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Your Skill Training Plan for Productivity

Your Skill Training Plan for Productivity

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    I’ve said it before: the best approach to productivity is a simple one, and that approach is to know what needs doing, and then do what needs doing. I’m not talking systems. How you manage the knowing and doing is another issue. But approaching productivity on this simple level is important. In our effort to become more productive, our strange human minds can sometimes turn it into an almost mystical and ethereal concept with hidden treasures and secrets waiting for those who explore it enough.

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    But at the end of the day, all this business about getting productive is mundane. It’s dirty. It’s about just doing what needs doing. There are other things that deserve to be put on the philosophical pedestal and considered deeply, such as how we make meaning from what we do and discover the things we’re passionate about. These are the things that make greater productivity a pursuit that’s worthwhile in the first place.

    Because on its own, being productive means nothing, and it’s such a mundane thing that I occasionally wonder if we’re creating much ado about nothing. But the truth is that we’re not and that increasing our skill in furthering our goals through action is indeed worthwhile; without it, those more important things in life can’t stand on their own two legs. Productivity is a pillar and a propellant for them.

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    Reading about productivity and lifehacking can be a hobby. But it can also be a way to feel better about the fact we’re not getting anything done or making significant improvements in our life, just as some people find that overeating can help ease (or temporarily erase) emotional pain. Use it like a crutch, and it’ll become more than it really is and more complicated than it really is, because you depend on the crutch, exacerbating the problem you had in the first place with facing your dreams head on and figuring out how to make them happen.

    I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a geek and in what little spare time I can gather after work and family are satisfied, I play a bit of EVE Online. In this game you must advance and improve your character and his or her abilities by training skills, and because it’s such an intellectual and complicated game there are even third party applications that can help you create a skill training plan that spans years.

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    What’s that got to do with anything? Well, I think sometimes we need to stop talking about productivity all day like it’s some fluffy cloud in the sky, sit down and look at what’s really stopping us from getting things done. A lot of the time it’s because we simply don’t have the skills required to be productive. Like speaking a language, cooking, playing chess or even EVE, being productive is not an instinctual thing we’re born with. It’s something you learn, and you get good at with time. And you won’t get anywhere without some sort of skill training plan.

    There’s an old saying that everyone has heard hundreds of times: practice makes perfect. But what they forget to add is that if you’re not practicing the right things, you don’t get any better. If all you practice on the guitar or piano are the same scales you could already pull off flawlessly a year ago, you’re not learning anything new. You’re not getting any better at playing. Or, if you’re practicing with bad finger placement and flawed technique, you could actually be getting worse and creating health issues for yourself.

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    What’s needed is a path to improvement. A path that doesn’t go in circles covering the same ground and a path that doesn’t reinforce the negative behavior patterns we’ve learned over the years. Ever tried to look busy even though you’d done all the work you could for the day, just so your corporate overlords wouldn’t ask you why you weren’t working? That’s a negative behavior pattern caused by the society we live in and it can slip into all areas of your life without you even realizing it. Instead of staying where you are surrounded by bad habits and circular thinking, decide where you need to be in order to work past those things and get the real work done. You might start by focusing on a few core skills for productive thinking:

    • Discipline. 95% of getting things done is in doing the things that need to be done.
    • Evaluation. You need to be able to step above the day-to-day minutiae and evaluate whether you’re getting closer to your goals; if you’re not, you’re not getting the right things done.
    • Discrimination. It’s sometimes a word with negative connotations, but you need to be able to discriminate between the important things — productive work — and the busywork.
    • Discipline.
    • Foresight. You need to able to see your big-picture goals and the tomorrow you intend to create in the first place. Being productive without direction is pointless.

    There are many skills that factor into being competently productive and these are just a few of them. The point is not to tell you what you need to handle. The point is that you should be thinking about what you need to handle and working towards being better at productivity in a proactive way. Reading about productivity in order to gain knowledge about it is a good thing, but too often it becomes the end of the path.

    This will be my last post on Lifehack for a while as I adapt to a new and fairly significant role over the coming weeks. I wanted to leave you with something that got you thinking about where you’re going with productivity, why you read blogs like Lifehack, and what you’re getting out of it. I hope I succeeded, and if I did get you thinking I’d love to hear about in the comments.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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