Checking In (A Free Chapter from the “Get It Together” Mini-Book)

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

The new Become Better at Everything mini-book, Get it Together! hit shelves a while ago and is still available for purchase for only $5.99 (paperback) or $2.99 (Kindle). Yes, it’s that cheap.

About the Book

Get It Together CoverThe new book is called Get It Together! Five Simple Strategies for Becoming Reliable, Saving Time, and Making Fewer Mistakes. It’s very short, inexpensive, and packed with simple, actionable strategies that can—as the title implies—make you more reliable, save you time, and reduce the number of mistakes you make in both your personal and professional life. It addresses aspects of productivity and effectiveness that often go overlooked. Here’s the official description:

We all know someone who constantly misses appointments, forgets things, shows up late, and produces sub-par work. Despite intelligence and good intentions, his life is a constant struggle. Imagine this individual. How do you feel about him?

We all know someone else who is always on time, overly prepared, and calm. Everything she produces is well-thought-out and polished. Despite a busy life and demanding responsibilities, her life seems easy. Imagine this person too. How does she do it?

Where do you fall?

Most of us are somewhere in between. Though the person who “has it together” may be naturally organized, you too can learn strategies that level the playing field. Just five small adjustments (and a little practice) can make you more focused, punctual, and responsible, setting you dramatically apart from the bumbling, terminally distracted masses.

You will learn new and innovative ways to reduce risk and oversight. You will learn how to improve the quality of everything you do. You will eliminate the most common problems that affect the events and actions that collectively make up the narrative of your life. In the process, you will eliminate a good deal of stress and negativity.

Purchase Now on Amazon!

Without further ado, here’s a free chapter, “Check In.”

Continue reading

The Philosophy of Personal Security: An Interview with Babak Javadi

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

When you’re shopping for a smart lock for your home, cloud-based backup software for your personal computer, key card entry system for your office, or anything else that relies on serious security as a core requirement, it’s much easier to find features and praise than it is to find out exactly how secure the product really is. Late last year, I had the privilege of meeting Babak Javadi, head of research for The CORE Group, a private security consultancy based out of Philadelphia. Babak and his team employ a holistic approach to personal and professional security that includes everything from physical security through the electronics and software we rely on every day. One day, the folks at The CORE Group may be cutting apart a new lock for a video on their blog, and the next, they may be showing your office building’s head of security on how someone could talk their way into a server room.

Babak JavadiI asked Babak to share some tips that the average person could employ to improve his or her personal security. Rather than share a list of common mistakes and how to avoid them—which he feels is only useful for the specific items covered—he’d rather help propagate the importance of developing an overarching security philosophy.

In Babak’s Words:

To improve security, people have to understand how security works as a whole. Not necessarily locks or buildings or antivirus software specifically. In any system, you have to understand the intended design—which is usually easy to find and is well-marketed—and potential limitations, which are much harder to find but have the potential to tell you a lot more about the product or process. This is not something that people generally know, not just because manufacturers don’t tell you, but also because people don’t tend to care.

In any given system, you can assume things can be broken. The question to ask isn’t “if,” but rather “how.” This is true for products as well as processes put into place for the purpose of security. No matter what it is, you should get into the habit of asking “what won’t it do? What won’t it protect me from?” These are referred to as “known unknowns.” Anyone who provides a reasonable solution to a security problem should be able to—and willing to—articulate both its strengths and weaknesses. If not, that’s a red flag. Continue reading

A Little Superglue Will Fix That Right Up

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

While this site tends to focus on cognitive hacks, it’s really about doing everything better, so let’s explore a quick physical hack. I’ve been told (with a judgmental head-shake) that I have a “civil war approach to self-surgery,” so it’s always nice to find that the scientific community has validated something I do. Though I’m sure it will be a while before anyone with a medical degree condones my history of stitching myself with fishing line.

I had heard about people using superglue to fix cuts for years. I had an uncle who did it his whole life and remember hearing that Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker would routinely superglue his blisters shut while on tour. Then, one day, I was at the gym where I trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and bumped heads (understatement) with a workout partner. I wasn’t bleeding enough to worry, but certainly too much to continue the training session. The workout partner, who was a cop, led me into the locker room and handed me a small spray can. It contained an adhesive and he said police routinely carry it with them to spray on wounds to keep victims from bleeding out until paramedics arrive. I used it and—sure enough—my cut stopped bleeding. The primary ingredient? Cyanoacrylate. Superglue. Continue reading

How to Quickly Memorize Common Conversions

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

I once considered getting a series of small tattoos on my forearm. To a casual observer, they would appear to be ordinary moles or freckles, but they’d be placed at specific intervals: one inch, one centimeter, six inches, ten centimeters, one foot, etc. In doing so, I figured I’d always have easy access to common measurements. Surely I wouldn’t be the first person to get a purely practical covert tattoo, right?

And then I thought about some of my older relatives and realized as time passed, my skin would probably cause the measurements to fall more into “approximations” territory. Mission aborted.

We live in a quantitative world, and regardless of your lifestyle or profession, you most likely need to reference common measurements and conversion somewhat often. Especially if you’re a US citizen who travels abroad or lives near the Canadian or Mexican borders, you may often find yourself needing to convert from our ridiculous non-metric standards (though technically we are a metric country). Even if you don’t, memorizing a few conversions is a great exercise for your memory and imagination. Continue reading

Speed Up Common Math Problems with Shortcut Images

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

“There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory.” —Josh Billings, Humorist

If you’ve read the latest Become Better at Everything book, Master the Language of the Universe, you know how to quickly solve any sort of practical math problem using only your mind. If you’ve read Never Forget Again, you know how to use your imagination in order to improve your memory and associative abilities. Let’s talk about leveraging one skill in order to improve the other.

You’ve already assigned specific mnemonic characters to the numbers 00 through 99. In fact, assuming you spent the allotted time developing number mnemonics, you should be able to immediately associate a character with each of these numbers without having to “translate” them. In everyday life, the numbers 00 through 99 are those that you’ll most often come across and be forced to perform math upon. By creating creative, imaginative, visual interactions between these characters in certain contexts, you can develop shortcuts around certain common mathematical problems that you find you come across repeatedly. Take, for example, the following calculation:

  • $99.99 ÷ 12

Continue reading

Oops! A Correction for Master the Language of the Universe

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

A few months after the release of my latest book, Master the Language of the Universe, I got an email from an international reader named Biruk Silase. He pointed out that one of the methods I had developed, called “Dual Offset Subtraction,” didn’t work in certain cases. I worked through a few problems using the method, and they worked. Then I tried his example, and it failed. Uh-ho.

I quickly isolated the problem and submitted corrections for both the print and digital versions of the book. I’d like to thank Biruk for his diligence. If you’re one of the many hundreds of people who already own this book, please accept my apologies.

A Brief Explanation

Dual Offset Subtraction will fail in every case in which the larger number’s Offset is smaller than the smaller number’s Offset. Instead of using absolute values as suggested in the book, simply subtract the smaller number’s Offset from the larger number’s to arrive at a Final Offset, and then subtract the Final Offset from the Pre-Offset number. Continue reading

From the Pool to the Power Rack: Travis Pollen, Master of Fitness

Travis PollenBy Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Today’s guest post is by Travis Pollen, an accomplished Paralympic swimmer, personal trainer, and biomechanics graduate student. Travis has been featured on T-Nation.com, Schwarzenegger.com, and MensHealth.com. He also blogs and posts videos of his “feats of strength” on his website, www.FitnessPollenator.com. Be sure to like him on Facebook.

Travis’ insights about training, accountability, habits, and goal setting apply universally to almost any goal or practice.

From the Pool to the Power Rack

I wasn’t always a prison-chiseled American record holder. In fact, for the first fifteen years of my life, I struggled to find a physical activity in which my missing left leg didn’t put me at a huge disadvantage. The only “sport” I was remotely decent at was ping-pong—until my opponents discovered that I couldn’t turn left, that is. (Cue Zoolander reference.)

After years of searching, I finally discovered competitive swimming my sophomore year of high school. The rest is history – the records, the medals, the washboard abs. Yet my transformation from zero to superhero certainly didn’t take place overnight. In fact, it took years of daily practice (sometimes even twice a day!) to develop my über speed and strength.

Travis with Blind Boy

I still swim from time to time, but nowadays I focus most of my efforts on resistance training. Fortunately, the lessons I learned in the pool have had tremendous carryover to the weight room. Here are just a few quick tips I’ve gathered along my way from the pool to the power rack.

1. Consistency is everything.

There’s a reason elite swimmers train so much: it works. This isn’t to say that in order to see results, you need to do 550 workouts a year like Michael Phelps. But it does mean that you should strive to be active most days of the week—even if it’s only ten minutes of high-intensity circuit training. It’s actually the accumulation of weeks, months, and years of training that leads to real changes in strength and physique—not just a hard workout here and there.

2. Short-term goals breed long-term success.

The thought of years of training can be a little intimidating. I know it was for me back in 2007 when I set my sights on the 2012 Paralympics. In order not to lose track of my ultimate goal, I set short-term goals along the way—goals as large and small as breaking an American record, completing a certain number of repeats of a given distance in practice, and beating the kid next to me (even if he didn’t know we were racing).

Likewise, having short-term goals is crucial for resistance training, especially when the long-term goal is a change in physique. Weight loss (or gain) tends to creep along at a discouragingly slow pace. For this reason, I attempt to set a new personal record every workout for the amount of weight I can lift for a given number of reps. I also constantly challenge myself to master new feats of bodyweight strength (and post videos of said feats to YouTube).

By setting short-term goals unrelated to the number on the scale, longer term body composition change comes as a mere byproduct of other more tangible and consistent successes. Continue reading

Make Better Decisions by Asking Five Simple Questions

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Peter Drucker once wrote, “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Do you ever stop to think about how you’re doing the things you do every day? Your professional workflow? Your sleep? Your relationships? Your exercise regimen?

Let’s come up with a buzz term, just for fun: Effectiveness Optimization refers to assessing and adjusting the way you perform tasks. It means breaking something down and exploring potentially safer, smarter, or more efficient ways to accomplish the same goal.

As humans, we have a tendency to treat all information (regardless of scale or complexity) as though it is somewhat simple. Most of us lack a process for formalizing decision making (often called “Evaluation Methodologies” in business terms). Put simply: Even if you want to reevaluate how you do something, do know what questions to ask? Effectiveness Optimization is a simple and quick framework for doing so.

Continue reading

Lucid Dreaming and Memory Development

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

I was first introduced to the concept of lucid dreaming (dream control) via Richard Linklater’s 2001 film, Waking Life. In the film, a young man has trouble discerning reality from dreams while engaging in a series of strange conversations. Beyond being a great film, it sent me on a journey of my own. I had never before controlled my dreams, and frankly didn’t know it was even possible to do so with any consistency. Moreover, I didn’t know that learning to do so could benefit me beyond superficial entertainment.

Over the next few months, I learned to control my dreams, and eventually became able to use this skill as a way to improve my productivity and reinforce things I had learned. This certainly isn’t the first time a productivity writer has talked about this topic. As far back as 2009, Tim Ferris blogged about using lucid dreaming to enhance learning. Over the past few years, the subject has become more popular.

In my opinion, the best lucid dreaming resource on the web is found at SnoozOn.com. There you can find a series of detailed tutorials, but these services typically come with a fee. Prior to SnoozOn‘s launch, I was a regular patron of its predecessor, LucidipediaLucidipedia is still around, and unlike SnoozOn, you can find a wealth of free tutorials and workshops there. It’s a great place to learn the ropes and become comfortable with the basics.

I won’t bother teaching you how to lucid dream, as these sites do a far better job that I ever could. The methods are universal and I’d do you no service by regurgitating them. I’ll instead talk a bit about its application. Memory development is one of the primary themes of this website and the Become Better at Everything books, and lucid dreaming is a great tool for this. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 8: Tim Zahodski

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the eighth installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask busy, successful people to name a few productivity tips or tools they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The eighth installment features Tim Zahodski.

Tim Zahodski

2014-06-23 14.12.16As an artist manager with Good Fight Entertainment, Tim handles the careers of bands such as The Story So Far, Circa Survive, The Menzingers, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Such Gold, as well as producers/engineers Will Yip and Vince Ratti. He’s also been involved in the management of Every Time I Die, Between the Buried and Me, Silverstein and Children of Bodom.

Tim’s a busy dude. Just reading the below description of his day-to-day makes me sweat. Continue reading

How Do Waiters Take My Order by Memory?

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

“Oh, great.”

You’ve been there—just imagine the scene. You’re at a somewhat nice restaurant with a large party. The waitress approaches and begins taking orders. After the first guest finishes ordering, you realize—to your horror—that the waitress isn’t writing anything down. As the second person begins making incredibly specific requests, you become certain she isn’t going to get the orders right. No way. As she goes around the table, you watch her closely, waiting for that bead of sweat. That nervous hand gesture. That realization that this smug show-off got in over her head. “It’s not too late to pull out a pad,” you think, but she never does.

With a smile, she finishes taking the orders. “Now,” you think, “time to dash out of sight so you can quickly write everything down.” But no! To your amazement, she stops at another table before casually sauntering back into the kitchen.

I’ve personally had this experience play out both ways. I’ve had “by memory” waiters and waitresses unforgivably mangle my order, and I’ve also been amazed to see them return with every detail spot-on. When it works, I admit it’s impressive. So how are they doing it?

Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 7: Len Markidan

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the seventh installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The seventh installment features Len Markidan.

Len Markidan

Len MarkidanWorking at home or being your own boss brings with it a whole array of unique productivity and discipline pitfalls. Len Markidan helps remote workers live balanced lives and get more done at Home Office Hero. He also serves as the Director of Marketing at Groove, a customer support software company, and teaches classes and workshops on startup marketing at accelerators around the country. His clients have included Chegg, Mutual of Omaha, Pricelock, MojoTech, and others. Continue reading

The Superhuman Mythos

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Ex-mediocre writers have written masterpieces and ex-couch potatoes have won marathons. It’s time for a dose of Tuesday afternoon motivation.

Superhumans Are All Around Us

Human beings—from athletes to mathletes—are capable of incredible feats that border on the superhuman. If you read my book, Never Forget Again, you will be asked to memorize huge amounts of mundane information very quickly. If you read my newest book, Master the Language of the Universe, you’re going to be asked to solve complex math problems using only your mind. These abilities probably seem impossible when you first crack these books open, but in talking with countless people about these books, I’m surprised by how many people think such abilities are beyond their grasp altogether. It may sound cheesy, but it’s true: Within reason, your limits are defined primarily by your willingness to work in order to achieve them.

Let’s talk about it.

Continue reading

Sorting (A “Master the Language of the Universe” Preview)

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

My new book, Master the Language of the Universe, takes you on a journey through practical math and shows you how to perform even complex calculations using only your head. To celebrate the coming release, here’s another preview:

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”

—A. A. Milne, Author

Years ago, there were many times when my CD collection became totally disorganized. I had the regrettable habit of haphazardly stuffing a CD into the nearest empty case and then jamming the case into the most convenient gap in the stack. The eventual result was total bedlam, and I wouldn’t be able to find anything in a reasonable amount of time.

Eventually, the painful time for reorganizing would come. With a sigh, I’d pull all the cases off the shelf, open a case, reunite the disk inside with its proper case, and repeat.

Regardless of my habit of quickly disrupting the order, my theoretical organizational system had two levels. The collection was primarily organized by band/artist name. First came artists whose names began with A through Z, and then came artists whose names begin with numbers. At the end of the collection came compilation disks (again in A-Z order by title). Within each individual artist’s collection, albums would be Sorted in chronological release order, from earliest to latest.

What was the best way to take piles upon piles of disorganized CDs and place them into the order described? This question highlights the fact that most people go through life having never learned to Sort properly. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 6: Gaël Blanchemain and Corbett Barr

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the sixth installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The sixth installment features Gaël Blanchemain and Corbett Barr. Continue reading

How to Concentrate in the Age of Distraction

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

If you like being able to focus on individual things for extended periods of time, you were born in the wrong era. Unfortunately, you sometimes need this skill. Here, you’ll find some strategies that are useful when learning anything that requires total concentration.

You’re going to begin by learning to concentrate on nothing. That’s right. Nothing. You’ll learn to lock out distractions, clear your mind, and create a chamber of isolation within your mind. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 5: Rob Fusco

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the fifth installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The fifth installment features Rob Fusco.

Rob Fusco

Rob Fusco

Rob Fusco has to his credit over thirty years of martial arts expertise, two decades of world travel as a professional musician, a decade of strength coaching and competitive powerlifting experience, years of chess study and competition and about ten seconds worth of patience for arrogance. He is endowed with an indomitable will, an annoying vocabulary and an acerbic, polarizing perspective on just about everything.

Rob’s productivity philosophy is as intense as the man himself.

Continue reading

Meetings are Awful. Make Them Less Awful by Asking One Question.

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Here’s a quick tip for those of you who have jobs that involve meetings.

Have you ever arrived at a meeting assuming someone else was running it, only to find that that person expected you to run it? Or, have you ever arrived at a meeting to find that the organizer had no agenda or was bad at leading the conversation, resulting in the attendees sitting around, looking stupidly at one other?

Here’s a small habit that can ease your pain. Continue reading

Roughing It (the Art of Quick, Imprecise Calculations): A Preview of “Master the Language of the Universe”

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

In just a few short weeks, my next book will be hitting shelves. Master the Language of the Universe takes you on a journey through practical math and shows you how to perform even complex calculations using only your head.

To celebrate the coming release, here’s another preview. This lesson is called, Roughing It (the Art of Quick, Imprecise Calculations).

“OMG HELP STUPID MATH QUESTION?…YOU WILL BE A HERO IF YOU ANSWER THIS WITH AND EXPLANATION SO PLEEEAAASE HELP ME”

—Title of a post on Yahoo! Answers (Canada)

Most of the time, you don’t need to know that 40 goes into 1,236 exactly 30.9 times; you just need to know that if you have 40 classrooms, 1,236 students, and a maximum capacity of 20 students per room, you’ve got a problem. This is when quick, imprecise calculations come in handy. Let’s learn some tricks for squeezing as much precision as you can out of loose calculations.

Ignore and Compensate

To use this trick, ignore the numbers’ smaller digits (usually the ones places or both the tens and ones places), and then make up for this by adjusting the answer based on the operation and direction you rounded.

Whenever you round down for addition or subtraction problems, you’ll know to round your final answer up. If you round up in order to solve the problem, you’ll know to round your final answer down. Take 4,809 + 664 for example. You can make two determinations with certainty:

The answer is “roughly” 5400: You know that 48 + 6 (from 4,809 + 664) is 54, so use this as the base of your rough answer. Continue reading

Use Absurd Questions to Jump-Start Creativity and Problem Solving

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

“Do you think someone, somewhere, is stranded on a remote desert island right now, like Tom Hanks in Castaway?”

This question, asked by a friend in my car many years ago, prompted a long and interesting conversation that touched upon dozens of topics. The ubiquity and safety of commercial air travel. The prevalence of undocumented, illegal trade via sea routes. Refugees. Principles of probability. The romantic lore of isolation, and the many tales it has spawned.

A few months later, I was speaking with a friend who is a professional writer. She was suffering from a bit of writer’s block, and I thought back to the conversation about castaways. I challenged her to take some of the characters she was writing about and formulate a few strange questions or scenarios around them. I told her I thought the exercise—if she took it seriously and followed through—could result in some ideas that could help her break through the block. She agreed to try it, and reported that it worked really well. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 4: Lewis Howes and John Lee Dumas

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the fourth installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask two busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The fourth installment features Lewis Howes and John Lee Dumas. One shares a philosophy, and the other shares a vital tool.

Lewis Howes

Lewis HowesYou like sports? Lewis Howes played pro football, broke a few world records, and is a member of the US Men’s National Handball Team. Sports not your thing? He is a successful business consultant, lifestyle entrepreneur, author, and angel investor. According to Details Magazine, he is one of “5 Internet Gurus Who Can Make You Rich,” and the White House called him one of the “top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30.”

Lewis was kind enough to share his brief productivity philosophy with Become Better at Everything. Continue reading

Some Practical Multiplication Shortcuts (A Preview of “Master the Language of the Universe”)

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

In just a few short weeks, my next book will be hitting shelves. Master the Language of the Universe takes you on a journey through practical math, removes the anxiety that often accompanies math, and shows you how to perform even complex calculations using only your head.

To celebrate the coming release, here’s a preview. While the book dives into topics like probability, sorting, and estimation, it also features some fun, easy, and practical shortcuts. You’ll find a few below that can be applied to specific types of small, common numbers. Enjoy! Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 3: Henry Rollins

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the third installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The third installment features the great Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins

Henry RollinsHenry Rollins may be the busiest man alive. After serving as front-man for the legendary hardcore punk outfit Black Flag, he parlayed his notoriety into a career that defies definition. Prodigious author. Mesmerizing public speaker. Poet. Activist. Musician. Producer. Actor. Few people have jammed more living into a single life, and I can’t think of one person better suited to dole out productivity advice. Continue reading

You’re Only Paranoid Until You’re Right

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

[In the wake of some of the worst US winter weather on record and yet another storm hitting the Philadelphia area in two days, here you will find a reprint of a blog post that originally appeared on my personal blog about two years ago. It seems appropriate.]

The epicenter of a national emergency seems an appropriate place from which to write a blog post on preparedness. I am currently burrowed in my home during one of the largest storms ever recorded. The sky is black, my sump pump is working overtime, and the wind sounds like a chorus of ghosts clamoring to enter my back door. Power is intermittent, and we are occasionally plunged into darkness and analog silence punctuated only by the nature’s rage. It looks apocalyptic, and so, let’s discuss the apocalypse.

If there’s one thing you should do to prepare for a catastrophe, what should it be? Continue reading

Can You Really Create a Ten-Year Plan?

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Throughout the course of your life, you’ve no doubt heard that it’s wise to have a five- or ten-year plan. A financial plan. A career path. A vision. Technologist and entrepreneur Jim Keller wrote the following:

“Time Perspective—a term coined by Dr. Edward Banfield in The Unheavenly City—refers to the length of time one takes into consideration when planning ahead. Banfield’s research found that there was only one factor that could accurately predict upward momentum in society and career: how far ahead someone plans into their future. Extremely successful people had very long time perspective—they planned far in advance and executed long-term strategies for high gains (consider a doctor who spends 8 to 12 years in training for his or her position). No other single factor—intelligence, background, occupation, etc.—was able to offer any reasonable predictors for success.”

However, when it comes to career aspirations, can we really plan that far ahead? Especially if you’re a knowledge worker, is it arrogant to predict what your day-to-day will look like in ten years? Is it ignorant to even assume that your profession will still exist?

This post certainly isn’t arguing against planning ahead. Rather, it’s arguing for the need to adopt a much more proactive, progressive approach. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 2: Mignon Fogarty and Roman Bejnar

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the second installment of a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask two busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share. Something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The second installment features Mignon Fogarty and Roman Bejnar.

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon FogartyMignon Fogarty is an English-language guru and host of the popular writing tips podcast, Grammar Girl. She has written several bestselling books and has appeared on CNN, NPR, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips, a website that features short posts by various experts on topics ranging from finance to parenting. Continue reading

Three Rules for Effective Language Learning

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

Many people fail when it comes to learning a language outside the classroom. Some become disengaged a few weeks in, when things become difficult. Others don’t know where to get free help when they become stuck. Still others don’t even know where to begin.

There have been many advancements in language acquisition over the past few decades. Programs like Pimsleur and Michel Thomas engage students with immersive auditory scenarios. Rosetta Stone focuses on image/word association, teaching languages the way students learned their first language as infants. Over the past few years, even newer methods have emerged. Based on statistical analysis, Four-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferris talks about the importance of memorizing the 100 most common phrases in a language and Moonwalking with Einstein author Joshua Foer advocates using mnemonics and imagination to memorize thousands of vocabulary words with ease. In addition, the barrier to entry has been all but eliminated thanks to free tools like Duolingo.

These ideas are refreshing and logical, but are they practical? I argue that independently, they each lack something; however, borrowing the best features of each and coming up with a game plan will surely get you where you’d like to go.

With this in mind, I propose three rules for staying engaged throughout the language learning process:

  1. Take a break from your primary course when you can carry a practical conversation;
  2. Use elaborate imaginative narratives to memorize vocabulary pertaining to your interests or needs; and
  3. Immerse yourself regularly in niche social circles in the language you’re learning

Below, you’ll find a practical plan based upon these rules that will help you get over the natural hurdles that tend to befall self-learning language students. Continue reading

A Simple Trick to Master Your Passwords

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

When it comes to passwords, there’s a delicate balance between security and sanity.

Most of us have created dozens—if not hundreds—of passwords. Even if you don’t need to remember them all (tools exist for securely managing your passwords or allowing access to many different sites with a single master password), you should have a unique password for each website or app you use. Otherwise, if someone were to gain access to one of your passwords—even for something unimportant—they’d then have access to important things like email and banking sites. So how do you create hundreds of unique passwords without losing track of them all?

One option is to use a two-part algorithm.

Continue reading

Once You Go Blackjack, You Never Go Back, Jack

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

“Hit me.”

Though intrinsically unwelcome in most contexts (a challenge from your macho grandfather?), this phrase is common at Blackjack tables across the world. Unfortunately, most players utter this phrase based on a nudge from their intuition rather than an understanding of the math behind the game.

By memorizing a simple chart known as the “Basic Strategy,” you can almost entirely remove the Blackjack dealer’s advantage and bring your odds of winning somewhat close to 50/50. It’s the single best way to improve your game without spending years learning to count cards. The Basic Strategy details each possible scenario that may arise in a game of Blackjack and tells you what response would produce the highest probability of a favorable outcome.

So why is this being discussed on Become Better at Everything? For most people, memorizing the Basic Strategy (which details 260 possible scenarios) can be very difficult. If you’ve read my book, Never Forget Again, it’ll be a breeze, because you’ll know how to use your imagination instead of memorizing via brute force repetition. But even if you haven’t read the book, I explain the easiest way to memorize this below.

Quick disclaimer: Don’t play casino card games to make money. You won’t. Seriously. Having said that, if you enjoy Blackjack for the sake of the game or enjoy a good memorization challenge, read on.

Tools you’ll need: A deck of cards and a brain. Continue reading

What Really Works Pt. 1: “Games”

By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder

This is the first installment in a regular feature called “What Really Works.” In each of these blog posts, I ask two busy, successful people to name a single productivity tip or tool that they would like to share—something impactful they feel is responsible for their continued success.

The first installment, “games,” features Jamin Warren and Lex Fridman.

Jamin Warren

Jamin WarrenJamin Warren certainly meets the criteria for “busy” and “successful.” He is the founder of the massively popular video game arts and culture company Kill Screen. Formerly a culture reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he serves as an advisor to MoMA’s department of Architecture and Design. He also hosts the Kill Screen show for the Creators Project, a collaboration between Intel and Vice.

His thoughts on games and digital culture have been featured in The New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review and others. Ebony named him one of their top tech leaders to watch and the New York Observer called him a “burgeoning media baron.” He’s also a frequent contributor to NPR, and has spoken at SXSW, the Tribeca Film Festival, and XOXO. He lives in Brooklyn and “couldn’t just choose one tool,” so below, you’ll find out about his top five. Some rules were just made to be broken, I guess. Continue reading