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How to Learn and Improve - Part I

Cory Dorfner
Avid Learner | Analytical Mindset | Relationship Builder | Achiever | Inspired by the future and what could be.
Updated on ・9 min read

Welcome back to my series on Switching Career Paths. If you are new to the series, be sure to go back and read the first post You're Hired!. It's a quick introduction into the series and provides a little background information into myself and my journey to switch careers from the manufacturing industry to the tech world.

Human beings are capable of many great things. One of those is our ability to learn and grow throughout our entire lives. It is because of this trait that we have been able to advance our society from that of cave people making fire for the first time to a technological powerhouse of a planet, creating metaphorical fire every day with our creativity and innovation. Some of you might be wondering, "How come I have such a difficult time learning and growing myself as an individual?". Well, the reasoning behind that may be something as simple as you not having learned how to learn yet.

Steve Brule Huh Gif

In my opinion, the greatest fallacy of the educational system, at least in the USA, is that they never teach you how to actually learn. They simply provide you with information and instruct you to memorize it for the next upcoming test. Once that test is completed though, you can most likely forget about it and move onto the next topic. While this is a useful method to cram your brain full of information and get a good grade, it is lackluster for long term gains in knowledge. Over my many years outside of school though, I have discovered numerous sources on the topic of learning and improving yourself. While many of these have been repetitive and/or lack substance of their own, there were a few methods that I found incredibly helpful and would like to share with you through a two part story in my Switching Career Paths series.

Table of Contents:

  1. Persistence
  2. The One Thing Mindset
  3. Prioritize

Persistence

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
    -Calvin Coolidge

This quote is the key to learning and improving upon yourself. Let's take a deeper look at the contents of this quote. Right in the beginning, it says that there is nothing more important than persistence. Neither talent, genius, or education are more vital that persistence. There are numerous stories throughout our life where talented individuals have failed in their task, incredibly smart individuals never see their work completed or are not credited with it, and we've already discussed the issues with our current educational system. It then continues to state that persistence and determination have unlimited power. Only through the application of persistence are we able to achieve anything we set our mind to. Now that you understand the power of persistence, let's focus on how you set your mind to be persistent and focus on getting your task completed.


The One Thing Mindset

"If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one"
    -Russian Proverb

A very simple proverb, yet one that summarizes this section up perfectly. While persistence is of the utmost importance, focusing on too many things simultaneously will get you nowhere. This is where the one thing mindset comes into play. I recently read a book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan titled The One Thing1, which introduced me to the concept of focusing fully on the one thing that you can do today to achieve your goals. I would highly recommend this book to anyone out there who struggles to stay focused on their tasks and achieve great results. It's a fairly quick read and is packed full of information on narrowing down your focus to the most important goal, looking all the way out from your major life goal to the most important thing to do right now to achieve that goal.

Jay and Gary start off by breaking down numerous lies and misconceptions we have in our every day life and then helps you understand your values, purpose, priorities, and how to go about being productive towards those priorities. I don't want to give away all the secrets of this book though, as I truly believe it will be more helpful to you in the long run than a quick synopsis in a blog. By reading the book and giving a full-hearted effort towards living by its statement for a few weeks, you will begin to realize the power of its message and find yourself more focused on your goals and persistent towards achieving your dreams. So what are you waiting for? Head over to their website (linked in the sources below) and start learning more about The One Thing mindset or see if you can find their book in your local library. Trust me, it's worth the read and I will still be here waiting for you when you get back. 😊


Prioritize

"It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials."
    -Bruce Lee

Now that you have a better understanding on the power of persistence and The One Thing mindset, let's dig a little deeper into how to better prioritize your tasks. First off, the idea that humans can effectively multitask is a myth. It is vital that you remove that term from your vocabulary when referring to tasks that you need to get done with a high quality of work. In fact, the term multitasking has really only been in existence since 1965 when IBM submitted a report talking about the capabilities of it's latest computer2. The key point to remember though is that we are not computers. Our biology prevents us from truly being able to multitask. True, we are able to do two things simultaneously, such as walking and talking, but only after muscle memory has been created.

Spongebob Squarepants Multitasking Gif

This requires a lot of repetition and training to the point that these tasks can be performed automatically without the thinking areas of the brain. Unfortunately though, we are mostly incapable of focusing on two different tasks at the same time. When trying to focus on different tasks simultaneously, our brain has to quickly switch back and forth between these tasks, which typically involves a cost to our performance. In 2003, a study3 was published in the International Journal of Information Management, which found that the average individual looks at their emails every five minutes. After viewing their emails, it took them, on average, 64 seconds to get back to their prior task and resume work. That's 1 wasted minute out of every 6! In a typical 8 hour work day, you're looking at a total wasted time of 80 minutes, just from email checking alone. 🤯

So how do you go about beating this inefficiency, you might ask? Well, there are numerous methods that I employ to do so but the most important is one I discovered from Steve Glaveski, known as PCOATS4. This acronym has nothing to do with the stylish winter wear known as pea coats, but has been invaluable to me when determining how to reduce my workload and prioritize on the important things.

  • Prioritize: There is not much more I would like to add here, as you should have already learned about prioritizing from The One Thing Mindset. The only point I'll add in here is a principle I learned while working in the quality field for a manufacturing company. This would be the Pareto Principle, named after economist Vilfredo Pareto, which states that, for numerous outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, otherwise referred to as the vital few. When identifying what to prioritize in your life, be sure to focus on the vital few items that will provide you with the greatest return, whether that be family, friends, work, or health (physical, mental, and/or spiritual). What is the other 80% of your work that you are currently doing that should be cut, outsourced, or automated?
  • Cut: Anything that doesn't add value, or perhaps even takes value away from your life, should be cut from your workload immediately. This could include checking emails every 5 minutes, becoming distracted from your work due to notifications on your phone and/or computer, or conversations and meetings with coworkers that you shouldn't be a part of. While socializing is important for your mental health, wasting time on work that doesn't involve you or doesn't provide value to the work you should be doing, must be cut from your schedule.
  • Outsource: What work are you doing that currently is more administrative in general? Is there anything that could be delegated to someone else, possibly on your team or a virtual assistant, to help get the basic work done? This could include things, such as, running errands, cleaning, sorting, attending meetings, doing budget and expense reports, and cold-calling prospective clients. If there is admin work you are currently doing that is holding you back or keeping you away from the more vital tasks, maybe it's time to consider outsourcing those responsibilities to someone else.
  • Automate: Are there any tasks that you perform each and every day or week that could be automated? Perhaps your boss requires a weekly report from you on the work you did or plan on doing. Is there any way that you could automate this task to avoid having to recreate the wheel each week? Maybe instead, you're a content creator and spend a lot of your time sharing the same information across different social media platforms. You could look to tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, or Everypost to help automate the process and provide you with a social media management dashboard to track everything in one place. Regardless of the task, there is most likely a solution out there to help manage and automate that process. It might take a little bit of research but I know you can do it and, if you come across a task that has no automated solution currently, maybe it's time to build one!
  • Test: Now that you have cut out unnecessary work, automated what you could, and outsourced the rest, you can finally focus on your priorities. But, how do you know if you're focusing on the right things and didn't cut/automate/outsource the wrong thing? This, is where testing becomes critical and S.M.A.R.T goals are crucial. Set some goals for yourself and your newly shortened list of tasks. Make sure those goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Give yourself a couple of weeks to track these goals and do a little self-reflection at the end. Do you feel like you're more productive and prioritizing the right work or do the goals show otherwise? If so, it's time to learn from the metrics, adapt your strategy, and test again. It might take some trial and error but, ultimately, you will find yourself more productive, achieving greater results than ever before, and enjoying life.
  • Start: This step, while at the end, is the most important to ensuring positive results with the process. This section is all about how you wake up on the right side of the bed and start the day strong. For myself personally, I wake up every morning with a workout of some kind, a relaxing shower, and then I make myself a cup of coffee while I take some time to learn something new or, depending on how busy the upcoming day is going to be, relax a bit further with a nice book. Never will you find me checking emails or social media in the morning. Those are just never ending streams of unneeded information, requests of your time, and a general distraction from starting your day off on the right foot.

Now that you have a better understanding of how I use PCOATs to help lighten my workload, prioritize on the right things, and start the day off right, it's your turn to see how you can take this mindset and apply it to your day.


So don't forget to press on and always remember, it's not about doing one thing but about focusing on the most important one thing at a time. If you enjoyed the post, be sure to follow me here and on social media too so that you don't miss part two, where I share some more useful methods to help you learn and improve! The links to my social media accounts can be found on the contact page of my personal website. If there are other tools or methods you use to help learn and improve, I would love to hear about them. Thank you and I look forward to your comments below!👋

Sources

  1. The One Thing by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan - https://www.the1thing.com/
  2. IBM Operating System/360 Concepts and Facilities by Witt and Ward. IBM Systems Reference Library. File Number: S360-36
  3. Jackson, T., Dawson, R. and Wilson, D., 2003. Reducing the effect of email interuption on employees. International Journal of Information Management, 23(1), pp.55-65
  4. How To Be Half As Busy and Twice As Productive (And Effective!) by Steve Glaveski - https://www.collectivecampus.io/blog/how-to-be-half-as-busy-and-twice-as-productive-and-effective

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