>> Amy Alkon is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, radio show host, journalist, book author and blogger. She turns reporting on evolutionary psychology and behavioral science findings into an art form, combining great writing were deep yet humorous insight. The result provides terrific and practical advice for how ordinary people can live better lives. Amy's book, I See Rude People. And most recently, Good Manners for Nice People, Who Sometimes Say the F word. Have helped create a new genre of insightful humor, based on practical science. Amy may be, as the LA Weekly put it, Miss Manners with fangs, but I tend to think of her as the literary daughter of Charles Darwin and Dorothy Parker. In Amy's work, she's forced to learn fast, reading a new book every other day or so even if she's keeping up with her voluminous writing and radio show hosting. She has a great deal of insight about efficient learning. So, it's a pleasure to speak with her today about her work. Hi, Amy. Thanks so much for taking time from your busy schedule. We both know, we're both writers that writing is a form of learning. And so what I'd like to know is how do you use the focused and diffused modes to help you with your writing and with your learning? >> I'm normally, very focused in my writing. It's a very intense process for me every hour of writing. And so, I need to take a break from that in order to really have the information be assimilated into me. And so what I like to do is to see that I work every day, little by little on a piece of work that I'm doing. Because then in the background when I'm sleeping, when I'm washing dishes, when I'm doing something other than writing, that information has a chance to process in my brain and that's a very important thing for me. I used to sometimes wait until the last minute to start writing my weekly advice column. And this is a huge mistake, because I would fail to take advantage of the diffuse mode where I would have these sort of elves in my brain taking the information, running around, doing something with it and processing it. Instead, I would just be all last minute and I really wasn't as smart in my writing or my thinking, because of that, cuz I didn't have the extra time. And it wasn't that I spent so much time doing extra work, it was just doing it days ahead of time that really made a difference. >> That sounds a lot like the way I approach writing, as well. Well, tell me this, what do you do to help prevent procrastination? When you have the kind of writing job that you'd really rather not be doing? >> Well, all writing jobs are jobs I'd rather not be doing. It's sometimes you have a beautiful paragraph, it just goes like butter. It's wonderful, it's funny. It's all together and clear, but usually that's not the case. And so usually knowing that, I would rather do just about anything than write. This is the time I sit down to write and I think about lint that must be lurking behind my furniture. So what I do is I turn on a timer. I set the timer for an hour. I know other people use different times. 20 minutes, the pomodoro. But I like the hour, because that gives me enough time to into flow, a flow state where I maybe can lose myself in the work. And sometimes I'll get going and I just feel dumb and like I'm making no progress, but I start typing and I start thinking. And eventually, something will come and I usually do get to that state where I get lost in my work and something really wonderful happens, but you really need to put in that time like that and not go cling behind your furniture in order to make the work really work. >> You keep a very fast paced reading schedule on top of your regular work that many people would find daunting. How do you do it and do you have any special advice for picking out and remembering key points in books? >> One of the really important things I learned. I used to read whole books even if they were boring and terrible and I was reading War and Peace. And every other chapter is Napoleon, they're cold, their feet are wet. And these chapters were just boring with me. So, I realized it's okay to skip parts of books. And so now, I approach a book like I do a buffet. And I take the things from it that are important to me and I skip the parts that are not. So when I say, I read probably a book a night, but I don't read the whole book in every case. Some of them, I just open and I see they're not worth very much and I close them right away. But I think it's very important to, even when you're reading a chapter, if you see a story you've already read. If you read a lot of science, you'll read research that you've read a million times before. I just lop that off the chapter and move on to the stuff that I don't know and haven't read. I think it' s really important to be a critical reader in that way. And then the other question you asked me, so you asked how do, what was the second question? Sorry. >> [LAUGH] Do you have any special advice for picking out and remembering key points in books? >> Well, there aren't so many key points in books. And sometimes when a book is very important to me or a point is very important, what I'll do is I'll write it down. It's really important. Writing something down with an actual pen and ink. Remember, those? It seems to ingrain it into your brain better. And then what I do and this maybe seems funny, I tape it on the wall outside my shower and I can see it from when I'm there. And so, I can look at that idea when I'm there and this is a sort of diffused mode of thinking. I'm not really focused on it. I'm not as intense as I am when I'm reading a book, but it's just there and so I can think about it in a sort of less intense way. And it helps me ingrain an idea that maybe is a difficult idea to otherwise get. >> Any particular tips on how you learn most efficiently? >> When I read a passage, I don't quite get. I'll read it a few times, because sometimes the first time you miss things or it's the language that you're not used to. So that's pretty important. Another thing I'll do is go to other reference material, because sometimes someone is a poor writer, but has some really good ideas. So if I can understand the things they don't explain well, then I can maybe understand their idea better. >> That makes sense. Finally, do you have any tips related to sleep? >> I love sleep. I do about six things well and one of them is napping and this was not always the case. I took a yoga class, which I hate yoga. It was horrible, but the thing I learned to do was to breathe. I learned to slow down my breathing. And so in order to sleep, I just slow down my breathing. I'll take ten really, really slow breaths and I use that to slow myself down, so I can fall asleep. And something very important is not to sleep for too long. Because if you sleep for too long, you can actually get groggy. So I set my alarm clock for about 30 minutes and about 5 minutes of that is getting my dog to calm down, cuz she sleeps with her little snout on my neck. And she's only five pounds, she's not a Great Dane. So I then sleep for maybe 20 minutes, which seems to be a very good amount of time to give you a reboot rather than make you groggy. >> That all sounds great. And Amy, thank you so very much for all of these insights. I'm sure they'll be particularly helpful for the writers among us. So thank you so very much.