Learning to learn.

In a meeting with an intern a while back, she complained that the things she was studying in school didn’t seem relevant to our work.

“After all”, she said, “how often do we use algebra here?”

I told her she was missing the point.

You don’t go to school to learn things. Not really, anyway.

You go to school to learn how to learn things.

Most of the ways people make money now did not exist when I was in college. There was no way, for instance, they could have taught me how to make iPhone apps – the average person had never even seen a cell phone, and the iPhone was years in the future.

Change is the only certainty, and in the world of the future, you have to be able to learn new things. Because if you don’t, you will get left behind.

As an example: right now everyone says the future of the internet is video. I love writing, and hate being filmed, so it would be easy to ignore them and keep on writing.

But if they are right, then I will one day be as obsolete as a computer programmer who hated all languages other than C++. People who do not change get left behind.

So I am trying to learn how to edit video.  I’m not good at it, and the learning curve is steep. But I will get there.

Unitize your time.

Those of us who are in the helping professions seldom end up having 40 hour, structured workweeks. Instead, we are often responsible for creating our own schedule, which always involves other people’s schedules, which can lead to long, unstructured days.

For instance, I have an office, but am only in it three to four hours a day, with the rest being nighttime meetings, breakfast meetings, coffeeshop meetings, or time spent out in the field. And I still have paperwork to do and writing to do, and all the other sorts of things people expect me to do.

If I’m not careful, I can end up having a day where I have a breakfast meeting at 7:30, get to the office at 9:00, have a lunch meeting at 1:00 PM, spend time in the field until 6:00, where I grab something in the drive thru on my way to a seminar I am supposed to teach at 7:30 PM, and finally get home at 10:00, exhausted.

And for many of us, this sort of thing happens all the time. It is really easy to have a workday that spans 12 or 14 hours, and we wonder why we are exhausted and burned out.

Or maybe we are really good at sticking to eight hour days, but we end up giving up our days off to “just catch up”.

A technique I have learned that has really helped planning my days and weeks. It goes like this:

Your day is split into three units: Morning, afternoon, and evening. You have two goals – don’t work more than two units any given day, and don’t work more than 12 units in a given week.

For the days, you shouldn’t work all three units in a given day. So, if you know you are going to have night meetings, schedule your day so you are not working that morning or afternoon. If you have a full day packed from 9-5, don’t schedule anything that evening.

For the weeks, if you know you have to work Saturday morning and have a presentation Tuesday night, you are already starting the week with two units filled. Throw in a Thursday night meeting and we are up to three, which means, if 12 is our goal, that we can’t work full days the rest of the week.

I find this much more helpful (and realistic) than counting hours. It is easy to wrap my head around, easy to plan around and imposes structure. It turns your calendar into more than a device for recording your appointments and meetings, but rather a framework for structuring your life.

Trash and Time

Take some leftover chicken bones, add the tops and trimmings from a carrot, the peel of some onions and the broccoli stalks you aren’t going to eat and put all that in a pot.  Add enough water to cover it all, bring it to a boil and then put it on a very, very low simmer for six hours or so.

What you just did is make broth. Really good broth, actually, and it didn’t cost you a thing. You were going to throw all of that away.

You just made something amazing… out of trash. Well, trash and time.

I know one thing about you – you have been through some shit. We all have. And you have survived the shit that you had to go through. But now there are the pieces to pick up. Now you have to face being a 40 year old woman who is wanting to be in a relationship, or you are a 50 year old former account executive you learned how to sell everything, but mostly ended up selling his soul. How do you live with that? What do you do with that?

You see, the Universe is inherently frugal. No wasted effort. Rocks fall in straight lines, after all. And so the Universe need not go to the effort of finding new ingredients when she is fully capable of turning the trash you bring to the table into broth.

It’s easy to think it’s all wasted. The time, the effort, the pain. But it isn’t wasted. It’s all ingredients for your broth. To make something amazing, all you need is trash and time.