new direction. And when your tires are flat and your gears in desperate need of repair, just remember this: nothing hurts more than a badly-planned metaphor.

In brief: Piece by little piece, make it interesting, make it matter.

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Five ways to meet and beat deadlines

by MDY

Why are they called deadlines? Because if you don’t get to them in time, something dies. That something may or may not be you. It may be your career, your reputation, your burgeoning relationship of sweet romantic passion. It may also be you. Whatever. Whether in business, leisure, or your gooey sham of a love life, deadlines are not negotiable. They don’t go away if you don’t look at them. And if you miss one, no amount of DRABC is going to help you. Here are five ways to walk the line:

1. Know thy enemy. Deadlines are like ninjas – you often don’t recognise them until it’s too late. Boss asking if you think you can have that report done by Friday? Careers advisor mulling over the due date for job applications? Hungry for a hard-boiled egg? Someone always wants something and they want it now. Or at least by a fixed date and time, in a fixed place. That’s the essence of a deadline. So you better get your typing/intervieweeing/tama-cracking on, and fast.

2. Pay attention. What are you thinking about if a ninja is attacking you? Not your favourite TV show, or the Higgs Boson, or what’s for dinner tonight. If you don’t give your deadlines the same existential focus, the ninjas will get you.

3. No luxuries. Most people spend their time on things like hobbies, social lives, “quiet time”, and so on. Don’t be most people. Get that urgent thing done now and let nothing stand in your way. You know who has lots of quiet time? The ones the ninjas got.

4. Triage. But what if you have multiple urgent things? Let’s say you’re applying for a summer internship at a prestigious law firm. Applications close in 5 weeks. Lots of time, correct? Correct – if all you’re doing is writing a cover letter. But you also have to

  • Research the firm;
  • Update (or write) your CV;
  • Withstand a barrage of existential questions like “What is your greatest achievement?”, “Explain the implications of our recent merger” and “if you were a ninja, what factors make you suitable for this firm?” (Hint: not good grades and a refereed CV);
  • Procure a copy of your academic transcript from your university;
  • Doctor the aforementioned transcript’s results; and
  • Repeat for the ten other firms whose applications close on the same day.

So you need to master the art of triage: identifying a priority order for all your deadlines, and all the tasks required to complete each one. In the above example, it might be that you place those 11 firms in order of “Least Evil to Work For” then work down the list. Or you might handle all cover letters first to maximise the miracle of Copy-Paste. If you’ve tracked your deadlines well, you’ll know what has to come first.

5. Learn to write (and think) fast. Self-explanatory, really, and it helps almost every sort of deadline. See this post for some pointers.

In brief: Just don’t die.

Transformations

by MDY

I saw Optimus Prime again today. He was guarding a kid in a stroller on the train, keeping watch over the carriage with his steely eyes. From time to time, the kid would hug him closer to his chest with a “choo-choo-choo” noise as we rushed into tunnel-dark, as though reassuring himself of his protector’s presence. He also seemed to enjoy spinning the three disks attached to Optimus’ left gauntlet, who didn’t seem offended by this blatant disregard of his weapon’s lethal potential.

I wondered what the disks were. Optimus used to protect me when I was little, but I didn’t recall him having them back then. He must’ve picked them up somewhere along the way, the better to repel the deceptively-weak onslaught of his foes during some particularly violent invasion or live-action reboot. I wondered when he’d changed, and where he’d left his sword.

Nobody else looked at Optimus. They looked at their touch-screens, or daily rags, or out the window eyes double-glazed like the glass. Even if they glanced at him they didn’t really see him. I wondered what they saw. Deadlines, maybe, or roast dinners, or things that had no words.

You could tell he really loved the Prime.