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How to train your mind for analytical thinking?

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I recently started going to the GYM. Quite a big achievement for me to be going to the gym regularly for more than a month. What always made me irregular was a lack of motivation to go to the gym everyday. However, I made some key changes this time. For starters, I paid a personal trainer and tightly followed a diet schedule. In around 20 days I realized I was able to lift 3 times the weight and 1.5 times the repetitions of the same exercise. Did my muscles become thrice as strong as before? No, what my trainer played on was “the muscle memory”. Say, I lifted 10kg on a particular exercise yesterday and struggled to make 10 repetition, but somehow did it. Today, my muscle already knows I was able to complete 10 repetition on 10 kg. This time I struggle far less, because I am already prepared for what is coming.

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I realized that same logic applies with the power to think. If you make calculations on daily basis, your calculations become more reflexive and accurate. An average working person in weekday spends 25-30% of his time sleeping, 40-60% of his time working , 10% of time eating and 15-25% idle. In this busy world more than 50% of our idle time is spent on road. You can use this particular time to develop sharper reflexes on numbers. This article will illustrates some engaging methods that I use in this idle time to sharpen my brain reflexes.

Some examples :

Driving alone to office, sitting in a cab to airport ,and travelling in trains, metro or bus are boring . I, however, engage myself in small puzzle solving which not only engages me, but also sharpens my brain reflexes. Here I will take some puzzles which I solve everyday while on the way to the office:

1. Escape cops :

By far “the most interesting one” . Everyday, I am just in time to leave for office. If the traffic is heavy, it becomes sometimes inevitable to cross signal just after it turns red. But on some blind turns, you find the traffic police waiting for the next meat. Here’s what I did to predict the number of police standing on the blind turns. I took two attributes to predict whether I will find cops or not. These attributes were :

a. Day of the week

b. Pattern of cops on previous junctions


Using the above decision tree, I find a particular node, where I found almost zero probability to find a cop on blind junction. Till date, the algorithm works fantastically, but I am still figuring out better attributes to follow.


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2. Time to office :

Here’s an interesting one again. It takes me 35 mins to reach office. But in case I get late for 2 mins at any particular road, I am almost able to calculate the exact time I can expect to reach the office. It’s simple but accurate. I have calculated the time it takes to cover each segment of the route and a factor in different scenarios of traffic at each segment. In total I have 7 check points at a difference of 5 mins. each in case of light traffic. Looking at the traffic in first segment gives me reasonable information to find the right multiplier for each of the segments.


Till date I have been able to predict the time to office within first 5 mins of drive in a confidence interval of +/- 3 mins.

3. How fast is the other vehicles :

This is the most addictive one. I always know my own vehicle’s speed and can judge the distance of approach of other vehicles in 10 seconds. Hence, I am able to calculate the relative velocity of other vehicle and, finally, the absolute velocity of the other vehicle.


4. Sizing of services we use :

Whenever I take an auto-rickshaw, taxi or any other services, I try to calculate the total sizing of that business model and the profit individual players make in the process. I have had the most interesting conversation with the drivers, who always had some new insight on ground realities which I missed to incorporate while thinking of the business model. You can read my article on sizing problems here (https://www.analyticsvidhya.com/blog/2014/01/tips-crack-guess-estimate-case-study/). Even though the article focuses more on interview approach, you can leverage same framework to do the sizing of services on daily basis. Not only will you find it interesting but also you will improve your analytical skills.


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Potential benefits of implementing such practices:

 Three basic benefits which I have realized by implementing such practices are as follows:

1.  Power to innovate in problem statement and its solution:

To bring an out of box solution, you always need an out of the box problem statement. As an analyst, I continuously feel the need to find fact based problems which can create significant impact. We are surrounded by facts, and to search for the right facts to build up implementable solution is what it takes to be a successful analyst.

When we do a regular search of such interesting problems, our reflexes to look at imperfections sharpens. We are more capable of  to think of new business cases which can become impact full projects.

2. Sharpen the reflexes to calculate faster:

Practice makes man perfect. It does so in two ways. First, your brain tends to retain some frequent calculations. Say, 1 million * 1000 = 1 billion. You don’t need to calculate the number of zeros because it gradually becomes very intuitive. Imagine thousands of such combinations right on the tip of your head. Engaging free time to make meaningful calculations for sure makes your calculative reflexes sharper.

3. Think about the same problem in many angles and choose the most effective one:

The puzzles can be very simple, but thinking the same puzzle with different methods and then comparison of different answers not only is interesting in nature but also helps you build on your evaluative skills. We gradually start to implement the same on complex scenarios.


End Notes:

 Most of my experiences which I shared in this article were implemented while I was not driving.Do try this practice and let us know of your exciting routine problems. Try to be innovative while defining a new problem. The more challenging is the problem more interesting will be your after thoughts.

Did you find the article useful? Share with us any other problem statements you can think of.Also share with us other techniques you use to keep your brain in its front foot.  Do let us know your thoughts about this article in the box below.

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  • solomon says:

    This is amazing.

  • RJ says:

    Very interesting !! an nicely written . How did you come up with Response and total values ? Was its measurement over 12 days ?

  • Tavish Srivastava says:

    Thanks Rj. I assume you are talking about the cop problem.The data was measure over a period of 2 months. Also the time of the day in each event stays constant, hence , is not a sigmnificant variable in the model. Otherwise my hypothesis is that it will be very significant if the event were occuring randomly at any time of the day.

  • Radhika Banka says:

    This is really amazing and helpful! Thanks for circulating smallest and important information.

  • Abhinav Sharma says:

    Thank you Tavish for sharing this information……..
    Looking forward for more business analytics methods that can help us get closer to Analytics in day to day life….

  • Naveen Pandey says:

    This one is amazing. Got my mind thinking on different such events I chose to ignore normal days. Thanks.

  • manoj kandel says:

    it is good thought to make mind busy on calculation, its leads to accuracy and creativity. i usually follow the pattern and its really works for me.

  • Chitra Belwal says:

    Tavish, what a great piece of writing! Very impressed with the simple language and everyday problem statements that I could connect with.. usually I find posts on analytics somewhat abstract and heavy on content.

    I wish to explore Analytics more and make a switch into this career for the sole reason that I like to exercise my brain as much as I can. But sadly, I find myself to be bad at this. For e.g. in office meetings whenever some discussion goes on about pros and cons of any approach to solve a problem, I contribute the least. I am just not able to think through different scenarios or contest/challenge a solution presented before me. I always need a lot of time in alone to come up with anything substantial. That’s why I fear I analytics might not be a good field for me.

    What do you suggest ? Do you see it merely as a mental block that I should be able to overcome with more and more practice or is it really so that some people do have that gifted sharp brain to think out-of-the-box ?

    PS – I have a little over 3 years of work exp in IT now.

  • Imsy says:

    Recent years I do the 4th point almost all the time! Just can’t stop doing that when I am idle. The relativity of cars and trains was my best one during my intermediate college days. Loved to hear that from you and connected well with you in these points! 🙂

  • jaison says:

    I am graduate in bsc STATISTICS, planning to a post graduation diploma in applied statistics and software affliated with Mumbai university which includes software like R, SAS, SPSS. what is your opnion on it and may you please guide through the career options linked to it
    thank you,

  • Anand Phand says:

    This is amazing… Would like to share my analytics approach in day to day life on same line.. 1. Escape from cop. Yes Day n occasions does matter along with how you appear to drive on road. My algo so far helped me to pass cop even they happen to present on blind turn.
    2. Boarding a train without reservation (general ticket) n chances to get a seat:
    What I observed is reservation list .. Count no. Of passengers boarding from start point.. Get idea about approx rate of passanger getting onboarded in time interval.. Identify seat that may remain vacant ( this is quick ) .. So far I able to get seat while traveling in train without reservation. Algo applicable to my route at least.
    Liked this article… Analytics can simplify your life if used thoughtfully.

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