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On learning and learning harder, better, faster, stronger

I started on my (company-sponsored) d.MBA course this past week, and… whew. I’ve been doing other MOOCs — massive open online courses — over the last few years, but this is the first one where I’m actually feeling stretched.

Stretched, both in terms of the materials and the amount of work and time I’ve already been putting in it, and it’s just week one. There are six weeks in this course, and I’m glad that I didn’t take up a teaching opportunity that would’ve overlapped in this time right now because there would have been zero chance I could juggle both teaching and learning at the same time.

I think I’m an okay student. Not great, sometimes bad — hello, my high school teachers who could tell when I didn’t put in effort at all sometimes — but in the meta of learning, I think I do pretty well.

Standardized tests (this question on the PSLE mathematics test has, unfortunately, stumped me this Saturday morning) were okay too, and I know myself and my own flaws enough to know that if I had put in just more time, I would have scored better.

Still, it’s not just about the optics of learning, but actually truly internalizing and accelerating my learnings and progress (growth being one of my core values). I know that I’ll have to give a playback of the course to the rest of my team, since it’s being sponsored, so I’m already trying the Feynman Technique and drafting quick outlines of the concepts to teach them to a wider team.

A few books I’m putting on my list, on this topic:

  • Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential by Barbara Oakley
  • Mastery by Robert Green
  • The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
  • The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda (ironically, the ex-CXO of my global team)

(In other news… working with our team in the UAE for two weeks, and that means I’m day-shifted from a Monday-Friday week to a Sunday-Thursday one, and this week is particularly rough since I only have today — Saturday — off as my weekend. Makes me more appreciative of all my days off.)

A tale in two images

  • Books

So… pretty much this:

I don’t think I’m nearly that far off from the goal though, because I just keep switching between books. Maybe that says something about my attention span these days (this year). Or maybe we should normalize not finishing books we start.

There are some books that are better off communicated as the TED Talk they originate from; books that you can skim just by looking at the content outline. There are also some authors who have five books talking about the same core principles, and yet I read those new books knowing I’m not really gleaning anything truly mind-blowing. It’s comforting, though.

On the fiction side of things, sometimes I look at book reviews before I read them, just to get a gist of how it ends. That’s me with media in general though; it’s part anxiety and part trying to prevent the sunk cost fallacy.

I was also consuming more audio books last year when going on long walks.

I’ve stopped going on long walks.

(That’s probably another problem.)

Books to Last Me ’til the End of the Year

Last month, I talked about my plan to read a book every 3 days (approximately) from that point to the end of the year, in order to be caught up with my 2020 challenge.

It’s been 29 days since that post, and I’ve consumed an additional 18 books, for a rate of a book every 1.6 days. That’s honestly a pleasant surprise!

If we wanted to be a purist though, 6 of those books are audiobooks. It’s a conundrum for me because I think I read faster than I listen (I’ll have to benchmark this soon officially), but I have more time to listen to something, like on my evening walks, during workouts, and while doing shallow work.

That also means that I haven’t been listening to as many podcasts as I would have had typically.

This leaves me with 8 books, with 8 weeks of the year left. Super manageable, and hopefully I won’t be rushing to cram these 8 books in the last week of the year.

Here are some of the books that I have on loan that will make up the rest of the year:

  • Hiding in Plain Sight, Sarah Kendzior
  • Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
  • Ultralearning, Scott Young
  • The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley
  • Mindfulness, Joseph Goldstein
  • The Third Door, Alex Banayan
  • Good to Great, Jim Collins
  • Measure What Matters, John Doerr
  • Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
  • The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo
  • Money, Laura Whateley
  • The Power of Moments, Chip Heath
  • Waking Up, Sam Harris

I’m pumped 🤓

Catching Up on My 2020 Reading Challenge (or: How It Caught Up With Me)

(or: How I plan to read a book every three days)

Last year, I hit my target of 26 books for my 2019 reading challenge. I over-performed by reading 33 books, which is 7 books in excess. 1You’d hope I’d be able to do simple math like that, given how many financial books I read last year.

Naturally, at the close of the year, I decided I’d do 52 books in 2020. Should be easy, right? I have about 2 hours of commute to the office every weekday (I even said so in an earlier post that I’d forgotten about!), and I sometimes even make the twenty-minute walk to the library to have some alone time for the sole purpose of focused reading.

Yeah, well, 2020 happened (is happening?) and the pandemic hit, and as my work hours went from “usually 8 hours + 2 hours of commute” 2It also coincided with my first weeks/months at a new workplace, and not being staffed on anything substantial at that point. to “hellscape of 16+ hour days some days, working from home”, my content consumption hours also got drastically cut down.

Which is to say, right now at the nearly halfway mark of October, I’m at 26 books 3This is also not absolutely accurate – there was a period of two weeks after binging The Babysitters Club on Netflix that I dove all the way back to nostalgia, and read about a dozen of those books that gave me such comfort during my pre-teen/teen years. I didn’t log them on Goodreads, since that felt like cheating.. Goodreads chirpily tells me I’m 14 books behind schedule.

Still, I’m optimistic.

With 26 books to hit, and 80 days left to the year, that’s approximately one new book every three days. I have a few days of leave I have to take at work (before they disappear into the void, never to be seen again), without any travel plans for the near to mid future.

Here’s my rough plan:

  • Use meal breaks to read — I know, this sounds so pedestrian, and shouldn’t you be doing it already? The short shameful answer is no. The longer answer is I’ve been using the time when I’m actually eating to catch up on social media and Reddit, or playing this game called Choices: Stories You Play which is kiiiinda like reading, since it’s an “interactive narrative experience”? On top of that, since lunch break is technically an hour long during work days, and I usually shovel my food in my mouth and get done in 15 minutes, I could be using the rest of the time for something more enriching than diving back into work.
  • Use the earlier hours of the day — I track my time, which means I know that I spend an inordinate amount of time between waking up and getting dressed just lounging in my bed. (I mean, I’d know that anyway, but it’s quantified!) If I could set a timer for 15 – 20 minutes during that time to read, that could chip away at my goal.
  • Improve my reading speed and accuracy — Just for kicks, I tried a few reading speed tests. My average speed came out to be around 700 wpm, which according to the scales on each of these sites, fall into the exceptionally fast category. The accuracy, on the other hand, hovers around 70 – 85%, so clearly I sacrifice the true absorption of facts to speed.

We’ll check back in nearer to the end of the year. If you’re reading this, let me know if you’re doing a reading challenge too, and/or what you’re reading right now!