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Saturday, March 12, 2011

A. J. Jacobs: The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

Motley Fool Conversations podcast with the "immersion journalist" and author A. J. Jacobs about his book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment (audio, 24 min).
A. J. Jacobs describes a series of experiments he did with his life. There are many interesting ones, but I especially liked these two. 
Unitasking - do only one thing at a time. No multitasking. Unitasking changed his life for the better, making a qualitative difference, with an additional benefit of increased productivity. 
The Rationality Project - pay attention to our cognitive biases (with a nod to Dan Ariely here).  Make buying decisions based on research and rational factors, rather than subjective feelings. Read the restaurant menus from the bottom up to disregard the more expensive dishes that are usually placed at the top of the menu.
Pay attention to the positive events, which we usually disregard, not only to the negative events. For example, note every time your line in the supermarket is moving fast - otherwise our natural bias is to forget these events, which occur most of the time, and remember the rather few negative events, such as when the line was extremely slow.
What I like the most about A. J. Jacobs is not any of his specific wonderful experiments, but his general approach, which reminds us that science is a great tool, and you do not need a Ph.D. "license" or a lab to practice it!

2 comments:

  1. "To read menus from the bottom up" is interesting thing. But "unitasking" is probably wrong way. When you have few tasks in mind, brain does evaluations on a low level and when it finishes you feel an impulse to switch to this task. As a result you don't waste time and don't pay attention to suboptimal solutions, they will be excluded by your subconsciousness.

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  2. I am not sure that I am better at paying attention at suboptimal solutions when I am multitasking. But you are correct in that multitasking can have either positive or negative effects on performance, depending on how much attention is required by the primary (target) and the secondary tasks, the attentiveness of the person, etc. To use a computer analogy, all tasks are like processes that compete for the same CPU. Some multitasking can be positive. For example if listening to the radio keeps you more alert during a boring stretch of the road, it makes sense to turn it on and "multitask" (A.J. Jacobs may disagree here). To use a computer analogy, the primary process that requires a currently "sleeping" drive may be faster if there is another process that "wakes up" the drive in advance.

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