Archive for June, 2011

The Tipping Point

Monday, June 20th, 2011

What are the steps in learning a new skill?

First you hear about it. You think, hey, that’s something I could do! And you set about learning everything you can about the subject.

You’re limited by knowledge. You don’t know how to write an iPhone app/design a website/golf anywhere near par, so you watch others and read and try to learn as much as you can. The more you learn, the better you get.

This is the amateur period. You don’t quite know what you’re doing, and you’re not yet a force to be reckoned with in your new field of interest.

What happens at the end of this phase? When you’ve learned as much as you can from others, and the only way to improve from here on out is to practice and gain experience?

Well, you’ve reached the tipping point.

…and you’re not alone!

This happens to everyone, and applies to any new skill. There’s always a point where you make the transition from “reading about training for a marathon is helpful” to “now all I need to do is run!”

You probably knew that already. Here’s the useful bit:

The way you study and improve is very different before and after the tipping point. Here’s how you can maximize your gains — how good you get at this new skill! — before and after that point:

Before:

1. Breadth is more valuable than depth.

You should learn as widely as possible. The more topics you’re aware of in writing ActionScript/snowboarding/beekeeping, the better. Being informed helps you specialize post-tip, so you can focus on whatever you enjoy most.

2. Learn from as many resources as possible.

I’m sure your friend is fantastic at hacking perl/home decor/figure skating, but it’s always best to get a second (or third) opinion. You have to do your due diligence. Find another mentor, pick up a great book, subscribe to a few blogs (or magazines!) or take a course.

Diversification is key, because it ensures you’re getting the whole picture. The more sources you hear from, the less bias. You want a balanced opinion.

After:

1. Switch your focus to depth.

You know what you like about blogging/motorcycling/meditation, so focus on that. Become an expert. Your new goal is to be your friends’ and acquaintances’ go-to guy (or gal) about your new passion.

2. Share your knowledge.

Now that you’re one of the pros, it’s time to start paying back the web design/juggling/skydiving community. Help out on a few forums, start a blog, offer tutorials to close friends and family. Share your new love of your new favourite thing!

Regardless, I wish you well on your quest to learn something new. It’s an exciting time, and by keeping a few things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a maven in no time!

Productivity Hack: Killer Mondays

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Monday is my new favourite day of the week.

Most people hate Mondays. My commute this past Monday was full of unhappy, sleepy faces. I used to be like them. Barely awake, I’d drag myself on and off the bus, and proceed to have a slow morning followed by a marginally faster afternoon.

Then I woke up. Literally, and figuratively. Monday is the start of my week. My week. Do I really want to kick off my next five days in a groggy, semi-productive state? What does that say about me and my work habits?

When you start a new project, do you half-ass the first few days? Do you promise yourself you’ll make up for it later in the schedule? Of course you don’t. So why is that an acceptable way to start your week?

Next week I want you to absolutely crush Monday. Make it memorable. Make it the best day you’ve had all month. Get your week started off right, and see what soaring heights it brings you to.

Then do the same the next week.

And again, the week after that.

Eventually, those killer Mondays will become your new norm. And when the rest of your week has caught up, and gotten even better? Give this article another read, and start anew.

Focus on the Frisbee

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I had my mid-term review at work last week. This is a meeting where I meet with my manager, and we discuss my accomplishments, goals, strengths and weaknesses over the past six months (we have a similar year-end review in the fall).

I won’t brag about the great things I’ve done this year, or how awesome I am at my job, or about the superb goals I’ve set this year. What I want to talk about is my biggest weakness:

I lack focus.

My boss compared me to a puppy.

Tony is great at explaining things. This was a perfect analogy. Here’s how I remember it:

“It’s like bringing a puppy to the park. He’s really excited to be there, full of energy. You throw a frisbee and he’s off and running after it.

Then he catches a whiff of something really interesting, and slows down to figure out what it is.

After following the scent a few steps, he sees a squirrel out of the corner of his eye, and sprints after it…”

You can see where this is going. The puppy takes forever to get to the frisbee, because he got caught up doing other things. Important dog things, maybe. But the goal wasn’t to do great things: the goal was to retrieve a frisbee.

The similarity is striking.

I don’t have a short attention span, and I’m no slouch either. My problem is that I have a lot of energy, and no trouble finding interesting problems to solve.

We need a DAO to retrieve model data? Great! We should probably use Core Data for the model, let me go ahead and set that up. Oh, and this property should be an enumeration! What’s the syntax for that again? What’s the proper way to store enumerations in Core Data, anyway? We’ll want to localize this too, and I’ll need a new function to serialize it for the UI, and…

And all we needed was a DAO.

(Yes, this is a true story.)

Instead of focusing on quickly pumping out the data access classes that we really needed, I wasted time solving interesting sub-problems that weren’t part of my task.

As you might have guessed, this came with consequences. My task was (very) late, and instead of spending that extra energy on other things we really needed that week, I spent it on a deep-dive into enumerations in objective-c.

Lesson learned.

I read a great quote a little while ago. So good that I wrote it down:

“Management is the art of choosing what not to do.”

Turns out the same is true for other disciplines. This was advice I really needed to hear.

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(P.S. That last quote is by Michael Lopp, from his book Being Geek. This book is so badass that it has its own trailer. Check it out! It’s a great read.)