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Cory Dorfner
Cory Dorfner

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How to Learn and Improve - Part II

"Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important."
    -Stephen R. Covey

Welcome back to part two of my How to Learn and Improve miniseries! I hope you have taken some time this past week to reflect on yourself and see how you could apply some of what I previously wrote about into your life. 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. From there, you can move on to the next post in the series, which is the first half of this two part mini-series on How to Learn and Improve.

Today, I would like to talk about three additional techniques I use to help keep my learning organized and improve on a daily basis. These three concepts are most likely things you have heard about in the past and maybe even already tried to apply but found little to no success. If you have not heard about these before, that's okay! I'm glad your here and letting me share a little of my knowledge with you. If you've tried some or even all of these methods before, then great! A little background into these methods definitely doesn't hurt but I hope they didn't leave a bad impression on you. If these methods didn't work for you in the past, I only ask that you take a couple of minutes before continuing on to do a little self-reflection and ask yourself why?

  • Where they not applied properly?
  • Did you only try them out for a short period of time before convincing yourself they did not help?
  • Did you only try to apply one at a time, instead of incorporating them all into your life to see the true magic happen?

Whatever the case may be, after reading how I incorporate them into my life, I hope you will give them another try and experience the joy that comes with learning and seeing yourself improve.

Patrick and Spongebob Celebrating

Table of Contents:

  1. Agile Methodologies
  2. The Pomodoro Technique
  3. Incremental Improvements

Agile Methodologies

"Adopt the attitude that continuous planning is a good thing – In every iteration, expect your plans to change (albeit in small ways if your planning is effective). Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the plan is infallible."
    -Ian Spence and Kurt Bittner

Incorporating Agile methodologies into your personal life will take you from mindlessly wandering through your goals and never quite completing them, to that of properly planning and tracking their success, step by step. Don't worry though! I'm not about to tell you that you need to map out everything you want to achieve and track each minute step to achieve that goal.

Seinfield Relief Gif

Life is hectic and things are bound to change. The purpose of Agile methodology is to promote a disciplined management of a process with frequent inspection and adaptation. The key word here is adaptation. What is life but not constant change and adaptation towards our environment and surrounding. This makes Agile the perfect method to employ in defining your goal and tracking the progress of it as life changes and steps need to be updated.

To best accomplish this, the first step I would recomend is to utilize the concept of Kanban from a high level view of your goal, and identifying all major components to achieve it. How you do this is up to you but I would recommend getting a pack of sticky notes, a marker, and a wall and just go crazy. Write down each item on a sticky note, put it up on the wall, and keep going until you've captured every applicable step to achieve that goal.

From there, incorporate the principles of Lean to determine what is unneeded waste, and eliminate those from the scope of your Kanban list. Take a long, thoughtful look at each item and identify anything and everything that could be extra steps with little value, items that could or should be done after achieving your goal, or simply nice to haves. Remove those items and take a deep sigh of relief. Below is a quote that I always keep in the back of my mind when working through this process:

"It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
    -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Finally, model the remaining items in your Kanban list to a Scrum board with simple headings of To-Do, Doing, and Done to track your progress as you move towards completing that goal. When moving items from the To-Do column over to the Doing column, be sure to only move what you can complete in your allotted time. For example, if your tracking it daily, only move over those items that you can comfortably complete in a day. Once you have completed a task in the Doing column, move it immediately over to the Done column and take a moment to enjoy the small win you just achieved. After you have finished the mapping of your learning and improvement goal with Agile methodologies, you are ready to start on your journey and incorporate the next method into your process, which will help you as you work through your daily tasks.

The Pomodoro Technique

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then start on the first one"

Now that you have taken the time to map out your improvement goal into a list of To-Do items, it's time to start tackling that list one item at a time. This is easier said than done though. It's incredibly easy to start working on these items and become frustrated, overwhelmed, or burnt-out. One simple way I've found to avoid this is by following the Pomodoro Technique. By utilizing the steps below and allowing yourself frequent breaks from your work/studies, you give your brain the much needed mental break it deserves to stay focused and ready for your task's challenges. The steps of the Pomodoro Technique are as follows:

  1. Pick a task from your To-Do list to start working on. If you feel like this task will take less than 25 minutes, group it with another task to fill the time slot
  2. Set a 25 minute timer using something as simple as a mechanical timer or an App on your phone that can disable notifications so that you don't get distracted
  3. Work on your task until the time is up
  4. Take a well-deserved 5 minute break
  5. Every 4 pomodoros (2 hours), take a longer 15-30 minute break depending on how mentally drained you feel

You start by picking a task from you To-Do list to start working on. If you feel like this task will take less than 25 minutes, group it with another one to help fill the time slot. You might be unsure how long a certain task will take when you first start using this method. That's okay! It's normal at first but you will eventually start to get a better feel for the timing after a few weeks or maybe even a few days depending on your time management skills. If you feel like your task will take you more than 8 hours (i.e. a full work day) then you need to break it down a bit further. You want to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and only being partway through a item will not help you achieve that.

Once you have the task picked, set a 25 minute timer. This can be done with something as simple as an egg timer, the clock on your computer, or an app on your phone. If using an app though, be sure it is one that can disable notifications so that you don't get distracted. When the timer starts, begin working on your task until the time is up. For this process to be truly effective, you must be cautious to only focus on your designated task(s) for the 25 minutes. No looking at social media, checking emails, or getting distracted with other work. When you start the timer for your task, you must only focus on that task and provide it with the full attention it deserves. If you look back at my discussion on multi-tasking in the previous post, you will understand why.

Spongebob Multitasking

Once your 25 minutes of work is up, be sure to take a well-deserved 5 minute break. It's important to get away from your work area during the break. Stand-up, walk around, do some stretches or a light meditation session. Whatever it is, just be sure to get away from work and allow your eyes and brain a bit of relaxation and recovery time to prepare for the next session. From here, continue with steps 1 through 4 for 3 more pomodoro sessions. This allows you for 2 hours of incredible focus and productivity. Once you have completed 4 pomodoros in a row, be sure to reward yourself with a longer 15-30 minute break before continuing on. Go for a walk outside, take a coffee break, or play with your pets. Whatever it is, just be sure it's nothing work related to relax and recharge fully.

Incremental Improvements

"Change will be incremental and take time."
    -Mike Cottmeyer

This section isn't so much about a method to utilize but a mindset to embrace while learning and improving. It's too simple to start working on a new goal and quickly dismiss it as unattainable because you don't feel like you're making progress quickly enough. All of these concepts and methods I've discussed are meant to help you track your progress and realize your goals but they won't be of much help if there are unrealistic expectations.

Progress Over Perfection Gif

When working towards any long-term goal of improvement, it's critical to take time and appreciate the small, incremental gains you are making. Nothing worth doing was ever easy and your learning and improvement is no exception. Everything you are doing, while it may not seem like a lot day to day, is all building up to something great and will help you reach that ultimate dream of yours. By taking this information to heart, and working with these methods consistently, you will have a detailed history of all the work you have done.

Once you reach your goal, you will have no doubt in your mind of the massive improvement you've made on yourself and be proud of what you have done. While there may be the occassional failure or setback, each incremental improvement will make the next step easier and give you the knowledge and energy you need to keep moving forward. All it takes is that first step and first incremental improvement.

I hope you found this information helpful and applicable to your personal and professional lives! Always remember, it's more important to spend your time and efforts on what's important to you, not on what is the most urgent for others. If you enjoyed the post, be sure to follow me here and on social media too so that you don't miss the rest of my Switching Career Paths series, where I share some tips and insights into how I changed up my life for the better and how you can too! The links to my social media accounts can be found on the contact page of my personal website. Please feel free to share any of your own experiences with switching up your career path, general questions and comments, or even other topics you would like me to write about in the comments below. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!👋

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