Dropping out is sometimes the right thing to do.

In my last post I wrote about CCK09, the online course on connectivism and connected learning that I was taking part in. Since then I have dropped out of that course to focus on something very different to connected learning… myself.

Why:

Ironically, the catalyst for this change of heart was my blog post on CCK09.Jeff Fong left a comment on that post pointing me to Scott Young’s post on studying. Reading that post (and subsequent posts) sparked something in my mind. It was the created a connection between several recent things that I had learned and not connected before. I decided to do something that was new and exciting for myself, figuring that the concepts and connections in CCK will still be there in a year.  

Basically, the ideas boiled down to the feasibility of personal development. Although I have seen enough crazy “self-help” ideas, money making schemes and development training programs to make me very skeptical of any personal development literature, while reading Scott’s post something clicked. An idea that I can indeed (despite the fact that 22 years of new-years resolutions have proven otherwise) change the things that I do not like about my life. The idea was that finding a way to enact constant improvement would allow me to be far more prepared for school when it starts in January as well as for helping me get my head around the crazy world of ed-tech.

Of course, I am not silly enough to believe that a few months of concentrated effort can “fix” my life, but I thought that maybe I could start to structure things in a way that kick starts a continuous “self-repair mechanism” and enables lifelong learning and improvement. Now of course, to make things work, I came up with a system (seeing as coming up with systems is one of the things I seem to do best). Part of it is explained below:

Planning:

I sat down and brainstormed areas of my life that I wanted to improve. I then categorized those into three categories:

  • Quick fixes
  • Habits
  • Lifelong learning goals

For example, quick fixes included rearranging my Google Reader to make it work better. Habits included keeping my room tidy (the nemesis habit of many university students). Lifelong learning goals included things like learning to read quicker.

Although I did not do it originally, I have since added end points to every learning goal, some way of saying “I’m done”. I know that learning is never over, but there has to be some point where you can switch your main focus to something else and keep whatever you are doing on the periphery.

Preparation:

Now that I had lists of things I wanted to change, I needed to integrate them into my life somehow. To do that, I used the one thing that I check every day, my iGoogle homepage. I deleted everything else off of my homepage. I added a sticky note widget, a Google Calendar widget and then a bunch of Google Tasks widgets (I use Google Tasks because of how quick it is to add emails to tasks and tasks to my calendar). I set each widget to contain a different list (GTD style) and included the lists of the three areas that I outlined above.

In the sticky note I highlight things that I want to concentrate on / accomplish for that work.

Here is what it looks like (quick fixes became merged into projects):

My iGoogle Page (most entries blanked out to keep a bit of privacy).
My iGoogle Page (most entries blanked out to keep a bit of privacy).

Implementation:

Now that I have my lists, what is the implementation?

Firstly (and this is the first habit I had to learn) is to take 2 minutes to look over the iGoogle page every morning. I look at the weekly goals in my sticky note to make sure that I am still on track to accomplish them.

Every week I take 10 minutes to review my progress and set new goals for the next week.

On a monthly basis, I choose one habit that I want to work on. In that month I move mountains to make sure that I stick to that habit. I add a date to it to say when it should end. If I slip up, I move the date back to 30 days from the slip up.

I choose one lifelong learning goal that I want to concentrate on. I set the goal for when I have acquired that skill/knowledge. Once one goal is completed, I move on to the next one.

Results:

Now, of course I have only been using this system for just over 2 months so I can not say it works completely just yet. What I can say, is that I have definitely had a lot of progress.

The two habits that I have focused on so far (keeping my room tidy and going to the gym regularly) are now firmly ingrained in my life. My current learning goal is also coming along, my reading speed has tripled since I started. I will probably blog my current successes pretty soon.

I also feel like I have so much more control over my environment than I ever had before. When school starts again in January I will be able to tackle the term with far more confidence than ever before and I will also (hopefully) be able to use much of the improvements that I make to myself as a way to develop my ability to learn (both in school and in my goal of helping to fix education).

6 thoughts on “Dropping out is sometimes the right thing to do.

  1. I started following Scott Young’s blog when he was in high school. I skim – you set up a system – big difference. Improvement is supposed to work like piano lessons. Playing within one’s comfort, competency zone doesn’t lead to improvement. Concentrating effort on the next harder incremental step is key to progress but I’m more of a dilettante with a short attention span and a longing for the immediate gratification of opening a book and playing what comes easy – thus I don’t improve. Keep us posted on your ability to remain focused on the plan. Never been able to do it myself.

  2. Makes alot of sense to me.

    Something I struggle with is balancing planning and spontinatity. I think many amazing opporunities can be missed because of plans, and I sometimes struggle to shift gears when a plan falls through (even for reason that may be outside my control.) Because of this I hesitate to make TOO solid of plans (but perhaps this is a rationalization for commonly not following through 100% with sticking to some of them.)
    Also, balancing social relations with people who don’t have interests that relate to my goals can be challening aswell. Perhaps I should just shrug people off easier. Social relations with people who are not driven or have different goals are the %1 reason for my plans falling through.

    What do you think about this?

  3. Sorry that I have been not replied for so long, been travelling and taking a break from the intarwebs.

    @SeigeA: I think that balancing the people around you is very important. Although it is good to have those that have the same interests as you around as motivation, it is also really good to have differing viewpoints. In life we need people to challenge us almost as much as we need people to support us. The best friends of course are the ones that can do both (Jocelyn Ling and Matt Corker are good examples in my life).

    @Tyler using a pointer did not triple my speed, although it did increase it. The tripling came from hard practice reading (reading faster than you are able to until you get used to reading at that speed). It is a difficult process, but very worth it. I’ve got a book on it that you can lend if you ever want to give it a go.

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