Raise your quality standards as high as you can live with, avoid wasting your time on routine problems, and always try to work as closely as possible at the boundary of your abilities. Do this, because it is the only way of discovering how that boundary should be moved forward.

This rule tells us that the obviously possible should be shunned as well as the obviously impossible: the first would not be instructive, the second would be hopeless, and both in their own way are barren.

As I wrote last week, I’m fascinated by how people determine how to allocate their mental resources. A friend sent me the paper from which the above quote is pulled, in which Professor Edsger Dijkstra describes his three rules for successful scientific research. I am not a scientist, but Dijkstra’s sentiments can readily be applied to other fields.

My friend also sent along another article relevant to this issue, this one by David Foster Wallace. From his Kenyon commencement address in 2005:

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

I love it. “Totally hosed”. Anyway some good follow up reading.