When I bought my first computer years ago, I hired a tutor to teach me how to use it, but before she had finished giving me instructions my fingers were all over the keyboard pushing buttons. "What do these do?" I wanted to know. She was a little horrified because I could have frozen my computer, but she told me I was a natural-born hacker. I laughed and was glad to know that.
Hackers are naturally curious and resourceful. We like to find expedient ways to solve problems; kind of like design. I asked Neil Pavitt, author of Brainhack: Tips and Tricks to Reach Your Brain's Full Potential, (an incredibly useful book which he asked me to comment on before it went to press) for some effective hacks you might not know about. Happily he obliged:
1. Write by hand
You might argue that typing notes at a meeting or conference is better because it's easier. But the reason that handwriting is harder is exactly why it's so important. When you take notes by hand you can't write everything down. This means you have to think about the "essence" of what's being said.
Writing by hand actually uses more of the brain, as you need to make several strokes for each letter. Your working memory gets activated, as well as brain areas used for thinking and language. The more areas of the brain that are firing, the stronger connection is between the content of what you're writing and your brain; therefore the more you'll be able to remember later on.
2. Don't try to have good ideas
The first rule of having good ideas: Don't try to have good ideas. What's important is just to have ideas. When you have an idea you don't know how good it is. It can only be judged when you have more ideas to compare with it. American advertising legend George Lois said that he told everyone in his department to come up with a great idea for a client. He came back in an hour and nobody had any ideas at all. So he said, "Okay, come up with twenty ideas." He came back in an hour and everyone had twenty ideas. Some were good and some were bad, but they'd all managed to get twenty ideas.
3. Just say it
Verbalizing a problem to a person real or imagined, can be a huge help. By stating your problem out loud you are forced to mentally organize all the information you have regarding the problem. If you assume that the person you are explaining the problem to has little or no knowledge of the subject, it forces you to think about what the essence of the problem is. Stating the problem out loud engages many more areas of the brain than merely thinking about it.
4. Plan a pre-mortem
How parents prepare for trips is often a lot more sensible than how many companies prepare to launch their new projects. In business everyone is encouraged to be really positive, whereas parents are worriers and imagine the worst: "What happens if it rains all the time?" or "What happens if the children get hurt?"
Rather than imagine a project your working on is going to be a success, try imaging it's going to be a complete failure. Because if you can imagine what could go wrong, you can fix it before it ever happens.
5. Turn performance anxiety into performance energy
At work you want focused performance energy, but you don't want the stress that comes with performance anxiety. The trouble is, your adrenal gland can't tell the difference between you needing the energy at work, to you worrying about it at night. Stress is just performance energy that's outstayed its welcome.
So to make your performance energy work for you, start by spending less time thinking and more time planning and doing. If you've got a speech or presentation to make, don't spend time imagining how it's going to go, write down what you're going to say and practice it.