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The Macaroni and Cheese Project

The Macaroni and Cheese Project
Macaroni and Cheese

If you live in a civilized nation (especially the United States), chances are you’ve had occasion to make yourself up a batch of Macaroni and Cheese. It’s something of a staple of young adult life, especially in college dorms where cash is scarce and any meal that costs less than $2 to make is just fine. And even though it’s a multi-step process, most people can hammer out a plate of this stuff with little effort after just a couple of attempts.

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Personally, I found the making of this pauper’s delicassie to be a rather excellent example of how to effectively manage a “project” (in the GTD sense, a set of two or more physical actions which produce a well-defined outcome). Here are a few tips to illustrate what I mean more clearly:

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  • Know your outcome – A bit overly simplistic when talking about Mac n’ Cheese, but something that’s often overlooked when planning a project. What is your goal, exactly? Or, to use the parlance of The David, what would the successful completion of this project look like? In this case, obviously, it’d be a steaming plate of cheap pasta with some cheese-like dressing all over it. The important thing is to avoid ambiguity when defining your project outcomes (like, for instance, “Learn to Dance”).
  • Be Prepared – You wouldn’t set out to make Mac n’ Cheese without the proper ingredients and utensils, would you? Selecting and gathering the appropriate tools and information needed to complete a project should be part of the project itself. If I decide to make Mac n’ Cheese, the first thing I’d do (beside actually getting the box from the grocery store) would be to make sure I have the milk and butter. Next, the sauce pot and strainer, and so forth. Again, sounds extremely obvious, but I know I’ve personally set out to complete projects for which I was absolutely ill-equipped! Like going and buying an orange tree to plant in my backyard without having ever verified that I had a functional shovel waiting for me (don’t laugh). When you choose that Next Action, make sure you’re actually ready to perform it when the time comes!
  • Spice it Up and Be Flexible – If you’ve committed yourself to learning how to program in Ruby, for instance, you don’t necessarily have to follow your Ruby text’s tutorial instructions exactly. If you come to a point where you’re thinking “I wonder if I can do [something]”, give it a shot! Same thing with our old Mac n’ Cheese. In addition to the normal “box” preparation, there are countless ways to trick out your meal (fresh ground pepper and a whole bunch of parmesan cheese – and thank me later). Bottom line, be ready for your project to take slight changes in direction based on intermediate outcomes or changes in priority. And you never know what enlightening little tidbits you’ll pick up if you manage your projects creatively!
  • Monitoring your Progress – Very few projects (especially Mac n’ Cheese) are “set it and forget it” operations. You need to keep an eye on the state of affairs to make sure no funny business is going down while your back is turned. How many overly-confident Macaroni chefs out there have overcooked the noodles because they were off reading RSS feeds? Or let the pot boil over because they didn’t adjust the post-boil temperature correctly? No, the conscientious cook knows that, after the first few minutes, you need to pull a noodle out every 30 seconds or so to see if they’re ready to come off of the heat. In a very bohemian sort of way, this would be like doing your weekly review – except you’re tracking the progress every few minutes instead of once per week.

Again, a somewhat silly example, but once you’ve allowed the GTD mindset to pervade all of your practices and procedures, it really is quite amazing how these principles will shine through, even from the most unlikely of situations!

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Brett Kelly is a computer programmer, coffee roaster and productivity geek from Southern California. In addition to driving his wife crazy, he also provides relevant, practical (and often humorous) tips on GTD, Technology and Productivity at The Cranking Widgets Blog (feed).

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

1. Always Have a Book

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

3. Get More Intellectual Friends

Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

4. Guided Thinking

Albert Einstein once said,

“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

5. Put it Into Practice

Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

6. Teach Others

You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

7. Clean Your Input

Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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8. Learn in Groups

Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

9. Unlearn Assumptions

You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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11. Start a Project

Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

12. Follow Your Intuition

Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

13. The Morning Fifteen

Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

14. Reap the Rewards

Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

15. Make Learning a Priority

Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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