Tag Archives: skills

Book Learning: How to study from a book

When you decide you need to learn something, probably the first thing you think of is to find a book on the subject. It may not be the best idea, but it will probably be the first.

And sometimes it is the best way; and it’s certainly the way I’m most familiar with, so that’s where I’m starting the series.

    Step 1: Pick a Book

    In some cases this may be done for you: in class, the teacher/professor may have selected a book and ordered you to read it — in that case, all you can do is hope that it’s good.

    But if you’re learning on your own time, for your own purposes, then you need to select one. At the library or bookstore, head to the right section, then just read through the titles. Do any catch your eye? Do any seem to be addressing the specific problem you’re having? Pull the likely ones off the shelf and open them to a random page. Does the advice make sense to you? Is it too complex? Too simplistic? Does it seem to actually address the specific problem you’re having?

    You can also do a quick web search or ask for recommendations from your friends/family/coworkers/geeky friends.

    Step 2: Get a recording medium

    Just reading a book does very little good unless you actually retain and — here’s the difficulty — think about what you’re reading. You may even disagree; that’s fine, as long as you’re thinking, analysing, and processing.

    And for that, you need some way to lay your thoughts out and look at them. I prefer to have a spiral notebook, because handwriting connects to my brain better than typing. My fiance prefers to type; in that case you could keep a document on your computer, use MS OneNote, or even start a blog. You could get a voice or video recorder, and tape your thoughts (and make a podcast or video podcast of it, if you’d like). Or you can start a book club, where everyone can put forth their analyses and discuss each others’. Just find some way to make yourself process what you’re reading

    Step 3: Read. Carefully

    If a sentence, paragraph, or chapter don’t make sense to you, then stop and re-read it. What doesn’t make sense? Are they using jargon you don’t know? Go look up those words. Does the logic not make sense, you can’t follow their argument? Re-read the section, starting with their premise and following the logic step by step. Do the data seem wrong? Do a web search and see if you can find any evidence for or against their claims. Do you think there’s a glaring flaw in their reasoning? Write/record/bring it up in your book club, and explain where you think the flaw is and how your reasoning changes the conclusion being drawn. Don’t proceed until you’re sure you understand what the author is saying.

    Step 4: Apply

    You got into this because you wanted to learn something, to solve some problem you’re having. So how do these lessons help? If you’re learning some background theory, then apply each lesson or chapter to your situation: what do these statements imply about your scenario? If you’re learning a specific how-to, then what would you have to do in order to actually do these steps? What would they look like in the case of your business/product/family/life? I like to do this throughout the book, but you could do it at the end of each chapter or section if you prefer.

    Step 5: Summarize

    When you get to the end of the book, look back over what you’ve read. Look over the notes you made. What were the most important things? Why are they important? Overall, do you agree or disagree with the author? Why? What do you want to differently as a result of your reading?

There you go: the book-learning methods they never taught you in high school.

Resources for Further Reading
Writing for you, and why it works at drawing others to your blog

Hollywood and New Skills

It’s been about 4 months since I started my new business, and about 4 weeks since I quit my job to pursue my business full-time.

At first there were a lot of tears, fears, and uncertainty. It’s pretty overwhelming to not know where the rent is going to come from. I wasn’t very good at sales, but I had to sell if I wanted to eat, so I had to get up each day and try again.

Fast-forward 4 weeks

There are still a lot of tears, fears, and uncertainty. I still have to sell if I want to eat, and I’m still not very good at it. The doubt and overwhelming pressure still make me cry at least once a day.

See, in Hollywood, there’s a lot of doubt leading up to The Big Decision. But once you’ve decided, then actually implementing the decision takes only as long as one inspirational pop song. You try, and you try, and you get better, and better, and soon you’re ready for the Final Showdown.

It’s harder to live through it

We all know that that’s a technique Hollywood uses to compress the boring parts. But in your real life, alas, you don’t get to do that. Acquiring skills is more like the “Toepick” scene in The Cutting Edge: you’re going to fall down many times, people will laugh at you, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all.

I promise you are getting better. But I promise that it won’t feel like it for a while.

Resources for Further Reading
Mastery and the Average Factory Worker (PG 13: language).

Never Eat Alone Metrics

In my last post, I reviewed Never Eat Alone, a book about making connections with other people and its relationship to success.

As you may know, my new year’s resolution is to improve my networking skill, since I will never get ahead in life if I remain the shy introvert that I currently am. But how do I do that?

Never Eat Alone is a great start: it’s got a lot of good information, and is very helpful when I’m wondering how-to or should-I. But a good portion of the book — half of the chapters — are about things you should always do when you meet people. How do I keep all of them in mind while I meet with my three-new-people-per-week?

Networking Metrics Sheet

This sheet is for people who’ve read Never Eat Alone, and want to see how well they live up to its instructions. If you haven’t read the book, some of the terminology may be a bit odd, but you should be able to figure out most of it.

At the top is some basic information: who are you meeting, when and where, and who is your point of contact (mutual friend, networking group, class you’re taking together, etc. How did you find out about this person in order to want to meet them?). And finally, why did you want to meet with this person in the first place?

Then a space for questions you want to ask them (letting them talk about themselves is a great way to impress them), and notes you take when you ask.

And finally, a scorecard (whose first point, ironically, is “Don’t Keep Score”. But that pertains to the relationship between you and the other person; this scorecard is to measure yourself.) For the skills or attitudes that Mr. Ferrazzi thinks are critical, how did you do? Rate yourself on a scale from 1-5, and fill in the appropriate number of bubbles. (Or answer the question posed, obviously. You’re smart — you can figure this out.)

Awesome Links

Get your Never Eat Alone free download.

Buy Never Eat Alone while simultaneously helping African children get an education. (Learn more).

You can’t risk XP

I talked a couple weeks ago about the RPG metaphor for improving your abilities: the more you practice, the more XP you spend.

But if spending XP is identical to “practice”, why don’t I just say “practice?”

Because practice is a verb — it’s something you can choose to do or choose not to do. But experience point is a noun — it’s a resource that you have and want to use wisely. It was for that reason that I treat it as a thing, and asked you to track where you spend your XP: I want a poor use of XP to feel as painful as a poor use of money.

The difference between XP and money

There’s an important distinction, though, that sometimes gets overlooked, and that’s that you can lose money. You can lose it gambling, or on a bad investment, or on a good investment that had bad luck, or simply falling out of your pocket.

But you can’t lose XP

You, like everyone else, get 24 hours a day; 960 waking minutes to do with as you see fit. Whatever you spend that time doing, that’s what you’ll get better at. Your XP always turns into greater skill at something.

You can take more chances with XP

That means that you can spend XP on ventures with much greater uncertainty, without worrying about actual risk. You can start a blog with no idea what you’re doing, and the worst possible outcome is that you learn something about blogging. You can start a freelance business by setting up a profile on elance and pick.im, and the worst possible outcome is that you’ve learned something about freelancing and online marketing.

You can risk money; you can risk pride; you can risk relationships. But you cannot risk XP. Practice is the only investment with a guaranteed return.

Resources for Further Reading
Homework: Where are you spending your XP?
The best place to invest your money

Reminder: If you like to run your life on the calendar year, it’s time to schedule a time for your annual planning retreat.