Monday, April 15, 2013

April 15th, 2013

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

‘Measure twice and cut once’ is the time honoured mantra of engineering. It translates to ‘double check before you commit’ for those in other realms of activity. Personally, I tend to measure ‘several times and cross check with a competent colleague before cutting carefully’, which saves a lot of time and money in the longer run. I find this approach essential in building aircraft and developing aviation solutions. I take the same approach to all aspects of my life.

When I undertook my ‘CBT’, or Compulsory Basic Training, for riding motorcycles in the UK, they introduced the concept of the ‘lifesaver’. A lifesaver is that ‘glance over your shoulder before you commit to your turn’. A sort of ‘double check because your mirror does not capture everything’ approach. That lifesaver has saved many lives, including my own!

The whole concept of ‘double check’ is key to so much in all that we do. Triple check is good too! Although I am known for my apparent ‘quick decision making’, most people miss my ‘Fall back. Consider. Establish. Forge Ahead.’ approach. For example, we can be working on a concept in the workshops, such as the new door mechanism for our delivery pod attachment on the aircraft, when suddenly I will declare ‘STOP! Hold those thoughts. Do something else / go home and sleep on it.’ After a while people get used to the concept!

We can be just about to go ahead on the production of the parts we have decided on, or even about to fit them already made, and then my annoying ‘FALL BACK!’ order comes out to spoil the excitement. 99% of the time we find that the next day we see something we would have missed, had we continued in our wave of activity.

This is not a reason for putting things off. However, sometimes a good night’s sleep can help us to solve a problem in a more creative manner – or to spot something we may have otherwise missed. How often do we miss out on the ‘silent work’ of sleep?

Of course, it needs to be a good sleep – not one brought by late night TV watching or ‘a little alcohol’. It must be that natural sleep, gently entered into, as you drop off thinking about the challenge at hand. Amazingly, our nocturnal neural connections can save us time, energy and ultimately money – and all while we sleep. Some of my best ideas have come from the horizontal contemplation of the universe!

Years ago, when I would write thousands of lines of computer code per week, I would keep a computer in the bedroom. In the middle of the night I would jump out of bed, power up the PC and start to type. As the code burst came to an end, I would slip back between the sheets and sleep some more.

I still get up in the night to work. I wake up and have the ideas skipping across my grey matter like stones being side thrown across water, making ripples that interact across the surface. I find that when I extricate myself from the sleeping bliss to pour out my ponderings and thoughts onto the screen or paper, the ideas flow. That is often how this column gets written a few hours before the copy deadline!

How often have you woken up in the night with a good idea, only to doze off again and then be angry in the morning that you cannot remember your idea of golden proportions from the wee small hours? It has happened to me too many times, and now I am disciplined enough to get up for a couple of hours and to pour out the concepts. In fact I enjoy it!

There are massive benefits of this nocturnal distillation process. The quietness is wonderful! It is amazing to hear the insects outside the window rubbing their legs against their wings in such delicate viola like productions of harmony. The creaking of the metal roofing sheets contracting in the cool night air punctuating the natural music with its arrhythmic percussion. As the dawn nears, the birds one may have never paused to listen to before, add their solo routines to the night-time extravaganza. Such inspirational music cannot be captured with full emotion, even with the most modern digital equipment, and must be listened to ‘live’!

Then there is the air. The early morning, pre-dawn, air is special. It is somehow cleaner, thicker and without a doubt cooler, than the day time air. The way it moves in the darkness feels slower and it appears to wrap itself over my bare shoulders like a shawl, adding to the whole event an emotion of being cared for by the embryonic day that is waiting to be born.

Finally, there are the creaks from the bodies turning in the beds of the sleeping souls in the building. The little murmurs that we emit in our sleep, unaware that others are listening and working. Such moments add a smile to the face of the symphony, a caring thought, and finally, as the words and ideas fall out onto the paper or screen, those very noises draw you back to the land of the horizontal for the remaining, generally short, portion of the night.

Some of my best ideas have come out in the hours between 2am and 5am. A special time. Partially rested, fully awake, totally focused. No telephones to disturb the pace of the typing. No sudden visitors to distract from the task in hand. Focus and natural unity with the planet.

Perhaps there should be classes on ‘pre-dawn thinking and writing’? The only problem being that others may start getting up and doing the same thing as me, spoiling my private night-symphonies and inspiration from the neural connectivity that appears to be sacredly stored in the pre-dawn.

Perhaps I should keep these ideas to myself, and not let others in on the secret behind my thinking and writing – I certainly do not want to encourage any more e-mails to come into my box overnight! Although the internet is much, much faster between 0100 and 0600 each morning!

I think that each of us has to find a way to stimulate our ‘thinking lifesaver’ or our ‘subliminal think twice act one / measure twice cut once’ solution. We all have something inside of us that holds our creativeness – but we have to be ready to grasp it, look it in the eye and then find a way to release its energy to our advantage.

I am confident that my approach of ‘sleeping on it’ and ‘getting up and writing it down’ has saved me more time and money than even I realise. Well, it is 0400 now, and I will head back to bed before proof reading this again and then sending it off!

What do you do to maximise your productivity and what is your ‘lifesaver’ – please let me know, I would be pleased to learn about it!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail )

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