Reading Aloud to Yourself

The production effect is the memory advantage of saying words aloud over simply reading them silently. It has been hypothesised that this advantage stems from production featuring distinctive information that stands out at study relative to reading silently. MacLeod (2011) (I said, you said: The production effect gets personal. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 1197–1202. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0168-8) found superior memory for reading aloud oneself vs. hearing another person read aloud, which suggests that motor information (speaking), self-referential information (i.e., “I said it”), or both contribute to the production effect. In the present experiment, we dissociated the influence on memory of these two components by including a study condition in which participants heard themselves read words aloud (recorded earlier) – a first for production effect research – along with the more typical study conditions of reading aloud, hearing someone else speak, and reading silently. There was a gradient of memory across these four conditions, with hearing oneself lying between speaking and hearing someone else speak. These results imply that oral production is beneficial because it entails two distinctive components: a motor (speech) act and a unique, self-referential auditory input.

—Noah D. Forrin & Colin M. MacLeod, Memory (via Wired)

How Far 16GB of Memory Goes

Zdziarski explores the myth of professionals needing 16GB of RAM (via The Loop):

Apple’s latest MacBook Pro line is limited to 16GB due to energy (and likely heat) constraints, and that’s gotten a lot of people complaining that it simply isn’t enough for “real pros”. Ironically, many of the people saying that don’t quite fall into what many others would consider a “real pro” themselves; at least based on the target demographic of Apple’s “pro” line, which has traditionally been geared toward working professionals such as photographers, producers, engineers, and the like (not managers and bloggers). But even so, let’s take a look at what it takes to really pin your MacBook Pro’s memory, from a “professional’s” perspective.

First of, “myth” is a misnomer. It’s not a myth, it’s a view held by some (not all) professionals who legitimately need at least 16GB of RAM to work smoothly. Zdziarski acknowledges these people exist but I disagree in calling them “edge cases” like he does.

Zdziarski correctly points out developers need to write software that doesn’t try to eat every gig of memory your system has:

A couple apps you won’t see on this list are Chrome and Slack. Both of these applications have widespread reports of being memory pigs, and in my opinion you should boycott them until the developers learn how to write them to play nicer with memory. You can’t fault Apple for poorly written applications, and if Apple did give you 32 GB of RAM just for them, it wouldn’t matter. Poorly written apps are going to continue sucking down as much memory as possible until you’re out. So it’s reasonable to say that if you’re running poorly written applications, your mileage will definitely vary. RAM is only one half the equation: programmers need to know how to use it respectfully.

This is the Catch-22: Apple could raise the Macbook Pro’s memory to 32GB but then there’s the risk that developers just make more bloated, memory-hogging software.

This reminds me of what Robert Moses did in the early 20th century in New York City, building bridge after bridge after bridge to alleviate automobile congestion. In the short-term it worked, but eventually the number of cars increased to fill all the bridges and the congestion returned.

Focusing Your Creative Energy

“‎The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” 

— Bruce Lee

Early in my career as a web designer I had trouble focusing. I started off projects strong, but I had trouble following through on them.

Looking back at my various failed starts and poorly executed work, I think of Cyclops from the X-Men series (Jerry Seinfeld says all we men consider ourselves low-level superheroes). Cyclops can’t control the energy beams that come out of his eyes — they’re extremely powerful, but also destructive and a waste of energy. Think of a fire hydrant without a hose attached.

Cyclops needs the help of special eyewear to harness his optical energy so that he can point it in the direction he wants, with the intensity he wants.

Creativity is the same way for me and lot of other people: our brains are inundated with tons of great ideas, but without focus they go out scatter-shot and wind up as unfinished projects, or worse yet, never make it into a sketchbook. It ends up being all wasted energy. I was never diagnosed with ADD as a child, but I feel as though I easily could have been.

Focus is still something I have to work on daily, but the good news is I’ve figured out techniques and habits over the years to channel my creative energy in one direction at a time. 

Below is a list of tools and technics I use to help me achieve focus. They can turn you into a creative Cyclops too.

Get a Notebook and Pen

A notebook and pen are essential before you even attempt to address the other sections. I don’t care if it’s Field Notes, a Moleskine, Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist Journal, or a handful of loose sheets folded in half and stapled together.

Always be ready to write things down where ever you are. If your brain works like mine and you don’t write things down you will forget them. I guarantee it.

Baby Steps

In the movie What About Bob? (YouTube), Bob Wiley (played by Bill Murray) has his first appointment with his new psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin (played by Richard Dreyfus). Bob has a multi-phobic personality and gets anxiety attacks all the time, every day. Doctor Marvin suggests Bob read his book, Baby Steps, which advises people make small, reasonable goals for themselves in the pursuit of their bigger goals. He tells Bob, “For instance, when you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do in order to get out of the building, just think to what you must do to get out of this room, and when you get to the hall, deal with that hall…”

We can apply this thinking directly to projects. Break them down from macro to micro. If you have to design a website, don’t think about designing the whole website.

Write down the baby steps:

  1. Capture Client Goals
  2. Request Content/Assets
  3. Create Site Map
  4. Wireframe Key Pages
  5. Design Key Pages 6. …etc.

If you ever reach an step that seems daunting, break that step down into sub-steps.

All I can say about Baby Steps is mash potatoes and gravy.


Checklists are very closely related to Baby Steps.

I use checklists specifically for client deliverables and requests. As soon as I complete a request from the client I check that item off my list.

I could write another whole post just on checklist methodologies. You can have project checklists, daily checklists, checklists for your checklists. The checklists are endless.

I recommend reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande for a thorough understanding of the power of checklists.

Repeat It In An Email

Whenever I reach a milestone or deadline on a project I email the client (and any other relevant people like project managers, team members) and in the email, I echo back their list of requests I captured.

I do this for two reasons:

  1. it lets the client see you’re listening to them (clients usually don’t notice when you’re paying attention to them, but they hate when you don’t listen to them)

  2. it helps me be sure I didn’t miss anything on my checklist

Tell Siri to Remind You

Most of you have a portable computer on you at any moment. Use it. Maybe you’re at lunch away from your desk and you get a great idea for your project. As soon as you get that idea, pull out your phone and ask Siri or Google Now, “In 15 minutes remind me to change landing page hierarchy based on Jen’s idea…”

Steve Jobs liked to say the computer is “a bicycle for the mind.” I love this phrase. I love it so much I created a Kickstarter project around it. I love it because it’s true. Amplify your mental abilities and creativity with your mobile devices. 

These devices are literally waiting to help you accomplish more.

Now Go Cyclops the Hell Out of Some Projects

I’m going to stop here before I list more tips for creative focus. I think this is a good foundation of ideas you can start applying to your you work right now.

They’re open to changing as needed to match your particular workflow.

If there’s anything you should take away from this it’s the importance of defining your goals and objectives and then breaking them down into manageable, actionable pieces.

You have the creative energy, now unleash it with focus.