For the record, I was never the ideal student and still struggle to this day. However, if you want to be in Information Technology (IT), you have to embrace….no, you have to crave change and more importantly, life-long-learning!! You are stepping into the world where the phrase “lifelong learner” is an understatement. How do I know this? I’m a 45 y/o IT “thingamajob” type guy. I have been a business technology consultant my entire career and have been an IT instructor for more than 15 years. I have an MBA in Computer Information Security and am a geek/nerd/whatever. My name is on some Microsoft MTA ERK curriculum books and had a ball doing it. My resume is not “amazing” however I have a fairly good theory on how to be successful in this field and “learn IT”. It’s simple…LOVE I.T. That’s really it (sorta…there is “work” involved). Don’t think of it as a paycheck but more a passion. If you regularly go home after work and do not “plug back in”, then IT may not be your path. You may earn a living, but you will end up miserable and hating it. I’ve seen this first hand. These posts will step through some basic ways to improve your learning. This has worked for me and “may” work for you. If you find just one thing you think would work for you…AWESOME!
Nope, you’re not under arrest! Simply put, you have to become a self aware learner. What are your learning obstacles? I’ve struggled in the learning department my entire life and still do, but I have found little (may seem obvious) things that help me get to that next level. I have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD(AF). I don’t use this as an excuse, however, realizing part of the “why” helped me identify counter produ ctive behaviors when it came to my ability to learn. I still experience days where I just cannot focus. It can be maddening-er. It’s OK to have a plan B (and you should) on those days when your mind isn’t focused and it doesn’t mean you have to be ADHD. It can be stress in your life, a phone call that throws your mind off. It’s OK, find something physical to do and get it done. I have a TON of plan B items on my (wife created) list. I put an audio book/podcast on and get to work.
Identify Your Optimal YOU Time
Simply put, when is Mike the best Mike as it relates to cognitive ability and retention. When am I the most focused? For me, it’s from 7:00 a.m. (or earlier) until early afternoon. That’s when I function the best (apologies to my night students). So, I arrange my schedule to tackle the most cognitively challenging tasks during those times.
The first exercise I do in class with my students is go through a brief activity and identify their “time wasters” or distractions. We assemble a list and consider the amount of time that we (myself included) waste with our distractions. Common responses are:
- Twitter (way guilty)
- Facebook (guilty…too many good recipes)
- Yes, I could have used “Social Media”…I get that.
- Netflix/Streaming media (guilty)
- Family (yes, that was a response in several classes)
- Partying/socializing (at least they are socializing)
- Many others…however, these were the most common
I’m not implying these need to be eliminated, but managed. We all need to allow our brains to check out for a while and re-energize. Carve out “ME” time to give your brain a rest.
I need to be in an environment with limited distractions (see SQUIRREL). At home, I am in my office with notifications off and no music* or radio. I use the * for music as I do listen to Music to Code By by @carlfranklin which helps me stay focused with 60-80 beats per minute with 25 minute tracks. I take a break between tracks. At work, I typically will hold office hours or just hang out in my classroom before class. Our designated office area can get a little distracting (loud) and I just cannot get anything done. Conference rooms, break rooms or even your car can be your fortress of solitude to carve out some quiet time to get caught up on your latest learning goal.
Identify Good Fuel Sources
Finally, and most importantly, your brain requires fuel. Our fuel choice is going to determine how effective our brain will function. Fuels high in process sugars (soda, carbs, candy, etc) will give you an insulin spike but will be followed by a crash 2 hours later. You can continue to “fuel” up, but the side affects of using this as a fuel source will hurt you long term (diabetes, obesity, etc). Burning fat as a fuel source has been a great discovery for me. I follow (not religiously) a low carb, high fat (LCHF), also known as modified ketogenic, diet. I get the majority of my calories from good fat’s (coconut oil, butter, bacon…oh my), with moderate protein and 50-100g of carbs per day. It takes a little adjustment time for your body to go from burning sugar to burning fat for energy, but trust me, the 3-7 days of carb withdrawal (this should be red flag number 1000 why sugars are bad…we are addicted to them which causes withdrawal). But once your burning fat (ketones) for fuel, you’ll wonder why you haven’t done so earlier.
This works for me, and may not be everyone’s cup of bulletproof coffee, but bottom line is to reduce your processed sugar intake and you will be happy. My focus, energy, and reduced appetite have been awesome (and I’ve lost 20 lbs so far)! Not to mention less aches and pains as a bonus. It was easy for me to get further away from carbs since I have Celiacs disease which means my pasta and bread options are limited and I wasn’t a really huge “sugar/candy/chocolate” type person. A great resource for education and motivation for me was found at http://2ketodudes.com. Another @carlfranklin resource. Great podcast, resources and RECIPES!
Identify The End
This post was a little longer than anticipated, however, identifying your environment and yourself among other things is critical to get better at your lifelong learning. Finding the time, making the most of that time are critical to not just continuing, but excelling in the I.T. field with relevant skill sets. It’s hard with all the technology coming at you from 20 different directions, but focusing in on 1 or 2 and going from there is a great place to start. Get after it!