Self-Improvement Month: Math Refresher

On my way to the grocery store yesterday I listened to the Freakonomics episode How to Be More Productive as part of self-improvement month. Host Stephen Dubner begins the episode by asking his Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt about what he is working on improving about himself these daysLevitt’s answer is: (1) becoming better at golf and (2) learning German, primarily self-taught. This is probably a mainstream answer but – other than many people – Levitt ranks himself as a quite productive person (probably not too much of a surprise for an economist). So in the episode Dubner really wants to get to the bottom of people’s productivity and how one can become more productive at work and in personal life. Hence he introduces the listeners to Charles Duhigg, author of the book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. Duhigg has quite interesting ideas about how to become more productive. In particular, I like Duhigg’s list of eight productivity drivers:

  1. Motivation
  2. Focus
  3. Goal-setting
  4. Decision making
  5. Innovation
  6. Absorbing data
  7. Managing others
  8. Teams

Besides these eight more or less universal ingredients of productivity, Duhigg also talks about writing the perfect to-do list. They consist of stretch goals as well as distinct plans to make them achievable and realistic. I bought into Duhigg’s ideas and therefore took self-improvement month as an incentive to think about my goals and how my to-do list would look like. You can probably guess my stretch goal sitting at the top of my (long-term) to-do list from the blog’s name: I dream of proceeding to a graduate Economics programme after graduating from my bachelor’s next year.

So after having defined my stretch goal, what’s my distinct plan for achieving it? I know my strengths and weaknesses in Economics quite well and I would say that am on track for my classes. However, mathematics is probably my biggest area for self-improvement. There are just too few math classes undergraduate Economics programmes can fit into the busy teaching schedule. Also, I finished my advanced math class at high school in Germany already three years ago.

That is why I nudged myself to sit down today and do something ‘tangible’ to get closer to my stretch goal, a.k.a. refreshing my math skills! I decided to study the course Highlights of Calculus by Professor Gilbert Strang on MIT OpenCourseWare. I could listen to Professor Strang for ages. I admire him for his teaching style. He makes juggling equations so much easier (I also watched his other class on Linear Algebra a while ago, in case you are interested.)

In conclusion: mission self-improvement fulfilled for today. It was a rather productive day! Thanks Freakonomics!


Dubner, S.J. (2016, 20 April). How to Be More Productive [podcast]. Freakonomics Radio. Retrieved from: 

Strang, G. (2010). Highlights of Calculus. Retrieved from:

Strang, G. (2011). 18.06SC Linear Algebra (Fall 2011). Retrieved from:


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