Sunday, October 22, 2017

Work Better With Mental Tricks

My brain does tricks. So does yours, probably, but you might not even know it.

One of my current job's responsibilities involves putting labels on boxes of product. While this may seem inane in and of itself, it's a little more complicated than that: each item of product has a seriel number, and each label has one and only one matching number.

Oh, and all the boxes look identical.

It sounds tedious at best, especially if the boxes and labels aren't in some semblance of order, which suggests one has to look through all of the labels to find the correct one for a singular item. Except it's not.

Searching for item numbers itself would be prone to error, even without a significant difficulty of transposing them, and would have to be done more meticulously and less quickly.

CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
CANOE
Unless you have a trick.

I have a trick.

Instead of looking for The Number (which in most cases includes letters), I can tell my brain to look for the pattern of The Number. Brains can process patterns faster than language.

Set that aside for a moment, and let me try to explain this a little, mostly because it's not easy to explain, and it's something that's really easy to think you understand without actually getting it. (No offense.)

Allegorical Situation One
If you write or type or print or scribble or read one word over and over again, it stops making sense. You stop seeing it as a word, and it starts looking like gibberish, like random lines drawn on a page. You still know that it's a word, you still know what word it's supposed to be, you still know what the word means, but it doesn't look right.

To the right is a small example (all-caps works fastest for me), but it may not be enough iterations to set it off for you. if you need more, try this for uppercase and this for lowercase (leave a comment on the pages where it stops looking like a word).

Allegorical Situation Two
You're in a grocery store, looking for a particular flavor of yogurt. Strawberry banana. Except this isn't a normal grocery store, this only sells yogurt (like Galco's, except yogurt instead of soda; it's allegorical, just run with it)

Now, while you could walk through the aisles randomly or systematically, reading every label or a random selection of labels looking for strawberry banana, but that would take a while. On the other hand, you can probably imagine (and probably already have without consciously doing it, especially if you eat strawberry banana yogurt on a regular basis) what the picture on a strawberry banana yogurt label looks like.

So instead of reading all the labels, you can scan the shelves for a label that closely resembles the image in your head. This will be noticeably faster.

Allegorical Tie-In
So how does this come together?

In the first situation, I showed that you can turn readable text into some unreadable shape. In the second section, I showed that you can scan for shapes faster than you can scan for words.

Together, and with some practice, you can stop thinking about serial numbers as readable alphanumeric text, and start seeing them as shapes and patterns. When you can do that, you can do what I do: switch your mind from recognizing the characters as language and search and identify the matching label faster.

It's not terribly dissimilar to what some speed-readers do. Instead of reading a book letter by letter, or word by word, they read it line by line, their brains recognizing the meaning from the shape of the line, rather than just the shape of the words.

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