the ART of studying (part 2): Effective Studying Techniques

I pushed myself to take up a Specialist Diploma in Teaching and Learning offered by my institution recently. It came with a thick reading list spanning three textbooks.

THREE! That’s thousand over pages!

It’s a fearful thought for me. After all, I didn’t manage to successfully continue my Japanese language learning, ever since I tried to restart the effort late 2014, and 2015, and 2016, and… you get the picture.

I figured that I have great problems focusing:

– My attention span shortens.

– My energy dips very quickly. This is especially so during weekday evenings, all tired from work.

– I get bored easily.

I really thought I lost all discipline to be able to learn something new effectively. Whatever happened to that drive I had while I’m in the university?

But I must pull through this. It is after all something that I wanted to do.

I needed a strategy to do this and hence, what it seems like for the first time in my life, I began to study how to study.

This is what I found worked for me to do some serious studying and I would like to share it with you. I like to summarise it using three ‘S’s: Start, Sustain, Study


Start: Beat Procrastination in a Minute

Don’t feel like studying? Just start studying for one minute whether you like it or not. I got inspired by the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, but instead of turning studying into a one-minute activity for that little improvement, I use the one minute to see if I can get into the groove of things, into that focus mode to study. If I can, I’ll continue to study!

But there will also be days which I just don’t. If that’s the case, I’ll cut myself a bit of slack and maybe just do a 15 minute session instead. Just need to make sure that this doesn’t happen too often.

Sustain: Pacing with the Pomodoro

The next part was really about sustainability, how to keep up with study and keeping the energy level up. The Pomodoro technique advocates that we can keep our energy up by working in the following cycle:

  • Study: 25 min
  • Active Rest: 5 min (Get up and walk around!)
  • Study: 25 min
  • Active Rest: 5 min
  • Study: 25 min
  • Active Rest: 5 min
  • Study: 25 min
  • Active Rest: 15 min

The best part is, it need not be 25 minutes and 5 minutes. We can tune it according to what our body can take. I find that I work the best using 35-5-30-5-30-10-25-30 cycle. I guess when I start getting even better at focusing, I can study for a longer period.

Study: The Mechanics of Reading a Textbook for Understanding

Reading for me is a very slow process and doesn’t work well for the kinesthetic learner in me. To read a chapter off a textbook more quickly and effectively, why not try the P2R method advocated by Cornell College:

1. Preview the chapter. Read the headings, the introduction paragraph, the concluding paragraph and the practice questions behind if there’s any to get a feel about what this chapter is going to be about. Reading the introductory paragraph to me is important because it can help to interest me to read further rather than stopping after previewing.

2. Read the chapter. Now, read it bit by bit. Make a mental note of the main points and the examples. If a chapter is very long, you may even want to divide the reading task into sub-chapters. Do NOT highlight or make notes at this point. Focus on the reading.

3. Review. Highlight, underline or write notes only at this point. I prefer writing notes because I no longer need to refer to my textbook that much after reviewing. I also have a tendency to draw pictures in my notes to make it fun to read.


I’m glad to say, it worked out well so far! I clock in 6 hours of reading the very first day I hit the books and still managing to focus for a good productive 1 to 4 hours for days to come.

I still haven’t quite figure out how to prevent my energy from dipping in the evening without napping or coffee (these have serious effects: insomnia may kick in!). As for Japanese, it’s really about going through the grammar guidebook which I felt works differently from textbooks. I guess I will need more time to figure out what will work for me better.

If you have any ideas how I can stay awake in the evening, or how I should go about learning a language at an advanced level, please let me know in the comments below!



Soak in LOCAL colours: Returning to Vietnam

And I didn’t know I will be returning to Vietnam for a second trip. This time round, it is a business trip at Danang. The traffic that filled with the constant honking continues to amaze me.

Seeing how a roadside chic juice store operates along an esplanade is even more amazing. Here’s a picture of it:

A roadside juice store in Vietnam, Danang

“Let’s do what the locals do,” I suggested to my colleague.

And we proceeded to one of the “front row” seats located outside the store.

The first thing that attracted me about the cafe was that where possible, everyone who was patronising the store sat facing the road and the river bank, oblivious to the air pollution and noise pollution. The seats and tables were small and arranged neat rows in the tightest possible configuration to fit in as many customers as they could. All seats were arranged facing the road and the river.

There were actually a couple of such cafes located all along the road. Some selling fruit juice but majority selling coffee. And only coffee. No snacks, just tea and coffee. The seats were almost always small, almost always arranged in a way such that you could look outside.

For this particular one, it comes with its own valet service manned by a team of six to eight young men!

The “team-leader” of the valet service inviting patrons on who were on their motorbikes.

They were extremely organised in my opinion. From observations, I believe they have split themselves into three teams:

The first team comprises the person who I perceived as the team leader, along with another would proactively call out to customers, ON BIKES, on the roads, to ask them to enjoy a drink in the store.

The second team will mark the bikes with chalk and safe-keep the keys for the customers.

The third team will ride the bikes to a parking space just behind the store.

The amazing thing was that business is extremely good! Every 2 minutes or so, the team will be able to attract business into the store. I wouldn’t have thought that such service could work.

Sometimes, interested customers may end up on the opposite side of the road, facing difficulty to ride across the other side of the road against the crazy Vietnam traffic. The team would then cross the road to help the customers to handle their bike.

Talk about personalised service!

I don’t think I ever saw such modus operandi in running a roadside cafe. It was an eye opening experience for me.

I don’t do a lot of shopping or eating or massaging when I’m travelling although I do enjoy a bit of touristy stuff once in a while. What I enjoy most is to learn the culture and observe how locals live their daily life. Another way to describe things, to “soak myself in local colours”.

Do you soak yourself in local colours too?



the ART of studying (part 1): the POWER of two JC students

We seldom meet and seldom speak. But we knew can have the most intellectual conversations together even after not contacting each other for so long. It’s always great to meet an old friend and reminisce about the past. Time really flies and it’s almost two decades since we’ve known each other.

And so, eventually, the topic about how N and I studied for examinations came into our conversations. My pet topic with the polytechnic students I teach. I find it an imperative to let them know how hard the JC students actually studied so that they won’t get a culture shock when they hit the university.

“… and I started studying during the mid-term break at about 9 weeks before the examination, doing past year papers, even though the Professor has not finished teaching more than half the material.

By the time we got into the examination study week, I would have almost ran out of past year papers to do!” I proudly declare it to N.

“Same here. I started studying two weeks before the start of the semester. As in, I will always read the lecture notes two weeks before the actual class.

By the time we got into the examination study week, I’ve already ran out of past year papers to do so I started search for Harvard and MIT papers from the Internet to do.” N spoke about it casually.

“You WHAT?!”

Didn’t realise he was that hard core.

There’s one thing we can both agree. Don’t ever study the last minute. We both spent the day before the examination doing something else much to the envious eyes of our own groups of friends.

Leadership in Action

A LEADER in the MAKING: Observing Leadership in my Students

I’ve appointed JH to be the chief technical lead of the class project. Within a short span of 5 minutes, he met the rest of the technical lead for a debriefing session, displaying exceptional tact and soft skills that could easily put some of the adults to shame.


He started the session by thanking the technical leads for the effort they have put in.

Integrity and Positivity

He was humble, mentioning that he too was “very messy” during the management of the class project but expressed optimism that the project had advanced at good speed despite all that.

Care for All

During the debrief, one of the technical leads highlighted that one of her team members was difficult to work with and had refused help from her. Together with the technical leads, they brainstormed about how to tactfully ask the team member for her progress and lead her to getting help if she needs it. He advised the technical lead to exercise more patience and expressed that things will go well.

I’m very impressed. I hope that he can continue to bring this into the working world and be a boss of some company. The world is going to need more leaders like him.


How I Select and Make New Year Resolutions Sustainable

There was this comprehensive framework which I’ve put together about 4 years back on making New Year Resolutions. It was all encompassing but like any framework or system which aims to be comprehensive, they are often too complicated to be sustainable. I think I didn’t complete a single resolution on one of the years that follow.

In the beginning of this year, I was determined to to get everything to work. I try to simplify the way I look at it and I think it worked! I’m proud that I’ve completed 11.5 out of 13 goals this year. I’ve also added on 3 stretched goals for myself, completing 2 out of 3 of it. It’s a slugfest but I thought it worked out.

As I headed to a hermitage to onder on life again this year, drew from past experiences, drew from new knowledge such as HARD goals, this is now what I think will work and make it sustain.

Sustainable is the key.

(1) Select Goals to Cover All Aspects

I still feel strongly that we should make goals from all of these aspects as they help to fuel each other to help you accomplish all the goals.

We need not categorise the goal though. One single goal can be crafted to cover multiple aspects at the same time.

  • Spiritual: Goals that contributes directly to what you want in life
  • Mental: Always learning something new and keep your mind alive and healthy
  • Social/Emotional: Things that can build up characters such as empathy, service and intrinsic security
  • Physical (and Emotional) Well-being: The essence of life and energy to run your goals
  • Financial: Money is always needed to help ease you through some of the harder to reach goals like it or not

(2) Write Heartfelt Reasons for Each Goal

All goals made must have a strong heartfelt reason written down. It is written down so that we won’t lose sight of why we are after that goal in the first place.

Not sure about you but sometimes I will lose sight of why I am after something working on it for too long. This helps me stay focus.

(3) Select a Way to Sustain until the Goal is Accomplished

I believe there are two basic ways we can engage a goal:

  • Habit-based: Work the goal into a routine that we can do daily or weekly. Once it is a habit, it becomes easy to sustain. Reinvent the habit if it gets too monotonous.
  • Project-based: Spend solid hours preferably no longer than two to three months working on the project. If it is, break it into smaller bits. Once we are done, we can relax and do something else.

And then we can mix and match! For my physical well being goal for 2018, as a project, I intend to craft a workout. Once I have that, I can set the workout as a habit and do it as a routine. I will also intersperse with mini projects such as completing a half-marathon and let’s see if I can get Gold for my final (hopefully) Individual Proficiency Physical Fitness test.

(4) Do it with Someone if Possible

From a famous African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. if you want to go far, go together.” Is there someone who you can share and accomplish the goal together with?

I also welcome the opportunity to form stronger bonds with my friends.

(5) It is OK to Refine and Redefine – Enjoy the Journey!

The perfectionist in me is really hard-up on completing my goals. It is like collecting stars for my report card. Really, I also learnt that it is ok to cut myself some slack. It is OK to refine my plans and redefine my goals if needed.

I’ve learned to look at the journey as an accomplishment too. This means I still need to see progress in me. Sometimes, circumstances change, a goal no longer seem that heartfelt, and it is time to wave goodbye to the goal for now.

And really, resolutions need not be set at the New Year. It can be done anytime. The magic of the New Year Resolution is that it gives me the chance to look at my life holistically at a regular interval.

My New Year Resolutions for 2018 are still not done up even though there’s only 10 hours to go but I have a good idea what I would like to do. Just need to pen it down to make sure my thoughts are crystal clear.

Wishing everyone a Happy 2018 in advanced and may you have a productive and fulfilling year ahead.


Designing Board Games | the Dilemma that Limits Potential

It has been slightly more than one year since I’ve started designing this game, with the focus on getting a few mechanics which I thought would be interesting to work on. It has been a difficult time trying to push the project forward when I have so many other mini-projects which I am working on at the same time.

Nevertheless, I’m proud that at the very least, the game managed to be play through till the end! This will mean that major parts of the game has stabalised. Moving forward, tweaks are needed and I can probably focus on a different part of the project a bit more. Like game balance, artwork, and UI/UX aspects.

At first, I was thinking that I will close the project after this play test as it has been taking far too long; I can’t commit time to work on it quickly. A small part of me wanted to see it to fruition as a published game now that it seemed like I’m close to completion. Deep down, I also know that this is probably not fun enough a game to attract players and I don’t feel like putting in that much effort into it.  Hence for now, this is a dilemma which I have.

It is actually not the first time I am faced with this dilemma. If I’m being absolutely truthful with myself, I probably didn’t see the push factor for me to drive it to be published – just too much work on top of my day job to see something through.

That’s what happen to music. I’m one step short of getting my music published in some way. I felt that there’s too much money to be invested in order to produce a proper demo to be sold. I’ll need to venture into bits that I don’t like to do, such as picking up the technical skills to do a proper demo recording. I felt bored as there was no longer a breakthrough.

And then I stopped.

And then I moved on to something else.

Come to think of it, I believe this is a dilemma that is going to limit my potential again and again.

While I’m not sure what to do with it yet, I better do something about it fast.


Last Run?

Carrying an injury into the half marathon and completing it in a bit over 2hr 25mins. Not my best run but at least it qualifies as an average.

The aftermath was unbearable though. Pain sets in.

The Chinese physician whom I consulted said I sustained injury to multiple joints. These include my right hip and my 3rd lumbar vertebra of the spine. The knees are not going well too.

“Swim. It’s good for you. Don’t run or jump or it’s going to aggravate the situation,” the physician warned.

“Am I going to recover?” I asked.

“Of course, you will. How old do you think you are?” he quipped.

I find little relieved in his words though. These days, every injury I sustained seemed to take me longer to heal. This is the first time I had an injury to my spine. Physically, I am really feeling my age.

Deep down, I really fear that I couldn’t run anymore.

But there’s still so many runs I have not done! Like the 4:30 pace for my 2.4km, the sub-2 Half Marathon, and I really wanted to do a marathon in Japan some day.

I need to treat self-care very very seriously.