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Principles in Perspective: A Review of “The Last Lecture”

Principles in Perspective: A Review of “The Last Lecture”

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    The Last Lecture is a book based on an internet sensation, the “Last Lecture” given by computer scientist Randy Pausch at Carnegie-Mellon University.  Pausch died tragically of pancreatic cancer in 2008; the principles he discusses in his last lecture (and in a companion lecture on time management, both of which are available on the internet) take on a whole new meaning in light of the fact that they were given by a man who was face-to-face with his own mortality.

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    The Last Lecture
      The Last Lecture

      The book has much to recommend it to the reader of Lifehack.  Pausch was the consummate go-getter who inherited from his parents a drive to go out and get the answers to questions rather than to simply ask questions (p. 22).  He inherited from his youth football coach a reverence for fundamentals and execution, without which “the fancy stuff is not going to work” (p. 36).  Pausch highlights this by asking whether self-esteem is something that can be given, as many educational theorists argue, or whether it is something that is developed by developing the ability to do things that one previously couldn’t do.

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      Pausch illustrates the principles he lays out with examples from his academic career.  He encouraged students to listen to those who would criticize them because this meant that they actually cared about their performance (pp. 36-37).  He mentions a meeting with William Shatner and holds up hiss earnest attitude and desire to learn about virtual reality as a quality that would be admirable in any graduate student (p. 45).  He discusses the power of framing in light of Disney employees who, when asked when the park closes, would reply that “the park is open until 8:00” (p. 62, emphasis added).

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      Among Pausch’s theme is his point that people are more important than things (pp. 69-70).  For the Pausch family, cars were never a status symbol but were instead means of getting from one place to another.  This point resonates with me in light of a recent addition to our family (our son, Jacob, was born at the end of July).  Life is too short and family and friends are too precious to worry about whether a car, couch, or carpet will survive if something is spilled on it.  Pausch didn’t sweat small details and uses a story about his wife crashing one of their cars into another to argue that “not everything needs to be fixed” (p. 87).  Particularly after it was discovered that his cancer was terminal, he and his wife had to learn that small things, like clothes left on the floor, don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

      The book is strongest when it moves to practical application.  As a professor myself, I found that much of what Pausch had to say about organization, teaching, and disposition resonated with me.  In discussing his educational philosophy, he argued that “educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective” (p. 112).

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      Through the second half of the book he offers a number of pithy expressions, some recycled and some original, that illustrate important principles about how to actually live.  Chapter 29 is titled “Earnest is Better Than Hip.”  On page 134 he reproduces advice from his parents, who said that “you buy new clothes when your old clothes wear out.”  A chapter beginning on page 138 exhorts us: “Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder” because “complaining does not work as a strategy” (p. 139).  He encourages people to discount what people say and pay attention to what they do.  He leaves us with sound advice about apologies (p. 161), honesty (pp. 163-164), and humility (pp. 168-170).

      I found an anecdote about treating symptoms rather than disease quite compelling (pp. 139-140).  Pausch tells us about a girl he knew who tried to deal with her financial problems through Tuesday night yoga.  Pausch pointed out to her that if she worked evenings and gave up yoga, she would be able to pay off her debts within a few months.  She did so, and I presume she was able to enjoy her yoga on a whole new level after her debts had been paid off.

      The Last Lecture is a quick, easy read that has much to recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in improving their performance.  The tragic context in which the book was written makes it all the more poignant.  Randy Pausch is no longer with us, but his legacy will live on in The Last Lecture.

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      Last Updated on September 16, 2019

      How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

      How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

      You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

      We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

      The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

      Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

      1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

      Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

      For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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      • (1) Research
      • (2) Deciding the topic
      • (3) Creating the outline
      • (4) Drafting the content
      • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
      • (6) Revision
      • (7) etc.

      Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

      2. Change Your Environment

      Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

      One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

      3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

      Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

      Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

      My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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      Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

      4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

      If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

      Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

      I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

      5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

      I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

      Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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      As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

      6. Get a Buddy

      Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

      I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

      7. Tell Others About Your Goals

      This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

      For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

      8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

      What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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      9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

      If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

      Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

      10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

      Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

      Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

      11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

      At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

      Reality check:

      I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

      More About Procrastination

      Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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