14 February 2019

My learning - Part 18 - Reflections

Seven, for me, important insights

  1. The hourglass model and the learning modes were both very interesting concepts I had never formalized before and both turned out to have far bigger implications than I anticipated.
        
  2. Only focusing on the big lessons and basically ignoring all other content is something I've used pretty much everywhere for a very long time but after making myself more aware of it I feel less guilty of doing it and I feel like I will be able to do it in a more deliberate, effective way.
        
  3. I need less stuff not more.
         
  4. Over the years I've looked far and wide to improve my ability to learn. What this experience has taught me is I forgot to look in the most important place: Myself.
          
  5. Sometimes I feel like my motivation is the most irrational thing in the universe. But it turned out the old saying is true:
    "To be understood you must first understand".
    These blog posts made me understand what's happening when I gain or lose motivation and this knowledge has already helped me better control it.
         
  6. My old way of thinking (avoiding not being great) still haunts me and writing this blog series made me realize I'm far from done replacing it with a "better why".
          
  7. I want to get back to that action-oriented learner I use to be and I think these blog posts have both inspired me and shown me how to get there.
        

Three things I'll try

  1. Self-coaching in a more formal way.
         
  2. Deconstruct the concept of learning.
        
  3. Learn something and immediately teach it to someone else
        

How to get more action-oriented

  • More and better self-coaching.
  • Even more emphasis on experiments.
  • Remove some passive self-education to make room for more "doing".
  • Reform my "why" to create a "why" that matters to me and that truly centers around actions.
  • Hang out with more action-oriented friends as well as friends who might not be very action-oriented but open to join me on this journey.
  • Define and perform actions based on things I learn. Keep doing it until it becomes a habit.
        

Removing is more important than adding

I started this series assuming I needed more:
  • More time
  • More learning resources
  • More information to process
  • More people
  • More models
  • More everything
But now I sit here thinking I need less:
  • I don't need more time
  • I want to limit my learning resources to better learn from the ones I use
  • I want fewer resources to create less distraction
  • I want to spend more time with the people I know rather than look for new
  • I want to actively forget/ignore things so what's left becomes more clear
  • I want to simplify concepts and focus more on deconstruction
  • I want to stop gathering information and instead use what I already have
The problem is not that I have too little information; the problem is I have so much information that what's relevant becomes hard to find.
 

How will I follow this up? 

First of all I'm pretty sure I'll get plenty of reasons to follow up these posts thanks to friends reading them and asking questions (true so far).

However, on my phone I've also scheduled a reminder to revisit each of the blog posts individually about two months after they're published. Probably not necessary but better safe than sorry.
 

Bottom line

This has been a tremendous journey which I'm happy I stuck with and I'm proud of the result!

At the same time I'm happy it's over. I've spent more hours than I want to admit writing it and it's time to catch up with friends, family and other parts of my life I've had to cut back on (sorry Louise, Jesper, Helena and others). In the end I'm more motivated than ever to learn but also more aware than ever that some things in life are more important.

From the bottom of my heart:
Thank you for joining me on this adventure and good luck on your own! ♥

My learning - Part 17 - Your learning


In this post I'll try to describe things I've discovered while writing this series that I think are applicable, but not obvious, to most of you as well as common mistakes (my opinion) I see among my peers.

Notice this is my view, you decide what's true for you. I'm more than happy to discuss all of these just to help you understand what might actually be relevant to you and what you should ignore.
 

Set a direction

Without a clear direction it's, at least for me, hard to build motivation and hard to be effective. So make sure you spend enough time figuring out what you want, why and what's a good method to get there. You can also try to write this down if you feel like you have a hard time keeping your focus... maybe print it out and put it in a frame .)

On the other hand: Be careful because finding the "optimal what" and "optimal how" is an impossible project! What you need is a great enough "what", a good enough "how" and a "why" that means something to you. Or to put it in another way: The easiest way to find your true calling is to just fully commit to (almost) anything for long enough. As your competence grows passion comes with it.
  • Finding a "why":
    • What will I get from learning this?
    • Why is learning this important to me?
    • What is one tangible thing I want to learn to do?
          
  • What kind of career do I dream about?
    • Which skills would I need to do that job well? 
    • Which skills seem most important to get a good start in this direction? 
    • How can I learn those skills?
    • Which of those skills seems the most fun and/or useful to learn?
    • What's an easy way to start learning that skill?
         
  • What's the most interesting skill to learn relevant to...
    • My most important working task?
    • My most common working task?
    • My most engaging working task?
    • A task at work I'd like to be allowed to do more often?
    • A job I'd like to apply for?
    • One of my hobbies?
          
  • Is learning important to me in general? Why / why not?
        

Learn about your own learning before learning about learning

People sometimes tell me "how learning works" but when I ask them how they learn they can't really answer or their answer is not about how they actually learn but how they think they should learn (the latter by the way has been a huge challenge to avoid when writing this blog series).

What I suggest is before you read anything else about "the best way to learn" sit down, figure out how you learn and write it down:
  • Describe how you successfully learned a particular thing in the past.
  • If you were to describe your learning with just three words, which words would you choose and why?
        
  • What in general motivates you and what makes you lose motivation?
  • When did you learn the most in the shortest amount of time?
    • How did you do it and why was that so effective?
  • When was learning effortless? Why?
    • Did it ever stop being effortless? Why?
  • When was learning the most fun? Why?
          
  • List your top three sources (books, people etc.) based on how often you use them?
  • List your top three sources based on how effective you think they are for you?
  • Did the list of most effective match with most common? If not, why not?
         
  • What makes information stick for you?
  • Give three examples of situations where learning something led to action
    • What made you act?
  • When did you last try a new way to learn?
    • What did you do?
    • How did it go?
  • What makes you reflect?
         
  • What do you want to learn right now?
  • What skill is most important to do your job well?
    • How can you improve it?
           
  • Which are the strongest distractions for you?
  • Which are the most common distractions for you?
  • Are these more important than learning and if not, how could you remove them?
          
  • Who would you like to learn from and why?
  • Which kind of ... do you prefer?
    • Books
    • Podcasts
    • Blog posts/articles
    • Learning events
    • Learning buddies
           
  • Where are you usually when you educate yourself (location)?
  • Where do you prefer to be when you educate yourself?
  • What's important to make a location a good learning place for you?
        
  • What helps you get started?
  • What makes you stop educating yourself?
       
  • Which are your strengths as a learner?
  • How do you maximize these strengths/make you utilize these strengths better?
        

Only look for nuggets

"Only focus on the big lessons"
from My strategy
   
"I aim to only note down what I think is - useful for me - right now."
from Note-taking
  
"I don't have the goal of completing a book; I read books to extract the big lessons"
from How I read books

Stop worrying about the things you might miss and start worrying about wasting your time on things you will never use anyway.
 

Take control over your learning at work

You're not needy if you take responsibility for your own learning at work, you're a professional who actually gives a damn and companies typically want that.
  • Suggest courses and conferences, don't wait for your manager's suggestions.
  • Ask if the company can fund books your want to read/online courses you want to attend.
  • Ask if you can run experiments at work that might benefit both you and the company.
  • Ask if you can attend learning events on working hours.
  • Ask if you can get an hour of paid time to self-educate yourself each week. Your chance of success is higher if your manager knows you spend several hours of spare time each week self-educating yourself already. 
  • Ask if you can observe/learn from people having roles you want to have in the future (e.g. follow one of the sales managers for a day).
  • Start a community of practice or local meetup group for a relevant topic at work.
  • Share your learnings with colleagues (blog, present, discuss).
  • Be open about how much time and effort you spend on your self-education outside of work.
  • Don't assume your manager knows what kind of education you need.
  • Don't assume what you're trying to learn right now is not relevant to your employer.
  • Just because no one else cares about their education doesn't mean you shouldn't.
        

Find a peer

Find a peer!!! This person can be just a conversation partner to whom you share your recent learnings or projects or it might be someone you actively learn together with. Read the part about People to get some help with finding a person like this. A peer can be a complete game changer (doesn't matter if you consider yourself an extrovert or introvert) so even though finding one might be intimidating, time consuming and hard; it's still worth it! Start online if meeting in person is not your thing.

Another way to accomplish this is to take one of your close friends and suggest: "Hey, I have this crazy idea that we should learn <something> together, what do you think?"
 

Deconstruct something

Go back to Reflection and read about deconstruction then take a concept you think you already know or some concept you're trying to learn and deconstruct it. This is a powerful tool that can truly change your perception even of things you think you know well.

     

11 February 2019

My Learning - Part 16 - Optimal conditions

Finding time

Finding time is actually quite easy:
I have a hard limitation of 24 hours to spend every day. If I cheat too much with my sleep I won't get much out of the rest of the hours so roughly 8 hours are dedicated to sleep. Now there are 16 hours left. During these hours I can basically do whatever I want as long as I have the resources necessary.

Obviously I have to be careful how I use parts of that time if I want my important relationships to last, my kids to thrive and have food for tomorrow but even with three young kids I'm pretty free to spend these 16 hours the way I want. So I prioritize and since e.g. family and friends are prioritized higher than learning new stuff, learning new stuff won't get all those 16 hours.

That being said there are a few things I can do, related to time, that greatly impacts how much I learn:
  1. I can stop spending time on things with lower priority
  2. I can minimize the time I spend waiting
  3. I can do other tasks more efficiently
  4. I can make my own education more efficient
  5. I can incorporate learning in more prioritized activities
Let's take them one by one; first I can stop spending time on things like video games, board game design projects or programming projects (not related to learning) or I can do these things together with my kids or with friends so I get to do them without "wasting any time from learning and other higher priorities".

Second I can be more direct in my decisions. For instance after dinner I might wanna write on this blog post but I also want to spend time with my wife, if that's important to her that day. What often happens is I end up in some kind of limbo where I basically wait to see if my wife wanna do something without really doing anything meaningful while I wait. In these scenarios I can either use that waiting time to get some house keeping out of the way or I can straight up ask her which cuts the waiting time significantly.

Next up is optimization; I can do the other activities (like house keeping) more efficient. One way of making this happen is minimize multitasking, another is to remove unnecessary steps or simply skip whole activities. This is obviously a huge topic in and of itself but an interesting one that helps free up time for e.g. learning.

Related to that is optimizing my learning. This is basically what this whole series is about but just as a reminder: When doing the most effective learning actions (which are often the scariest for some reason) I get a lot of extra time I can spend on either more learning or on other things that are important to me. The less time I feel like I can spend on my learning the more important the quality of my learning activities get.

Finally I can try to incorporate learning in things I prioritize higher. Some great examples of this is learning together with my kids, practice on my kids (kids are excellent to practice coaching on for instance) or hang out with friends who are also passionate learners.
 

Work time

Also related to incorporating learning in more prioritized activities: I try to get my work to fund my education as much as possible:
  • Many employees don't use up their education budget meaning, from a budget perspective, it's a better deal for my employer to spend some extra bucks on my education than on my salary. Since I spend parts of my salary on education anyway there's some potential here.
        
  • I'm clear about my ambition and how much spare time I spend on education and try to back this up by doing public activities like organizing learning events or by sharing useful material with colleagues. This seems to make my employer more interested in investing in my education.
        
  • From the perspective of my employer a more expensive course seems like a better deal than a long one (time is money). So outside of work I generally spend more time but less money while at work I let my employer send me on fewer courses in exchange for them sending me to the ones I think are the best even when they cost a little extra. Win-win.
        
  • I take a very active role in my education at work. I make sure I know who the relevant thought leaders and teachers are in the business and if they have any courses planned in Linköping/Sweden/Europe. I also research the courses before I ask my manager so I can present a good business case for what it would bring the company (and myself).
        
  • I organize learning activities at work. This way I get to be a part of them and generally there's a lack of initiatives like this so it's appreciated by my employer.
This doesn't mean I go to tons of courses or spend an insane amount of work time educating myself but it means I get to attend the courses I think are best both for myself and the company as well as get the opportunity to participate in more learning activities at work than most.

Finally, just to be clear, this actually makes a lot of sense for my employer (as in: I'm not just using them):
Education is hard and few spend their spare time learning about learning, learning about teaching or staying up to date with courses in various topics. So the fact that I do all this makes me a valuable resource to the company when it comes to education for everyone, not just me. So the extra perks I described above is more a by-product of me offering a service to my employer rather than me putting up demands.
    

Making time

I've taken some very deliberate decision in my life that helps me create that extra time for learning.

First off I try to get up early in the morning (alarm set to 5 AM). This gives me some extra time before the rest of the family wakes up. Getting use to this wake up time was surprisingly easy; the two tricks I used was to simply get up at 5:00 no matter when I got to bed (made me adjust the time I went to bed pretty quickly) and the second was to never snooze.

I use to be able to have some time available after 7 PM when the kids had went to bed. Now when they're a little older that time is slowly shrinking though.

Next there's travelling. Before I travel anywhere I make sure I've prepared books I want to read, pods/audio books I want to listen to etc. I also often take an extra early bus to the railway station/airport. This way I don't have to stress and I get some extra time to read while waiting.

Finally my wife works as a nurse so she often works during evenings, weekends and public holidays. This means there's time available when my wife is working and the kids are either with friends or play with each others.
 

Balance

I constantly manage my time so I have somewhat of a balance between maintaining my important relationships, finishing various "musts and shoulds", maintaining myself and maintaining my learning. If I fail doing this I can end up in situations where I don't have enough time to learn things (which badly impacts my motivation to learn) or too much time, meaning I've "stolen" time from other activities that are more important in my life.

Balance however doesn't mean a strict schedule to follow. For instance, if I did have a set amount of time I could spend on education completing this blog series would take ages. Instead it's more about stopping myself every once in a while and ask:
  • Is there balance right now between family, friends, job, my well-being and my learning?
  • No...
    • Well, is that okay (for now)?
    • Do I need to check with someone, like my wife, to ensure she's okay with it?
    • What are the consequences of my current imbalance and am I okay with those?
    • What will I do to correct this imbalance later?
And yes, I've failed asking these questions many, many times in my life... but I try.

Answering these questions not only helps me avoid unhealthy imbalance but also make me feel less guilty which removes a pretty strong distraction from my learning (assuming I've been honest in my answers and acted based on them).
    

Where I typically learn

Göran Bakken has inspired me to look into creating an engaging "learning place". I'm not there yet though. Instead I try to always carry around the learning tools I need (e.g. notebooks).

So at home I use the kitchen table because it's the best place to sit if I want lots of space but I also sit in our bedroom, I sit in the walk in closet upstairs where I have my computer, I sit in the sofa when I try to mix learning time and time with my wife and finally I spend a lot of time listening to online courses or podcasts while washing the dishes, preparing food or while loading the washing machine.

Apart from that my kids have several activities and when waiting there I try to have e.g. a book ready so I can mix skimming that book with watching my kids ice skate, wrestle or dance.

When traveling I always bring my noise cancellation headphones which allows me to create a good focused learning space where the noise level would normally distract me. This is great for e.g. airplanes or when waiting in terminals.

Finally hotels usually have pretty good desks or beds where I can work. However, I try to book most evenings for dinners or other activities with learning buddies or other interesting people when I'm traveling.
    

Learn about learning

What learning about learning does is it makes learning more fun because I get results faster and since learning about something creates motivation for that thing I'm motivated to learn more about learning as well as practice the learning skills I've picked up.

Some topics I've explored are general theory around learning and teaching, learning hacks, spaced repetition learning, time management/productivity, how to read books, how to conduct experiments, information retrieval, flow, positive psychology, coaching, note taking, neuroplasticity, how the memory works and finally observe anyone who seems like a great learner.
 

Low effort

I've touched on this topic before but let's dive a little deeper. An important part in making learning happen for me is making the effort required to start as low as possible. Here are a few examples:
  • Have the books I want to read at home (borrowed from library or bought)
  • Initiate contact today with people I want to include in my learning tomorrow
  • Have a training rig set up and ready
  • Know where to look for more material when I'm done with whatever I'm studying now
  • Remove distractions
  • Not too much content to choose from; taking decisions takes effort and options make it harder for me to stay focused on the resource I'm currently using:
    • Limit the number of books I have ready at home
    • Limit the list of books I might want to read later
    • Limit how many podcast episodes I have downloaded/in my playlist
    • Limit the amount of blog post suggestions I'm exposed to
    • Limit the number of concepts I plan to research
  • Keep a list of experiments/exercises I want to try after I've e.g. read about a topic.
  • Have a clear learning routine so I don't have to think about that
        

Background music

I use to think that background music helped me study but some experiments I conducted on myself suggested the opposite. Due to that I only listen to music when it's needed to remove other distracting sounds and I only listen to instrumental music (I can't seem to avoid focusing on lyrics). Typically I use music designed for relaxation, meditation or studying as well as background noise designed to improve productivity.

My favorites right now are "Study music for Focus" and Noisili (train, rain or bird song).

Often when I use my noise cancellation headphones I turn on noise cancellation but no music/sound.
 

Inner conditions

I've already mentioned sleep and I've experimented a lot with different sleeping times, different ways to wake me up (I like my wake-up light), different room temperatures and physical stuff like different pillows (love my memory foam pillow with good neck support). Can't say that I've come to too many conclusions more than experimenting is good and it's something I'll keep doing.

Next I should take better care of my body and I just don't know why I find that so hard. I use to be a very sporty person, I like running and I love basically any sport that involves a ball... but I've become lazy. I know more exercise is great both for my health and learning ability, I just need to convince myself that again... by the way, a fun method I used when I wanted to get myself to run was to learn about running: I read "Born to run" and learned about training routines, oxygen absorption, running posture etc. which worked... maybe I should read "Born to run" again...

Finally I've started to get more and more interested in techniques like integrated mental training and self-hypnosis. I've also experimented quite a bit with mindfulness and meditation over the years but never established a long running routine. Those however are topics I'd like to revisit as well.

I guess this whole chapter about inner conditions can be summarized with:
This is a work in progress...

     

My learning - Part 15 - Motivation

Motivation vs Energy

  • Motivation is the "fuel consumption". High motivation (to do something) means I can even gain energy from performing that particular activity while low motivation means I have to spend energy to force myself to do it.
         
  • Energy is the fuel but it's not clear to me exactly what that means. It's partly "physical energy" like the kind I get from a healthy lifestyle but it's also willpower and cognitive energy... and possibly something else.
So when I speak about motivation I speak about making things effortless to do and when I speak about energy I speak about my capacity to do these things even when I'm not motivated.

With all that being said, the explanation above is a massive oversimplification but I think it's good enough to understand this post...
 

Why I learn

I use to learn not because I wanted to be great but because I hated not to be great. It might not sound like much of a difference but it is:
  • If you want to be great you will seek out better competition; situations where you're likely to fail but likely to learn because that's what challenging activities do.
         
  • But I wanted to avoid not being great meaning I tried to perfect my skills in isolation, where no one would see me fail (judge me) and when I felt like I was ready I would challenge people I naturally assumed would perform worse than me.
This was actually a surprisingly effective way to make me learn because you can be sure I prepared myself for challenges I didn't control (like school) and since I was constantly "practicing learning" I became a pretty good learner... but neither an appealing nor a harmonic one.

I'm not sure exactly when and why but around high school I started challenging my self-image as a greatness seeking individual and quickly learned it was fake. My first reaction was "let's fix it". When fixing it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought I went "screw this, let's just accept this is who I am". I went with this attitude for a few years but something was different. Now I noticed how annoyed some people got and how much faster some people progressed by jumping straight to the expert challenges while I was stuck repeating the challenges I felt sure I would beat.

So I finally started the long journey of changing my "why". The problem was "not avoiding not being great" is not a "why", it's... nothing. So to succeed I had to find a new "why" which also turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Long story short: If I wanted to change my "why" I had to program a new "why" and attach such strong emotions to it that it simply outperformed my old "why". This is a work in progress since around 2005 and to be fair this is the first time I've actually tried to articulate my new "whys" so they're not as elegantly described as I think they can be:
  1. When I manage to do or understand something new I get a sense of accomplishment. When I manage to make someone else do or understand something new I get an even stronger feeling of accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment is a strong emotion; it makes me feel proud of myself.
        
  2. I'm a curios human being who loves exploration. Trying a new path just to see where it leads can captivate me in a way few other things can. Learning for me is a constant exploration making the activity itself, without any need for an end goal, an attractive and motivating activity.
        
  3. I love feeling energized. The best feeling is when there's so much energy inside me that I'm almost boiling over. Being passionate about something generates this kind of energy as well as when I interact with or listen to passionate people. I've learned that passion itself is something I create by investing myself fully in a particular topic.
         
  4. I love feeling smart/clever and as I learn a topic I get this feeling more and more frequently until I reach some kind of plateau. When this happens I can move on but old knowledge makes it faster to reach this state of feeling smart in some other topic as most topics relate to each others in one way or the other. I can later go back to the topic to reach an even higher plateau thanks to things I've learned in other related topics. By constantly using the progress in one skill to improve another I get to repeatedly feel smart and feeling smart feels great!
I also try to motivate myself to do "good learning" (e.g. accept tough challenges) by placing myself in social situations where this is expected of me. This way I can substitute my "learning why" with my "social why" (be part of the group, feel appreciated etc.) and my "social why" is more powerful.

I started writing this section thinking that "this will be one of the easiest section to write"... turned out it took a few days and a whole lot more text than I expected. "Why" is an interesting question...
 

Managing my motivation

I rely heavily on my motivation. In a best case scenario I can learn incredibly fast and actually gain energy from the experience. But when I rely too heavily on this automatic learning process I can also end up binge watching some French documentary series about serial killers. So management is sometimes (...often) required.

The best way to make me act in a certain way, including the action of learning, is simply to remove any other options than the ones I prefer. This includes removing "good options" since I know having too many good options at once means I will start switching between all of them and this makes me lose a sense of progress and direction. One example of this is not having too many new, interesting books at home.

The problem is my brain will get bored if there are too few or too similar paths and when bored it'll make up new paths and these paths surprisingly often include rainbow-colored kittens. Another risk with too few paths is my progress gets slower and sloower and slooower until I finally give up.

To provide an example of how I manage the available paths:
I realized this blog series would take a lot of time to complete. I also realized I would run into mental blocks due to some parts being less interesting to write, very hard to write or that I would wake up some days just not feeling motivated to write at all. To lower the risk of these blocks stopping me from finishing the series I made sure to remove as many unhelpful options as possible. "The options" in this case referred to removing news apps on my phone, I returned all the books I had borrowed from the library and I limited my social media check ins to mornings. I still mixed the writing with some research on learning though since that research would not put me off track but provide enough change to avoid boredom.

Some distractions I don't want to remove because they're important to me, like friends and family, but even though important they can still become "bad distractions" or a way to procrastinate. So my next strategy is to make the thing(s) I want to do more attractive. Let's take this blog series as an example again:

I've spent quite a bit of time describing to myself how useful this series would be both to myself and others as well as how proud I'd feel when it's done. I've also made sure I've spent the right amount of time planning and preparing before I start writing each part so that the writing involves enough uncertainty to become an exciting exploration but still prepared enough to avoid most blocks.

Finally I sometimes want to force myself to do/complete a certain task. One such example can be at work: I've already lost interest in a task but my finished product is important to someone else. This is an area where I've tried many different methods but still see a lot of energy just disappear without much progress happening so today I do my best to instead avoid these situations all together so that I have enough energy left when avoiding is not a feasible option. Some examples:
  • I try to avoid large project at work and when I get dragged into them anyway I try to make myself expandable as soon as possible to allow myself to be moved when my speed starts to decline.
       
  • I almost never write for e.g. magazines or company blogs simply because I don't like to commit to finishing projects like that.
         
  • I only tell a small group of close friends about my projects before they're done.
I know this might sound lazy or unprofessional and maybe it is, personally I look at it as self-awareness though. In this case I'm very open about it to e.g. my manager, not that I won't do things I don't like but that if she wants the most out of me I shouldn't be part of e.g. certain projects or do certain tasks. This allows her to get more value out of me and when she truly needs me to do something I'm not motivated to do I still have the necessary energy to do it well.

I also know explicitly telling the world what you're about to do is a tool often suggested by productivity experts and I can't say it's not true; I get things done this way too. But a negative side-effect for me is if completing the task doesn't give me a very strong feeling of accomplishment it can easily lead to me instead losing motivation for the topic all together. Once again I remind you that completing things is usually not very important to me... so do I want to win the fight or win the war...
 

Things I do to motivate myself

  • Get started
    I know when I get started with something my motivation automatically increase, at least for a while. So I often try to identify the smallest possible thing I can do (in terms of energy cost) to get started; things like skimming a book or speak about the topic with a friend. As soon as I've started I try to grab hold of that initial motivation and go like "just a little more, you'll see this will be fun, don't worry" and suddenly it becomes motivating to continue.
       
  • Hang out with positive, high energy people
    When I spend time with people who have tons of positive energy some of that energy rubs off on me. This is great, especially when my own energy is kinda low or I need a boost to push myself to do something "expensive".
        
  • Surround myself with playful learners
    Related to the above I try to make extra time for friends who just have a positive impact on my learning. They're not necessarily those mega-passionate, fully dedicated energy bombs I described above but rather curios and ambitious learners. If the high energy people gives me energy I'd say these people inspire me in a way that improves my motivation (e.g. I want try some technique they use). These people also help me realize that certain learning activities I've considered aren't as crazy as they seem when only compared to what "most people do" (e.g. organize a conference) which also helps my motivation.
       
  • State a clear direction
    Knowing what I'm trying to achieve makes it easier to get going. A direction also gives even small activities a clear purpose and thus make them more motivating to perform. The direction becomes much more powerful if it's based on a "need" (e.g. I feel a need to perform well when I test a certain applications for a team).
        
  • Describe the reward of completing the activity
    Often before getting myself to start or continue an activity I spend some time just reminding myself of what this activity will bring or feel like when it's done. For instance I've already run several positive scenarios in my head based on things that could come out of this blog series. A scenario like that could be a conversation between me and one of my heroes where the hero asks me questions about the blog series and thanks me for the inspiration it has given her. These scenarios aren't why I write the blog post, they're more like help to stay on course because they remind me that if I do this well it could lead to interesting opportunities.
       
  • Help others learn things I've already learned
    Helping others often motivates me to revisit the topic I'm helping with or inspires me to learn some related topic.
        

Maintain motivation

When I'm already motivated to do something I'm still careful about how I treat this motivation. If I run into unnecessary blocks I can lose interest in an instant which can be devastating if the topic is e.g. a useful life skill.
      • Mix learning with fun activities
        I love people, I love games and I love exploration so if I can incorporate any of those in my learning I know my long term motivation will be higher. The most powerful option is "people"; if I find peers passionate about the topic I'm trying to learn I will have a much easier time sticking with it (it becomes a friendship activity not "just" a learning activity).
                
      • Feeling of progress
        I try to find ways to show myself how far I've progressed in my learning. This can mean achieving milestones (feeling of accomplishment) or being able to do something I've not done before (feeling of mastery). I try not to plan these milestones since that can easily make me feel boxed in, so it's more about reflection: "What was I unable to do a year ago that I'm able to do now?" or "What had I not experienced a month ago that I've experienced now?"
              
      • Good learning conditions
        I moved the contents of this to the next blog post but long story short: Having an environment that supports my learning is key to keep up my motivation.
              
      • Don't learn about my distractions
        My passion for learning goes well beyond "work related topics". For instance if I start to read about game design I'm quickly hooked for hours listening to the Ludology podcast and sketching on various board game designs. My solution here is simply to avoid information that reminds me about distractions I don't want in my life (e.g. block certain YouTube channels) and by doing that my interest in these activities drop.
              

      07 February 2019

      My Learning - Part 14 - Other sources

      Blogs and articles

      Purpose
      Remember My hourglass model? Blog posts and articles are especially great when I'm in the bottom third of the hourglass (high level of mastery) because people share new and fresh ideas in blog posts long before they reach the refined state of a book or a conference presentation and it's these new and fresh ideas that improve me at this point.

      Blog posts and articles are typically short, free, specific and easy to skim; all of which are excellent attributes!

      One drawback though is that the effort required to publish a blog post compared to e.g. a book is much lower meaning there is more weak content shadowing the truly amazing stuff. Another is the blog posts are often quite narrow and limited in scope meaning I need an established understanding of the topic to really be able to learn from most of them. Finally there are the same problems as with books: I don't see the gaps when I read them and blog posts have almost never pushed me to actually do something.

      Find them
      • I check if my heroes blog/write articles
                 
      • I follow my heroes on e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn and check the websites they share content from.
            
      • I just google "best <topic> blogs", there are (almost) always someone who've spent way too much time finding interesting blogs and articles and shared their findings. I'm careful though since they've shared websites fitting their needs not mine and unhelpful self-promotion is common.
      Tips
      For my main area of expertise, software testing, one of my most important learning sources for years was a meticulously maintained list of RSS-feeds. It had an inflow of 20+ entries a day and at my peak I at a minimum skimmed all of them.

      Lately though blogs and articles have been replaced by podcasts and presentations shared on YouTube (I'll explain why in the next chapter) but I still consider blogs a good source and when I start to get a hang of coaching I'll probably start looking for blogs to follow.

      Finally; just like with books I typically skim an article or blog post quickly, then decide if it's worth my time to read them carefully and if I do I do it with my trusted notebook.

      A blog to start with: 5 Blogs
      It's a blog where Simon P. Schrijver every day lists 5 great blog posts he read that day. Topics vary but typically touches on testing, leadership and/or workplace psychology.
       

      Podcasts and audio books

      Purpose
      I use podcasts the same way I use blogs and they have basically the same benefits and drawbacks. What differs is it's more common that I need my eyes for something than my ears, making podcast and audio books easier to fit into my life. The drawback however is that podcasts are much harder to skim. So if the situation allows me to read instead I typically choose that.

      Find them
      I find audio books the exact same way I find books so not much to say there. Podcasts are a bit different though.

      First of all I rarely listen to podcasts in focused mode so it's more a filtering tool (find people and topics I want to research). Second of all sound quality is super-important to me, so I skip many great pods just because of poor audio. Finally not that many of my heroes record their own podcasts or the sound is subpar. This means I more often look for popular podcasts on a specific topic or search for my heroes; if they've been invited as guests to a podcast that podcast might have invited more interesting people I've not yet heard about.

      Alternatively I follow a recommendation. It's quite rare I find podcasts I like this way though. I don't know if this is because my taste is weird or if it's something else but... still rare (I just don't like most of the podcasts recommended to me).

      Since sound quality is so important and podcasts are harder to skim my list of podcasts is much shorter and I typically listen to all episodes of a few podcasts rather than individual episodes from several (the way I do with blogs). If I find a podcast that seems promising rather than subscribing to it immediately I browse through the existing episodes and download the one or two that strike me as the most interesting... so they enter some kind of audition... few makes it out of this stage.

      Tips
      I don't do this myself but many people I respect listen to podcasts in 1.5x or 2x speed. This allows them to consume more content in a shorter amount of time. I've tried that myself but not liked it so far, still want to throw it out there.

      When I find a good podcast episode I almost always look for a book, blog or something like that by the person speaking rather than listen to the episode itself in my focused mode. The reason is listening to a complete episode takes such an enormous amount of time compared to skimming a book. What I do however, since distracted time is much more readily available, is listen to that episode over and over again in my distracted mode hoping that at least the best parts stick simply through repetition.

      The same is true for audio books but in that case I check if the actual book is available at the library so that I can borrow it and process it in my focused mode that way (skim, quickly jump between sections etc.).

      My favorites podcast:
      Framgångspodden (Swedish)
       

      Videos

      Purpose
      Recorded presentations, brief explanatory videos etc. serve a very similar purpose as blogs; except I can't skim them as good but the quality is often better. So the purpose, benefits and drawback are virtually the same.

      Find them
      I would like to say I use recommendations and browse my heroes as strategy for finding good videos but I'm waaay too often led off course by YouTube's algorithms. For this reason I try to limit the amount of time I spend in front of videos...

      Tips
      When I see rainbow colored cats it's usually a good idea to close down the browser...

      A more useful tip:
      Just like I mentioned in Conferences, I try to come up with questions when I watch videos online and on a few occasions I've sent these questions or comments to the presenter... However, this is something I, in all honesty, do way less than I think I should.

      My favorite video on learning:
      4 steps to design your own education by Till H. Groß
       

      Courses live

      Purpose
      I love to meet and discuss with people who are experts in topics I'm interested in. Courses are great because usually there are just a few people there meaning there aren't that much competition to speak with the teacher (assuming she's amazing).

      For me courses are, just like books, a great tool to build a solid foundation in a topic but since it's a much bigger investment (and reward) courses are normally, for me, the step after books; I want to have a pretty good understanding of the topic before I attend a course.

      The benefits are similar to a conference but the targeted focus and the access to one hero generally makes this a better option when I'm in the "narrow section of the hourglass" (see My hourglass model) while a conference is better when I'm in the "broad sections of the hourglass".

      Find them
      Typically I browse my heroes and check what they have available (price, location, date, topic) and hopefully I find a course that way. If I'm looking for a more basic, "off the shelf" topic, like most programming languages or basic business financials, I'm immediately less picky but on the other hand I rarely attend those kind of courses since I can learn that just as fast by studying myself (or that's my assumption at least).

      When it comes to selecting courses I almost exclusively focus on the teacher while the topic is a much lower priority. For me a good teacher is what makes or breaks a course and what a poor teacher brings is typically something I can find much faster and cheaper online. If I do find a course where the description sounds great but I've not heard about the teacher I typically spend a fair amount of time researching the teacher and course (e.g. check if the teacher have any videos published online, course reviews or check if friends have attended the course/know about the teacher). Once again, most of my focus is on researching the teacher, less on the course itself.

      Tips
      • I always try to speak with the other participants, they're hopefully there for a reason and that reason may align with mine which can lead to very helpful conversations.
              
      • I always have a specific color for questions or a specific place to note them down so I don't forget in case I can't ask them immediately.
             
      • I ask the questions I have, not only to get the answers but also to help the teacher understand why I'm where/what's important to me since that can sometimes lead to small, helpful detours or influence which direction the teacher chooses to go when deciding what content to include/exclude.
            
      • I try to speak with the teacher before the course. One reason is the same as asking questions: If she knows what I'm looking for it might affect the content slightly in my (and hopefully others) favor. A second reason is I personally get more out of a course when I'm challenged/put on the hot seat and I've learned teachers tend to use people they know for this. So if I can communicate that before the course it ups my chances of getting more out of the course.
            

      Courses online

      Purpose
      I'd say an online course has the exact same purpose, benefits and drawbacks as an audio book:
      I use them to build a solid foundation in a topic. They're great because I can easily process them in my distracted mode and the content is typically much more thought through and well designed than in e.g. a podcast or blog post. Important drawbacks are they rarely lead to immediate action and they're hard to skim.

      Find them
      Guess what: The teacher is suuuper-important to me! Even more so than in a live situation because online it's so easy to have the mind drift away so the teacher must fully captivate me for the course to work. The challenge however is that few of my heroes have online courses available so the research I did before ordering my first course, even though it was quite inexpensive, was extensive!

      Regarding which platform I use the answer is Udemy but it's not because I've made my research; I just happened to stumble upon a great course during a sale and that has kept me there.

      Tips
      I listen to the course segments in my distracted mode and then revisit them with a pen and paper in a focused manner, if I find them interesting enough.

      Why I listen to online courses in my focused mode but not podcasts is because online courses are typically split into small segments of 5-10 minutes packed with information while a podcast can include long irrelevant (but entertaining) sections meaning they might need an hour to communicate the same amount of information a 10 minute course segment does.

      My favorite paid course:
      Become a learning machine 2.0 by Brandon Hakim

      My favorite free course:
      7 scientifically proven steps to increase your influence by Vanessa Van Edwards
       

      Share and teach

      Examples
      • Blog
      • Present/teach
      • Mentor someone
      • Record a video
      • Write an email
      Purpose
      When I share knowledge, experiences or ideas with others I feel like I'm always the one learning the most probably because:
      • It forces me to reflect.
                    
      • It forces me to put my own words on things which help them stick.
               
      • Questions from students, readers etc. can highlight an aspect I've missed or they might bypass an incorrect assumption I've made forcing me to rethink.
      Experiment
      An experiment I'd like to try is to learn something with the intention to be able to teach it to someone else. I'd like to see if I could trick myself to learn smarter/more effective this way. To make it more interesting I'd like to compare:
      • Learn the way I normally do
      • Learn with the intention to teach but do nothing with it afterwards
      • Learn with the intention to teach and prepare the teaching material
      • Follow up my learning activity with actually teaching what I just learned
      This is to see if the actual action to teach, which can sometimes be time consuming and/or involve boring administration, is necessary or not. If you have experimented with this I'd love to hear about your results.
       

      Other sources

      There are obviously other sources and ways to learn than the ones I've brought up but together with the posts about People, Books, Conferences, Doing, Experiments and Reflection I think I've covered most of the ones I use (at least the ones I'm aware of). As a closing note: I did consider adding a chapter about "observation" but I cannot say I use this as an isolated source in a deliberate way so I skipped it.

           

      My Learning - Part 13 - Reflection

      Purpose

      I've read a lot, listened a lot, done a lot, observed a lot and, well... experienced a lot. This means there's plenty of good stuff in my head already.

      Reflection is my method to recall, refresh and retool those existing skills and ideas. Retooling in this case refers to taking a skill or piece of knowledge I already have and apply it to something new. For instance, software testing have taught me a lot about critical thinking, skills and experiences I can retool to fit e.g. coaching or parenting.

      Reflection also tends to make me act.
         

      Trigger

      What actually makes me reflect is something I still haven't quite understood. I know I gravitate towards "new stuff" such as new books, new podcasts, new exercises etc. even when reflection probably would be my best tool. At the same time I can sometimes drop everything and sit down for days or even weeks fully committed to reflection... but I can't see the pattern or trigger that initiates my reflection sessions.

      Understanding these triggers is something I need to study and experiment more with.
         

      How

      When I get myself to sit down and reflect, what I do is I grab my notebook and start to make a plan: What kind of information am I trying to get out of my head and why? Forcing myself to create a plan like that can sometimes help me start reflecting but it doesn't work as consistently as I'd like.

      What happens after that initial plan varies but usually the process is to get as much information as possible out of my head and on paper so I can use this information to start building a skeleton. The gaps that form might be areas that need additional reflection, need more education or a sign that the model I based my skeleton on is flawed. Finally I try to summarize everything in a way that's easy to come back to and that helps me remember the most important ideas from the reflection.

      Or a better structured description:
      • I have a topic
      • I create a big set of questions
      • I try to answer these questions
      • I sort and group the answers
      • I prioritize and trim the groups
      • I create a skeleton where the most important answers fit
      • I add the other relevant answers to the skeleton
      • I try to visualize the skeleton in a way that matters to me
      • I trim away the last parts that just don't fit or aren't important enough
            

      Example

      Last summer I wanted to "relearn myself" to help me figure out what I wanted my future role and career to be like.

      The result:
      English | Swedish

      Behind those simple images are roughly 20 pages of notes on paper, a 14 page text document on Google Docs and various drafts with different approaches on how to summarize and visualize this.
         

      Deconstruction

      A more specific form of reflection I use is deconstruction. What I mean with deconstruction is basically to create my own, basic model of something.

      In practice I start with the question "what does <topic> mean to me?". To be able to do this I need at least some level of understanding already. After this I iterate the following approaches over and over again until I start to see a clear pattern and/or feel like screaming "Eureka!":
      1. I try to form my own definition and question it relentlessly until it seems to hold true (for me)
      2. I collect and look carefully at all the details that makes up this topic looking for patterns
      3. I remove or group things together until I have 1-5 distinct groups which each (hopefully) describes a core concept.
      4. I look at the topic and simply ask: What is actually most important here?
      To give you an example of a deconstruction:
      Helena Jeret-Mäe suggested we would together create our own definition of software testing. According to my memory we first tried to just modify existing definitions but that didn't work. So instead we started describing what testing meant to us in a very detailed manner. After we had done this for a while we started removing anything that didn't seem essential to these descriptions, which actually made us go down several very distinct paths of what testing might be (this particular part taught me a lot). I think we had to go back and redo the description at least twice because what was left after we had trimmed the long description just didn't make sense the first few times.

      After a while we had a very rough "definition" based on the trimmed down description and started questioning the wording, tested it against different scenarios etc. After a bunch of iterations like this we ended up with something pretty close to the definitions described by many of our heroes. 

      This may sound anticlimactic but the outcome is not what was important...

      So why is deconstruction useful to me?
      • First and foremost the deep understanding I get of the topic is unmatched!
      • The core I end up with often form an excellent structure to tie future knowledge to and even if it may look similar to existing definitions or models this core is something I understand beyond the words' linguistic meaning.
      • This new structure allows me to ignore large parts of e.g. frameworks since I just need their core concepts and practices and then I can map them to my own structure which also makes the frameworks easier to remember and easier to compare.
      • It provides a foundation I actually understand when I try to explain the topic to someone else.
      • It provides a plausible answer to "any" question (assuming my deconstruction is somewhat valid) since I can derive an answer from my model: "for my deconstruction to be correct the answer should be...".
      Obviously I have to test my deconstruction carefully to see if it actually holds true (enough) or at least learn its weaknesses. This means the deconstruction I did with Helena 2014 is something I trust a lot more than for instance the deconstruction I did of coaching just about a month ago.
         

      Reflection as a reaction

      Most of the reflecting I do happen as an immediate reaction to something rather than as a planned activity though. For instance I might prepare a presentation and realize there's a gap in my understanding. Instead of searching for an answer online I can stop and ask "what's missing here", more often than not I have a sufficient answer myself.

      Examples of activities that force me to reflect like this are:
      • Exercises
      • Discussions
      • Explain something (teach, present etc.)
      • Prepare a presentation or exercise
      • Summarize
      • Apply something to a new situation
      • Review something
      • Help someone else with something
      The drawback with reflection triggered this way though is it usually only makes me answer one specific question and these answers rarely results in action, just information.
          

      Self-coaching

      I've used coaching questions and techniques as part of my reflection for a long time and called this self-coaching. As mentioned several times now; this blog series have made me realize though that I could use the complete coaching structure I've learned to initiate a full coaching session with myself including follow ups on my actions.

           

      04 February 2019

      My Learning - Part 12 - Experiments

      Why

      • Experiments are great at highlighting incorrect assumptions I've made.
            
      • The experiences/learnings I get from experiments "stick".
            
      • Experiments tend to be great conversation starters, which leads to more people, which leads to... well, I think you've heard me say that enough times now.
            
      • I love exploration and experiments are certainly an act of exploration which makes them fun!
            

      Examples

      I'd say there are two categories of experiments I conduct:

      Experiments testing a hypothesis and experiments where I don't have a clear expectation, the activity I test simply seems useful and I want to learn more about it.

      Example with hypothesis:
      I had the hypothesis that when I'm programming very little time is actually spent on writing the final production code. So I picked a specific feature I had programmed under pretty optimal conditions (easy, clear purpose, minimal dependencies etc.) and simply rewrote that code, character by character, into a new file and compared the time between the two activities.

      Example without hypothesis:
      What happens if I start to get up at 5 AM every morning? How will my body feel after a while? I tried different activities in the morning, I tinkered with different times to go to bed, I altered the time to 4 AM and 6 AM etc. all this while monitoring my mood, activities performed etc.

      A few more examples:
      • I've experimented with several different ways to take notes
        • Sketchnoting
        • Mind maps
        • Different pens
        • Digital notes
        • Using colors in different ways
        • Different notebook sizes
        • Different types of paper
              
      • Different ways to read
        • Speed reading
        • Various memory techniques connected to reading
        • Writing summaries for each chapter I complete
        • Jumping back and forth between a couple of different books hoping that the variety would make reading more fun (it didn't work...)
        • Read super carefully by looking up any word I didn't fully understand, reread sections until I could correctly recall what was in there etc. (worked even worse)
        • Only read books with 99 pages or less. The idea being they would better match the way I like to read.
        • Basically everything mentioned in Brandon Hakim's excellent Udemy course about reading.
              

      What makes it an experiment

      At this point it may sound like I call any variation to my approach an "experiment" and to some degree that's true. However, what makes me call these "experiments" is there's a very deliberate method and target with each of them. Before I conduct an experiment I carefully decide what it is I want to try (an hypothesis or an approach that seems reasonable), how I can isolate that activity and how I will evaluate the outcome(s).

      So for instance I wouldn't call an exercise someone gives me an "experiment" because I'm not thinking and designing that activity for myself, I simply follow instructions (well, I don't but still...). The same goes if I've forgotten my note taking material and "just take notes" without really having a reason to why I do it the way I do it. This can still teach me something but I wouldn't call it an experiment.
          

      How they're initiated

      Often when I learn something I want to test how well that thing works for me. Rather than "just doing it" I often try to prepare it like an experiment. For instance before I coached using the NOPRA model I asked myself: "What is it I want to achieve? Why? And how can I evaluate the result?". I then design the actual activity and decided how I would evaluate it.

      Another scenario is when I'm in the middle of doing something and realize I'm doing it slightly different than usual. If I'm in the right mood I can stop myself and say "this is interesting, how can I monitor and evaluate this?" (like the dish washing experience described in part 2).
       

      Science!

      There's no formal process where I write things down, remove all external distractions etc. so few, if any, of my experiment would survive an academic review.

      I'm also well aware of e.g. confirmation bias, the Hawthorne effect and sampling bias and that all these will skew my results. So apart from considering this when I design my experiments, which is obviously not enough, I try to also be careful about what I make of the results, especially when I present them to others... I may have gotten carried away more than a few times though.

      That being said; the experiments are usually quite harmless and their goal is mostly to help me understand how something works for me, and for that I think my approach is perfectly sufficient to be honest (ignorance is bliss).

           

      My Learning - Part 11 - Doing

             
      "You always know enough to get started"
      //Christer Olsson
          

      Doing

      "Doing" in this case refers to actually do whatever I'm trying to learn, e.g. to actually coach someone or test software rather than read about coaching or discuss testing with experts. "Do" (as a learning tool) can include a variety of activities such as:

      • Conduct experiments
        Do something in a specific way and evaluate a particular outcome.
            
      • Practice
        Do something in a specific way to learn how to do it that particular way better. In this case the process of doing it is important, not the actual outcome normally.
            
      • Act and reflect
        Do something as well as possible while consciously monitoring what's happening and analyzing why.
              
      • Repetition
        Repeat something over and over, as well as I can, without "wasting" time monitoring it too much simply to make it stick.

      ... and what I'm trying to achieve in my learning is to make "doing" one of the first steps in my learning process rather than waiting until the end.

      Example: Instead of reading everything there is to read about coaching before I try it for myself I might learn the absolute basics and then start to look for someone willing to let me practice on them (preferably someone who can give relevant feedback as well).

      A couple of key reasons why I find "doing" so important to me are:

      • Actually doing something teaches me what else I need to learn/what I need to focus my learning on much more effectively and precisely than e.g. reflection does.
             
      • When I have actual experience of something I can relate new information to this experience making it easier to understand and easier to remember.

      This doesn't happen naturally for me though. I'll come back to this in much more detail in a later part but long story short: I don't like to not look good... which sometimes sucks because it means I want to learn something reeeeeeally well before I go out and actually display my skills in it (including displaying it to myself, I get frustrated to see myself do things in a way that's not "good enough").

      This makes me prone to becoming "an intellectual" and while some like being that I don't, so I'm trying hard to change my own approach.

      ... and I actually have a history of very effective "doing" in my learning so I know it's something I can get back to...
           

      Becoming a doer

      "Doing" came naturally when I was learning software testing. I think it was because "doing" was such a central in part in everything taught and highlighted by my heroes and peers which meant whenever I tried something new I got plenty of positive feedback simply for the effort alone. So it was easy to motivate myself to continue doing things even when it meant a great risk of "failing" publicly (which I'm unfortunately not very comfortable with as I mentioned before).
       

      Stop being a doer

      When I had to cut down the time I spent learning testing one of the first things I stopped doing was... doing. I'm not sure why I quit practicing testing alone (e.g. test open source applications at home) but the more public stuff is more clear to me:
      1. Other testers started to surpass me which meant I thought I would not perform "as well" in public challenges as I use to which made me ignore them all together not to "humiliate myself".
            
      2. I had built "a reputation" for myself and since I started feeling like I wasn't progressing as fast as some other people I kinda avoided public stuff simply to not hurt my reputation.
      I understand that both are very counterproductive ways of thinking and it annoys the heck out of me that I held myself back just because of them. The good thing is thinking can be changed...
       

      How do I get back?

      When I transitioned into an active doer while learning software testing I had to push myself and the results and feedback made it easier and easier until it almost felt hard not doing things.

      When learning coaching I have a couple of ideas on how to make "doing" happen again:
      1. Simply exclude any resources that doesn't have a clear mandatory action connected to them (e.g. most books).
           
      2. Make it a deliberate process to describe and perform at least one action for each resource I use before I move on.
      I lean towards the second option for now because I see a risk of me losing my motivation if I exclude "easy resources" all together but that might change if I find myself skipping the required actions in option two.

      An interesting coincidence in this case:
      One of the primary purposes of coaching is to stimulate action... so by practicing on myself (a very light form of "doing") I can actually both get coaching practice and help me back to a more action-oriented way of learning...

      Finally I love a great discussion but I need to hang out more with the doers in my network simply to be affected by their mindsets and routines. I know this was a big factor when I learned software testing...

           

      My Learning - Part 10 - Conferences

      Purpose

      Conferences are expensive and/or time consuming but they also offer a unique opportunity to meet people with similar interests and problems like I have and/or experience in solving those kind of problems. This opportunity to meet and confer with great people is why I attend.
          

      Find them

      I can't speak for any other business but the primary ways I find out about interesting tech conferences are:
      • Recommendations from friends.
      • Pages like testingconferences.org
      • I check my heroes' schedules, if they speak at a conference it's at least worth checking out.
      • Browsing what's posted on e.g. LinkedIn or Twitter.
      Selecting between them is typically a mix of evaluating the program and knowing the conference's history (is it traditionally a strong or weak conference). I know great people tend to attend conferences with strong programs and since they have a better ability to evaluate this than your average attendee they tend to group up at conferences with strong programs. Once again it helps knowing a lot of amazing people to keep track of this.

      My situation in coaching is a bit different. Since I don't know who all the cool people are I can't really evaluate conference programs that well yet. So right now I'm keeping an eye out for people in my network who seem to attend coaching events, either as attendees (harder to spot) or as speakers (easier to spot), so I can ask them for directions.
       

      Various forms of conferences

      There are many different forms of conferences and each have their own benefits and drawbacks. To give you a few examples:
      • Local meetups
        Maybe I'm stretching the definition of what a conference is but local meetups share many of the qualities of a big, international conference: They gather people with a common interest, mix mingling with more structured bits and typically have some form of topic that creates a direction for the meetup. Local meetups are great for getting to know ambitious people you can more easily have a learning relationship with (see People) and even though the presentations may not be as polished as at a big conference the topics are often better tied to what's relevant in my area. This is also a cheap way to both build my personal brand (helps me meet great people) and the brand of the company I represent (helps me get better colleagues). Finally, this is where I started my public speaking career.
                    
      • Peer conferences
        My favorite place to be! A peer conference is typically a small 1-2 day conference where the attendees are personally invited or in some other way specifically targeted. They demand action, not just participation, and the level of energy I get at a peer conference is unmatched in my experience! Also since the group is small I get a much closer relationship with the other attendees.
              
      • Regional conferences
        Big conferences but where the vast majority of the participants are either from the same city or at least country. These are basically a compromise between a local meetup and an international conference and for me they're a mix of meeting people I can more easily meet again and getting to meet/listen to top notch people in the business.
              
      • International conferences
        This is where the best speakers show up. Not only does these conferences sport the most fancy programs and speaker lineups, they also tend to attract some of the best people in the business as attendees. These conferences are typically the most expensive due to travel and accommodation but like I've said before: Learning from the best tend to be multitudes more valuable.
            

      Bookings

      I try to always stay at the same hotel as the event is held or where I think the most interesting people stays (e.g. the speakers). A breakfast conversation with one of my heroes can be worth the whole conference fee.

      I also try (if my employer allows it and it fits my schedule) to arrive at least a day before the conference starts. Typically the speakers and international guests are the ones arriving first and being there early means a better chance to speak with these people.
          

      Sessions 

      • I arrive early so I get a seat where I can see and hear well. I always aim to sit at the front row.
            
      • I actively look for and write down questions that pop up during the talk and ask these either during the Q&A or to the speaker after the talk. A bonus is people seem to notice who asks questions (especially good questions)... so asking questions can help spark other's interest in me.
            
      • I almost exclusively look at the speaker and not the slides (if there are any).
           
      • I always bring my own note taking material, that way I know it fits my note taking style and I don't have to start looking for pens etc.
            
      • If a session turns out to be about something I'm not interested in I usually leave it (go to another session or just hang outside). When I do this I try however to inform the speaker why I left cause normally it's not because the talk was bad, it just wasn't relevant to me.
      Additional pro tips:
      • If there's a session I must attend which has limited amounts of seats, I often attend the session before in that room so that I can stay and guarantee a seat.
            
      • I sometimes skip one or more slots at a conference and instead stay outside. This allows me to speak with others who decided to opt out. The other people skipping sessions are often the experienced conference visitors and/or speakers meaning they tend to have a lot of valuable stuff to share.
            

      Breaks and food

      I try to avoid my colleagues during lunches, dinners and other breaks because I want to meet new people and/or people I (almost) exclusively meet at conferences.

      Second of all, if I don't have a person I specifically want to dine with I try to look for a table with one of the top speakers. First of all it means bonus material and an opportunity to ask questions relevant to my context. Another reason is the people sitting near the speakers are typically either their friends (and likely pretty experienced themselves) or ambitious people with interesting ideas... so it's not just the speakers themselves who are interesting, it's also the other people around those tables. A tweak to this is to sit by the table where one or more of the "second tier speaker" sit since they attract a bit fewer people but still provide similar benefits.
          

      Evenings

      This is a big reason why I attend conferences!

      Here are just a few examples of things I love to do:
      • Catch up with friends I (almost) only meet at conferences; you'll get those when you start to attend a few.
           
      • Participate in games and exercises held in the open areas, especially the ones run by my heroes (they're often fun and I get a good opportunity to chat with them).
           
      • Give a lightning talk if the chance presents itself, it's a great way to make people approach me and heroes notice me. Lightning talks are also a great thing to listen to since there are always some new, fresh ideas brought up.
            
      • Organize something: Run an exercise, invite people to a special interest group (great to get ideas relevant to what I (and they) want out of the conference), facilitate some activity like powerpoint karaoke or lightning talks.
           
      • Join conversation groups which seems to be open to more participants, it's a conference, few mind another person conferring unless it's like a few friends catching up.
                  
      • Check the official and unofficial (if I find them) communication channels where the most interesting people of the conference share their plans... and join in if possible.
      Once again, I generally try to stay away from my colleagues since my goal is to meet people I wouldn't normally get to meet.
       

      Sleep

      I wish I could say "Sleep is important to my ability to learn so I make sure I get enough of it"... but that's not the case. I have a few times considered skipping a less interesting conference slot to instead take a nap but never actually done that.
       

      The conference is just the start

      My most important professional relationship started thanks to a conversation that continued after a conference. Since then I consider conferences "a start", not just "an event".

      This means I try to stay in touch with interesting people I meet so I don't have to wait another year or two before we meet again. Staying in touch can mean adding them on Skype, continue a conversation on social media or, if it's someone living nearby, book a lunch with them.

      Another great way to get more out of a conference after it has ended is blogging. I use this to reinforce my learnings as well as make myself visible. Today most of my conference summaries end up as unfinished drafts but I still start most of them.

      Finally, if someone posted some kind of challenge during the conference (that environment tend to create situations like that), I at least consider accepting them. With challenge I mean something like "post your biggest lesson from the conference using the hashtag #something" or "read at least one blog post per day for a month" etc. This is great since it makes me bond with other ambitious participants and usually the challenges get some extra attention which once again helps people notice me which once again allows me to meet more great people which once again is fundamental to my learning.
       

      Speak at a conference

      Apart from getting all the benefits already listed for a cheaper price (paid entrance, paid logistics, salary or whatever policy there is), speaking at a conference also gives me better access to other speakers, participants will seek me out and it helps spread the message that I'm a passionate practitioner happy to meet other passionate practitioners.

      Preparing and running a session (talk, workshop etc.) also have learning benefits on their own which I'll mention in future posts.

      ... and you don't have to be the most skilled person in the world to give a presentation at a conference (especially not a smaller conference); for instance some of the most interesting presentations I've watched came from inexperienced speakers who simply had a fresh take on something.
          

      Organize a conference

      Something I've started doing the last couple of years is organize events and small conferences. Doing this is absolutely amazing! First of all it allows me to set a topic that's relevant to me (and obviously others if I want any attendees), set a date that fits me, I get a guaranteed seat, I get to influence who'll be there and I can set a format that fits me. Attendees tend to assume the organizer is some kind of hotshot as well so it gives me better access to high profile attendees or speakers as well as some "fame"... and fame means meeting more great people and more great people means... yeah, you get it.

      If you want to arrange a conference I have a few old posts that might be helpful:

      31 January 2019

      My Learning - Part 9 - Books

      Purpose

      Books for me are good at building one solid, coherent understanding of something.

      They're often more well written, complete and well researched than e.g. a blog post.
      Finally books are both easy to skim (big plus), easy to obtain (the city library is situated next to my workplace) and have very low requirements (non-threatening, easy to opt-out, doesn't depend on anyone else, socially acceptable etc.).

      There are some notable drawbacks though:
      1. Since the author have both time, space and an expectation to explain things thoroughly there's (almost) always a lot of "fat" in books; stuff I'm just not interested in.
            
      2. Books very rarely make me act. Compared to a conversation or reflection session the odds of me acting based on a book is much slimmer and I haven't so far found a reliable way to change this.
               
      3. When reading I feel like my internal questioning turns off. The result is I read and nod, thinking that I understand what has been claimed but when I later process it or talk about it with someone, there are notable gaps in my understanding. This is something that's much more rare when I for instance leave a course or conversation.
      Trivia:
      I have a lot of friends who read copious amounts of books and I've noticed one of the things I can bring to a conversation with them is asking questions that force them to find and explore those gaps I mentioned. Another observation is most of them seem to experience these gaps too.

      Reading is a quite passive activity making it very easy but also very not challenging. So I need to be careful because when I read a lot it can be an indication that I've become lazy or even lost my motivation.
          

      Find them

      The books I read either come from recommendations (friends, experts in the field or referenced in other books I like) or from browsing the library computer.

      Recommendations in this case is tricky. I hang out with a lot of people who read a lot of books and I try to limit myself because books, once again, tend to be a lazy fallback for me. For this reason I basically only value recommendations from people who I trust have great taste in that particular domain and who knows what kind of books I like... or recommendations I've heard soooo many times I can no longer ignore them.

      When browsing books at the library, without looking for a specific book, I almost exclusively look for specific authors. Alternatively I search for a particular topic (e.g. "business economy") but this is only in a situations where I don't know any good authors and have no trusted recommendations which is extremely rare.
          

      Reading books

      First of all: Check out this Udemy course by Brandon Hakim; it has literally changed the way I read and perceive books! The biggest "Wow!" for me was when Brandon spoke about the perception of a book. Instead of me explaining this, check out the free preview video called: "The Single Mindset Shift That Permanently Transforms Your Reading". Highly recommended!

      Now, how do I read books? Well, first of all, and related to that course, I don't have the goal of "completing" a book; I read books to extract the big lessons relevant to me.

      How I read a book is also greatly affected by which mode I'm in (see Modes):
      1. Distracted: Skim really fast to evaluate if the book is worth a second look
      2. Focused: Read parts of or even the full book, carefully, while having my notebook ready
      In my distracted mode I ignore anything in the book that doesn't strike me as super-interesting and I can stop long before I'm "done" if I see no sign of value (to me); this includes books I've bought.

      In my focused mode I typically start by looking at the table of contents, then the first page and at some point I land on the last page but on my way there I skip sections, skim parts, read others several times etc. The goal here is once again to find the nuggets. Parts I typically give an extra look are titles, summaries, bullet lists, quotes, visualizations and "colored boxes" (typically stuff the author thought was extra important). Whenever I find something interesting, I take a note.

      When I'm done with the book I typically walk through the notes just to help reinforce them. If anything is of extra interest to me I mark it with an orange exclamation mark. Notice that I add the exclamation marks after I'm done since I find it hard to take this decision while reading; in the moment, everything seems to be worth an exclamation mark.

      Something I've realized while writing this blog series is I probably should use this walk through to also form experiments or plan activities based on the book. This could help me tackle the problem with books not leading to action. But this is not something I do today.

      I try to always have at least one book ready that I've skimmed and want to dig deeper into so when I'm done with my current book I can immediately jump to the next.
       

      Recommendations

      A few books I love:
      • Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman
        Understand your thinking
           
      • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
        Take control over yourself, focus on mindset
           
      • Illusions and solutions, Kjell Enhager
        Take control over yourself, focus on exercises
             
      • Perfect Software, Gerald M. Weinberg
        Why stuff breaks
             
      • Are your light on?, Gerald M. Weinberg
        Problem solving
            
      • Fish!, Stephen C Lundin et al.
        Creating a better workplace
      Perfect Software is mostly for people working in the tech industry (role doesn't matter) but the rest are excellent reads for anyone in my opinion.