Review : 10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly course

10steps-3d-smI picked up the new 10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly course that was just launched by John Sonmez. John writes great material on his blog about how to improve your career as a software developer. I care a lot about learning how to learn better, so when I saw he released a new product I had to see what I could learn from it. There are so many things to learn as a software developer to stay up to date, so if this can help me being faster it’s sure to be worth it.

The product is a series of videos with a workbook and transcripts, so I was able to go through it in a few nights in my spare time. It does exactly what it says in the title: it’s a process to pick up any new skill you wish to learn quickly. First, he teaches you how to plan out your learning, and then follows with techniques explaining how to execute this plan. Most of us already do some of those things, but the process is rarely as structured as the one described in the course. It’s a nice and clean process for someone looking for more productivity in their learning.

Don’t expect materials on choosing what to learn or on how to use those new skills in your career: the process is focused on getting better at a skill you already wish to learn, which could be a new programming language or a skill like pixel art as shown in the course. Rather, it will help you see what are the steps you have to go through to get better at your chosen skill.

If you’re more interested in career advice, this is not really the course for you. I’ve reviewed another of John’s product, Soft Skills, which is more about the big picture and how all the parts of a developer’s life fit together.

I believe the course is valuable for someone who has to pick up new skills frequently, which is the case for most software developers. I’ll be using it next time I need to jump into something new to remind myself of the proper steps to stay efficient and avoid wasting time.

Sign up now to receive my latest musings about the craft of software directly in your inbox.

You don’t suck at learning

FingerweavingStashsI suck at learning, I won’t be able to do this. I heard this as people were filling in for a introduction to fingerweaving class I was teaching last weekend. The students had varying levels of crafting skills, but all of them were total beginners as far as fingerweaving was concerned. Even then, everybody learned the basic pattern I was teaching during the first hour and could work by themselves by the time the class was over. A few people needed more help to get started, but they managed just fine and will be able to practice at home.

That first sentence sounds familiar? You may be trying to learn new programming languages and not weaving, but the fear you feel and the process you go through is the same one. Not everybody says it out loud, but this fear is always in the back of your head when you’re trying to learn something new. This feeling will never go away completely, but you can learn to manage it and understand the process so you get over it faster.

I coach people often at work, and even there I’ve never meet people that were totally unable to learn new concepts, be in coding skills or problem domain knowledge. People learn in different ways, but everybody gets there in the end and nobody just sucks at learn. If you got this far in your career and your life, you can learn decently that’s for sure. You didn’t lose your learning ability magically during the night at some point. You just need to be aware that you’ll be going through this process and learn how to learn better.

Here is how it usually goes: at first, everything is new and makes you feel dumb. But as you get more familiar with the basic knowledge and skills involved, you’re able to make links between those concepts and your existing knowledge. You feel more confident and in control. Once you’re past this point, you only need more practice to build on the base you already have. Your new skill grows faster since you have better understanding of what’s going on.

But when there is no teacher with you, you need to be mindful and understand how you learn. You can then use this to go over the fear faster and build confidence instead of just giving up. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself the next time you’re learning something new :

  • Do you learn faster with videos? Or you favor books and articles?
  • Do you need to know all the theory? Or do you learn better with only examples?
  • Should you learn just the minimum and experiment on your own at first? Or do you need a strong foundation to feel confident enough to experiment?

If you’re in touch with your own learning style, you can choose the best mix of resources to help you learn faster. You don’t want to stay stuck too long and kill your momentum: try and look at another resource if it doesn’t stick with the first explanation. And if all else fails, give yourself space by taking a walk or sleeping on it. You can look at the problem with fresh eyes during your next learning session. You don’t suck, you’re just new at it.

4 tactics to avoid procrastination and get started

Young lady is going up via the drawn ladder to the huge lightbulb. A concept of ideas in business.Finishing a large project is hard. There are many shiny objects that grabs your attention and prevent you from getting to your goal. To be able to finish projects, you must be able to get a good amount of work done in the long term without being distracted. You’ll get a burst of motivation when you start something new, but this fades quickly. Even if you’re tempted to procrastinate, you still need to do the work if you want to finish at some point.

If you’re learning new technologies and growing your skills on the side, you’ll need to use the small gaps of free time in your day to make progress. When time is scarce, every extra minute can help you go forward. You must learn to get started immediately when you’re in one of those gaps instead of messing around on social media and losing precious time. This way, you’ll accumulate many small wins and end up finishing your project instead of stalling. It’s hard to make progress if you need to have many hours of free time in front of you to get the messing around out of your system and get started working.

But, how can you learn how to start and work effectively when you have a bit of extra time in your day? Here are 4 tactics to make your starting muscle stronger and avoid procrastination :

Building good habits

Habits are a powerful thing. You must learn to build habits that helps you go forward instead of living with habits that work against you.

According to the excellent book The Power of Habit, an habit is made of three parts: a cue, a routine and a reward. The cue is the trigger that starts the habit, the routine is the action itself and the reward is the positive thing that happens as a result of doing the habit. If you pay attention, you’ll notice this pattern repeating itself multiple times in your own day. Once you understand how it use, you cans use this pattern to create your own habits, or to modify existing habits by modify the action you take in response to a cue.

For example, to build an habit of learning something new every night, you can bring a cup of your favorite tea to your computer at the same time every night and sit down to learn for 30 minute. Over time, you’ll come to strongly associate the cup of tea with learning. You’ll start thinking about learning as soon as you start preparing your tea, and when you sit down you’ll be ready to get going. It’ll become part of your regular day, like brushing your teeth, and you won’t be able to do without.

Giving yourself goals

Goals will give you the focus to work on things that are important to you. You’re not limited to one large goal for each project: you must have many smaller milestones on the way.

Trying to work on something in your cave for a year without having any other milestone on the way is hard and demotivating, which leads to procrastination. Not every day or every task is exciting, and you have to put your head down and do the work at some point. But if you never check your progress, you can easily get distracted and work on things that don’t really help you reach your huge goal without even noticing it.

When you’re planning milestones, they shouldn’t be so far away that it feels like you have an eternity to work on them. Make them short enough so it’s a bit of a challenge and you have to put in some effort to complete them. People generally overestimate what can be done over a short period like a week or two, and underestimate what can be done in a year.

If you make your milestones in chunks that are a few months long, they’ll be in the sweet spot between too short and too long. You’ll have many quick wins and validate that you’re making progress. When you sit down, you’ll know that you must work on a concrete task that helps advance to the next milestone, and not some vague and humongous goals that’s hard to grasp, so you can work more effectively.

Timeboxing tasks

Timeboxing means constraining a task to a specific time frame. It’s like a mini-deadline to help you finish a task faster.

Most of us works faster and more efficiently when we have constraints. When time seems unlimited, it’s easy to slack and leave time undone, but when a due date is looming the works magically gets done. You can use this to your advantage: give yourself limited time to complete something when you sit down, and work only on that thing.

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular method to do this. It suggests 25 minutes work sessions, followed by a 5 minutes break. You start a timer, get cranking on your task until the time is up, take a break, and start over again. If you’re working for a longer period, the method suggests taking a 15 minutes break after 4 cycles.

Another way to do this is to use music. If you listen to music while coding, you can build playlists that last just long enough for a work session. When the music stops, it means that you reached the end of your period. You can then take a small break and start over with another playlist if you have more time.

Planning tasks in advance

When you only have a bit of time free, it’s important to know which tasks you can work on.

If you must spend time figuring out what to do next every time you get started, you’ll loose precious time. You should keep a list of tasks handy so you can drop by and do something as soon as you have some free time. Planning and working require different mindsets: you should deliberately choose which one of the two your are currently doing.

Planning doesn’t need to be complicated: a Trello board with a card for each task is enough. First, do a planning session to fill out your board. After you have a good buffer of tasks, you can just write down new tasks as they come up. As a bonus, writing down your tasks will stop them from going around in your head, helping you save willpower and brain cycles for more important things.

What are your favorite tactic to make the most of the free time you have?