My Daily Learning Ritual
Ever since I committed to being an infinite learner, I've been executing on a daily one hour learning ritual. While it's easy to say that continuous learning is important to me, I knew that if I didn't proactively dedicate time in my day to it, it wouldn't become a habit. So I set aside an hour first thing in the morning with my morning cup of coffee (or two) to this ritual. Over time I've refined what I actually do with that hour to maximize active learning of relevant skills and drive as much efficiency as possible in the process. I wanted to share my process in case it's helpful for formulating your own learning ritual.
I ultimately settled on a learning lifecycle of discover, consume, share, discuss, and write. I'll talk about each of these phases in-turn and it's importance to my overall learning process.
The first thing I noticed in driving efficiency in my learning hour was separating the discovery of relevant content to consume from the actual consumption of that content. This was important for a few reasons. First, I was only going to spend an hour a day on this ritual, usually no more or no less. So there would always be more content than I could consume and needed to ensure I could efficiently catalog it independent of reading it. I also found that I was often discovering content outside of my hour ritual that I needed to catalog for consumption during the learning hour. And lastly, separating the discovery phase from the consumption phase helped me fine-tune the process of discovery to understand how much time was wasted finding relevant and interesting content and what my signal-to-noise was in terms of finding great content.
I settled on using Pocket to store content I discovered. I installed the mobile app on my phone, which allowed me to easily save via the share action sheet any web page, blog, video, article, etc that I came across from any app I was in. I similarly installed the Pocket browser extension so I could quickly save content I discovered from my laptop. Instapaper is another great read-it-later service that provides similar functionality. Even though I was already using Evernote for capturing other kinds of content, I did find Pocket far more efficient for this task because of it's ability to really streamline the read-it-later workflow, including quickly archiving read articles, providing signals on what's popular, and simplifying the formatting of content for quicker reading.
The next important question became where do I discover the most relevant content for the topics I was interested in? The internet and social media in-particular provide an endless supply of content, but it took me awhile to develop a strategy that in-fact resulted in me efficiently discovering the most relevant content. For example, I no longer actually read my social media feeds directly on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook as a source of content discovery because I found the signal-to-noise to be way too poor to be an efficient use of time. While there is certainly great content on these sites, directly sifting through it was low quality (the majority of shared pop culture / news was not relevant to my learning goals) and distracting (photos of what my friends were up to was distracting from the task at hand). I instead learned to rely on both algorithmic and human curators of the topics I cared about. Since I was eager to continue to build my expertise in product, design, startups, and technology, the following sources ended being most relevant for me.
Techmeme provides the best algorithmic aggregator of the top headlines in the world of tech. With a dense but highly usable web interface, I could quickly scan headlines to stay abreast of what's going on in the tech world and drill-in to the topics that were most interesting. The beauty of Techmeme is they actually rewrite the headlines of articles to give you the full gist of the article without having to dig in. Given my main goal with Techmeme was staying informed with the industry I worked on, I could accomplish this mostly by reading headlines and only occasionally saving actual articles to Pocket when it was particularly relevant to my areas of interest.
Nuzzel became the way that I ultimately read my social media feeds, and in-particular my Twitter feed. Nuzzel integrates with your Twitter and Facebook feeds and aggregates the mentions of various blog posts, articles, and videos that are shared amongst your feed. It effectively reads your feeds for you and bubbles up the most discussed content. This way I focus on following people on Twitter that are in the product, design, and startup communities that share relevant content and then relying on opening Nuzzel every morning to find the content that's buzzing amongst the folks I'm following. It allows me to keep following people on Twitter that may provide relevant signals to quality content I care about without having to worry about the additional noise created by having to read their tweets since Nuzzel does that for me.
The third great source of content for me has been hand-curated newsletters from various individuals and companies in the industry. I get them in my inbox and simply scan them for relevant content and add a subset to my Pocket. Here's a selection of my favorite newsletters.
- Ken Norton's Bringing the Donuts
- Julie Zhuo's The Year of the Looking Glass
- The First Round Review
- Hiten's SaaS Weekly
- Mattermark Weekly
I find that in the ever-evolving world of product, design, and startups, the most relevant tactical content exists mostly in the form of online blogs, articles, and videos. However, I do use my learning hour as well to read books. For me I've found books the best way to truly internalize the importance of a concept through a long read. For example, Fred Brooks' Mythical Man-Month help me internalize how the cost of communication and alignment increases exponentially with team size. Brad Stone's Everything Store internalized the importance of a clear and sound strategy through the crystal clear strategy Jeff Bezos' executed at Amazon. And Ed Catmull's Creativity Inc. helped me develop my deep understanding of how you build a creative organization through an inside look at Pixar's very own process. I try to be very selective about the books I read given the large time commitment, so I require many recommendations for the same book from colleagues before I decide to commit to one.
In addition to blogs, articles, videos, and books, the best way to learn about product management is to carefully study products themselves. So I keep a running list of products to deep-dive on. These might be competitor products that I come across. Or products that are buzzing in the industry. Or one's with new and novel design elements. Whenever someone mentions or I read about such a product, I add it to my to-do list and spend time dissecting them as part of my learning hour. Looking for an in-flow of products to analyze? Spend some time on Product Hunt and follow the collections of products most interesting and relevant to you. The forums are also a great way to hear commentary from others on the products as well.
I spend the bulk of my hour in the consumption phase, reading, watching, and analyzing the various content I've stored in Pocket. When beginning the consumption phase, I don't simply read the newest or oldest content that's been saved to Pocket. Instead I scroll through Pocket and pick a topic I'm going to read about and consume all the content associated with that topic. This reduces context switching between numerous topics and really allows me to deep-dive on a given topic. One day it might be design-related content. Another day it might be machine-learning and AI. Or VR/AR. Or mobile development, product development process, or product leadership. Or whatever else is most interesting or relevant to me at the time.
An important aspect to ensuring I actively engage with the content I consume and thus drive learning, retention, and ultimately application of these concepts are the share, discuss, and write phases.
In the share phase I decide what subset of content I've read that resonates with me from the perspective of I agree with the advocated concepts, principles, tactics, etc. and am eager to implement them myself. This requires me to form a point-of-view on the content, which takes time to dissect it and not just quickly consume it. I share less than 25% of the content I consume based on this filter.
I use Buffer to schedule the content I share on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Since I do all my reading in the morning, it's not ideal to share it all at that time. Buffer instead shares content 3-times a day for me, once in the morning, once mid-day, and once in the evening. This way the content I read gains the most exposure across my various networks.
The part I do use social networks for in this process is engaging with my audiences on the content. So during my learning hour I'll review notifications on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, including comments from various folks and engage them in conversation about the content. It's great to hear viewpoints from others, either agreeing or disagreeing, to help work through the ideas myself.
The content I find most compelling that I learned the most from I try to write about to solidify the ideas for myself. This might take the form of jotting down some notes about the topic for later reference, for example. For the most important learnings, it usually turns into adding the concept to my list of potential blog posts to write. I later revisit the list of hundreds of ideas and decide to convert a single or set of captured ideas into a full blog post.
I include blog post writing in my learning hour because I believe writing about various topics is one of the best ways to crystallize concepts in your head, since it requires you to really understand them to be able to commit them to writing. So up to once a week my learning hour is replaced with writing instead of reading to accomplish this.
I hope this gives you a detailed look at how my own learning ritual has evolved to maximize active learning of the most relevant topics each and every day.
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Aug 29, 2016