I believe that continuous improvement is critically important to professional success. The technology and software domain in particular is always changing and mutating to meet the needs of the world. As a professional, you need to be changing with it, or you risk being left behind.
But finding time to evolve your abilities is difficult, when you're dealing with a constant stream of day to day tasks. I know that I only have a limited amount of motivation and willpower each day, and its incredibly easy to burn through those valuable resources simply existing.
So what you want to do is find a way to play the long game. To set yourself up to continually improve in a sustainable fashion, expending the minimum amount of motivation and willpower.
Recent developments in my professional life have left me with a burst of motivation to better myself, which is great! I don't want to burn through that energy learning a couple of new things and then run out of momentum though.
I want to build something that lasts.
Time After Time
During the periods of life where I was focused on physical fitness (specifically weight loss), I learned very quickly that I could not rely on motivation alone to accomplish anything.
Instead, I needed to use whatever initial stock of motivation I had to set up repeatable and sustainable patterns. If I could do that, then I could spend a smaller amount of willpower enforcing those patterns, confident in the knowledge that I was on the right track.
Bringing the topic back to professional development, I knew that I needed to carve out a time where I could sit down and focus on learning. In the beginning, it didn't really matter what I was learning, just that I had the space available to learn.
As I was still exercising heavily in the mornings, I earmarked some time in the evening a few days a week for learning and got cracking.
I failed miserably.
It turns out that the evenings are not a good time for me. My willpower is ebbing and I'm tired from the rigors of the day. Forcing myself to sit down and do something productive in the evening was incredibly difficult and even when I did manage to force myself to sit down and learn, it didn't stick.
I knew from my success with physical fitness that mornings were much more effective, so I swapped some of my exercise time for learning time. It was a fairly easy trade all things considered, because I still felt like I was improving myself, except now I was balancing the physical with the mental.
Its All About The Backlog Baby
Successfully carving out a time dedicated to learning wasn't quite enough though. During my dedicated learning time I found myself meandering around, exploring a variety of things, but not really accomplishing anything meaningful.
I had the when, but I didn't have the what.
Goals and objectives are important, and I knew from experience that a great way to manage those sorts of things is a backlog.
I've already gone into some depth about personal backlogs, but the long and short of it is that I have a Professional Development backlog which covers off the high level goals and objectives (i.e. "read this book", "learn this language", "get this certification", etc) and a Tasks backlog that covers off the daily things that contribute towards the high level stuff.
The items in the Tasks backlog can sometimes get a little derivative (i.e. "Moar X" or "Work on Y"), but it works for me. I sit down at the start of each week and review my current goals and objectives, populate my Tasks backlog appropriately and then get to work.
Blog Casts Spanner...Its Super Effective!
Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Producing content for this blog is eating into my learning time. During the month I had off after finishing at Console but before officially starting at Atlassian I didn't really notice, because I didn't have any other pressing consumers of my time.
Last week was my first week at Atlassian and I barely got any learning done at all :( Each one of these posts takes a couple of hours to write and the optimal time for me to write is in the morning, for all of the same reasons that I've mentioned above.
I've riffed on how writing blog posts is a form of learning in the past. Consolidating my thoughts on a topic as I write about it solidifies it in my mind, and sometimes I even have to do additional research and work in order to flesh out the details.
Writing is definitely different to other learning activities though. Its more focused on what you already know, and doesn't really help with learning new things. I need to be able to make time for things like reading books or practicing coding as well.
I've started tweaking my routine a bit and have dedicated a single Pomodoro session every morning to write these posts while I have breakfast. Time will tell as to whether or not this is an effective approach, as it can be difficult for me to avoid procrastination and to stop doing something once I've started.
Regardless of the issues that I'm having balancing content production and learning, scheduling dedicated time for professional development is definitely working for me.
In fact, had I not originally carved out that time from my busy morning schedule, I doubt I would have been able to establish this blog in the first place. All of the tasks that went into setting up this blog were accomplished during my learning time.
And even though I feel like I've not learnt as much as I could over the last couple of weeks, the fact that I'm learning at all is going to provide cumulative benefits as time inevitably marches forward.
Assuming I can keep at it.
No doubt it is going to be difficult to balance all of the things that I want to accomplish, but I'm sure I'll figure it out somehow...