My 2 Year Journey Towards Re-establishing My Learning Habit (Update)
Updated: Feb 13
One of my earliest posts on my blog was about re-establishing my learning habit. A new series in my blog is re-writing and updating old blog posts. Not only to show my improvement with writing but to update on if I've actually used what I learned about.
As a kid I loved learning. I wanted to learn about everything. I had a kids encyclopedia I would turn to a page and look at a subject. If I had something I was obsessed about I would love to learn more. I remember after watching the Titanic movie I wanted to learn everything about the ship. I spent hours reading books and watching documentaries. My parents even took me to the local museum where we had the Titanic exhibit. It was an amazing experience. Learning about what I was interested in was one of the best things.
I continued this throughout college with subjects I had interest in. Which included pedagogy (the study of education). But after getting a full-time job this habit fell to the way side. Last year I wanted to re-establish my learning habit after watching a Youtube video from Thomas Frank called The 5 Hour Rule.
This will be part of my project where I'll be revisiting old blog posts I've written. Not only to rewrite it to improve the article. But also to explain what I've learned since I've written the article. To document if anything has changed. This won't happen for every article but for many of my earlier posts. If you've already read this post and want to skip to what's new click here.
Overview of Thomas Frank Video
First is an overview of Thomas Frank's video. He explains how automation and machines are improving. This automation it's eliminating jobs in the process. Like how before a spreadsheet program (Microsoft Excel), there were people who manually updated spreadsheets. This job was eliminated with the rise of Excel and other similar spreadsheet programs. But there's a way to succeed in your career even as automation improves. It's continually learning and improving your skills/knowledge.
There are a few types of skills he suggests to focus on:
Specific career skills - like for data analyst you want to focus on skills like SQL, Excel, data visualization, and a programming language
Decrease in domain dependence - domain dependence happens when a person has a lot of expertise and skills in one area but they have an inability to transfer those skills to a new field even if those two skills have a lot of underlying similarities. You need to be adaptable. Transfer previous skills to new problems.
Essential skills - public speaking, budgeting, cooking
What I Did
When I first watched the video I committed to the 5 Hour Rule for the next month. I created a "Learning Log". In this log I wrote down: date, time spent learning, type of learning (e.g. data science, mathematics, general, business) and a description. I gamified my learning habit. If you're interested in this idea of gamifying habits/productivity system listen to the podcast episode: Productivity Lessons from Video Game Design). This dashboard was a way to visualize the progress I was making on different skills. Similar to the XP bar in many games. I was able to "level up" my knowledge in different areas. Learning itself became fun.
I managed to log an average of 12 hours weekly dedicated to learning. I began enjoying learning about all different types of subjects. I made sure not to limit myself. The goal was to establish my learning habit, what I learned wasn't important at the time. After 6 months of learning and committing to the rule. I decided to become more specific about my learning. I wanted to spend at least 30 minutes every weekday learning data science skills.
My Learning Log
Below is a screenshot of the last two weeks using this spreadsheet. This is the data worksheet where I record the dates, and type of learning I'm doing.
Then is the dashboard which shows: how much total time I've spent this year; the count of the time of learning; monthly totals for learning; and time spent for specific activities. Below this I have simple bar charts for showing the Time Spent for: (1) Day of the Week; and (2) Type of Learning. As separate bar charts.
If you would like to copy my template for yourself click here. I've included the first week as a template you can use. Change the categories to suit your needs. Please note you will need to manually input your entries. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any troubles with the spreadsheet.
What's Happened Since Then (Update):
Since publishing my blog post, over a year ago. I've committed to this rule. It's become a part of my identity and something I write about frequently on my blog. Last year I was able to log: 34,175 minutes or 569.58 hours. With an average of 12 hours per week. Which I noted on my Spotify 2021 Wrapped Project. I achieved my goal of 5 hours a week.
I did make a few changes to my system.
First was how I tracked my hours:
I was diligent about tracking my time. Another way I began tracking my time was using an app called Forest. Every time you start a timer or a stopwatch you plant a tree. If you try to leave the app the tree dies. And your forest (which is where all your planted trees are) has a dead tree. This is used to encourage you to focus because you don't want an ugly tree in your Forest. It seems like a silly idea but it works. You can also buy new types of trees (using coins) which you earn every time you successfully plant a tree.
I use this app as a timer and also blocks all other apps so you can focus. It has it's own dashboard and way of tracking. This is a great tool for those of you who don't want to track or create your own dashboard.
Second was splitting "deep work" from "learning" time:
But there is a problem. I began mixing what I considered "deep work" with "learning". Deep work is when I'm focusing on a project or task and only on that task. But I'm not necessarily learning something new. For instance writing blog posts is deep work but not learning time. See article my article on the definition and idea of deep work. Which is based on the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. Learning time is time spent on learning specific skills. So in the end the total time became mixed and wasn't a true reflection of all learning time.
This year I decided to rename my learning log as my deep work log. This includes all time in deep work which may or may not include learning. Then I create a separate learning log to track time when I'm either learning new skills or gaining knowledge in other areas I want to keep track of (e.g., mathematics, economics). This way when I do my "end of the year review". It will be a true reflection of what I've learned instead of an ambiguous mix.
Now with this new system I've committed to 10 hours of deep work per week and 5 hours of learning per week. It's changed my approach towards learning and it's another way for me to practice data analytics. I've been able to learn skills like:
creating and distributing a newsletter;
visualize data using Tableau Public; and
able to create infographics and backgrounds using Figma.
Even if you don't document your minutes learning or any other skill you build, I encourage you to begin learning regardless. The habit of continually learning is crucial towards your well being.