Time to Think

Don’t you sometimes feel you are so deep in what you are doing that you don’t have time to think?

Being a contractor I sometimes get periods to myself where I am not working full time. I recently came off a stint of 18 months of back-to-back contracts. I didn’t have a day off sick and only took one day of holiday in all that time. Surprisingly, I wasn’t exhausted, but felt something was missing from my life. So during my current downtime I decided to renovate a property and catch-up on some learning. I finished the renovation, read some books, wrote some blogs, watched some TED talks.

What I didn’t understand, until today, was how important this time has been to me; the hurly burly of project life often seems to preclude self inspection and improvement. My unconscious goal was to pursue neglected areas to be able to look at challenges in a new way. So I thought I would put down some things I’ve learnt about myself over the past few weeks including which techniques made my learning more fruitful.

1. Opening up
I recognised it was important that I put aside bias and prejudice to allow learning to happen. To do this I started with the Oath on Non-allegiance, which helped me tremendously.

2. Reading
I love reading non-fiction and realised I'd stopped doing it as often as I used to, so I picked up a few books that I’d been wanting to read for a long time. The focus of my reading was to help me understand problem solving. I also only bought books in physical form as opposed to using an e-reader. An unforeseen benefit of this was that my speed and comprehension improved over reading an e-reader. Some of the books from my list include:

3. Watching
I have a Amazon fire TV and I noticed they had a TED Talks app. This was a revelation as it was entirely different to watching on a computer. My goal here was to understand what makes us good at something, motivates us, makes us passionate and brings out our creativity. My three favourite TED talks in this area were:

4. Talking
Talking is a great way for me to learn, I get very excited when talking about a new subject and a I am a new convert to the Socratic Method (see reading: The Goal), I decided to ask more questions. I had been part of a number of groups that met regularly, but I always seemed to be too busy or tired to go along. With all those people out there who are practising making things work better, it was about time I started talking to a wider variety of people. I use Meetup for face to face and Linkedin Groups for online questions and answers.:

4. Doing
Some of the developers in my last project were discovering the power of the Go language, so I thought this would be my next thing to learn. My goal here was to open a conduit for my creativity. 

6. Digging
Sixteen years ago I read the original paper that linked the MMR vaccine to autism which confirmed the safety of immunising my children; during my downtime I rediscovered my passion for reading original research, or what I think of as “digging” through the source material. My goal here was to find original insights without the filter of interpretation. One site I love is https://www.academia.edu and one I have just found this but haven’t used it yet http://www.thefreelibrary.com

To summarise in no particular order:
  • Take advantage of the time you have to improve yourself
  • If you don’t have time for learning then question what you are spending your time on
  • Use all your senses while learning, preferably at the same time
  • Be willing to throw away what you have learnt previously
  • Set a personal self improvement goal with some steps on how you will move towards it
  • Do a little bit often, don’t leave reading a book to when you are on vacation
  • And, most importantly, don’t follow this list other than to give you ideas - discover your own best path to learning


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