14 February 2019

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.


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