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How I Completed My Masters, Learnt To Code, & Finished 42 Books In One Year

Sigh…I hate that title because it sounds so…boastful and so ‘motivational speaky’. However, it does its ‘clickbaity’ job in disseminating the little bits of knowledge I picked up last year. Following my review of the books I read in 2017, I’ve gotten requests to write another article on how I got through so many books. Then a twitter follower emailed me a couple of good questions, some of which I’ve had from others in different variations. So I’ve written up a response to him that I thought I’d share with others who might find something useful here. I’ve skipped a lot of the more granular steps I usually take, but my answers here should be good enough for a start.

1. How did you get through so many books? I’m especially curious because I still have some books unread from my 2017 list of books.

Two ways: I had to find more time and I had to optimise the time I already had. To find more time, I had to reduce the time I spent on passive non-productive activities. These included shows, movies, and social media (Twitter especially). I did not eliminate shows or movies altogether, but I pruned the number of shows or movies I saw and became a lot more deliberate in what I saw. For example, I only watched Game of Thrones last year and I only saw about 10 movies (cinema and non-cinema). For half of the year, I eliminated social media completely and it was bliss. Social media is a great way of finding those you can learn from. However, it’s also a time and productivity black hole. I’m not advising you completely get off social media, but I’d advise you significantly limit the time you spend on it and substitute that time into reading a book or learning a skill. Why dig for gold in a roomful of dirt when you have access to a roomful of gold?

Last on the activities I had to cut back on. I also substituted the time I spent reading articles to reading books, since I discovered I forgot most of the articles I read. Do you remember half of the articles you read last year? Most likely not.

Another behavioural switch was moving from reading books to listening to books. I got more of my books as audiobooks than ebooks, and when I only had ebooks, I configured my iPhone to read the pages to me. The advantage of audiobooks is that you can engage in limited multitasking. To optimise my time, I spent a lot of the passive 10–15 minutes it would take to walk to class, grab a coffee, or do my laundry, to get through some pages of a book. Coming back to Lagos also meant I got stuck in traffic a lot, so I optimised that time by getting through books.

I also read two books during the same time frame. Depending on what activity I was engaged in, I’d switch between a book that required complete concentration and one that didn’t. For example, I read Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and The Innovators by Walter Isaacson depending on my activity.

People worry that audiobooks encourage passive listening and that it’s easy to get distracted. Yes, it is easy to get distracted. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t solve for it. For better retention and analysis, I pair my readings with my notes app — Evernote. When I start a book, I open a new entry titled the name of the book and the author. As I listen to the book, I take down notes on excerpts that stand out. I note how these excerpts apply to me, then I give myself a goal/task to apply the point found in the excerpts. I find this works a lot better than simply reading and highlighting a book.

Attempting to defeat distraction also makes for good practice in other areas of your life.

My final advice on reading books — it’s not the number of books you read that counts, it’s the quality of books you’ve read and how well you apply what you’ve read.

2. Please may I know how you were/are able to learn all those new things in the year while still reading 42 books, and learning them well? I have a couple of things(music, design, entrepreneurship, photography, food) I want to learn this year. But I don’t want to just focus on one. So could you please tell me how?

First, I’d advise anyone to abstain from attempting to learn too many things at the same time; it only leads to a ‘jack of all trade, master of none’ skillset. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of years to learn this lesson. You’ve presented me with a broad list of areas that you want to learn this year, which are not possible. If you were to simply focus on music, it would be impossible to learn a quarter of what comes under music or any of the other areas listed there. You have to be very specific about what it is you want to learn in these areas and why you want to learn them. I’ve emphasised the why because it leads to my next point — you have to find a nexus between all the things you’re learning. While it is possible to learn things that do not have intersections, I’d advise you focus on those that have intersections. You can only find those intersections when you know your why. For example, while the list of things I wanted to learn last year seem random, they are not. My desire was to level up from economic policy knowledge to data science and data analytics knowledge. Why? because I wanted to hone my ability to help businesses make better decisions and tell their stories using data. Consequently, everything I learnt tied into one overarching goal (decided by my why) with subgoals.

Also, if you wish to learn anything, start by setting project goals. Projects are great for motivation and for truly assessing if you’ve really developed your skills. So if you intend to learn graphic design, set a goal to design a world-class logo for a business. You can also set goals that tackle two or three of the skills you want to learn. For example, start a new blog focused on the presentation (photography and design) of great food (food).

Focus on the process. From the start, you should break down and note the steps needed to complete your project and focus on getting through each step. Some people focus on the end goal and get discouraged when their skill looks nothing like that, but having a process map keeps you focused on the more achievable next step.

This holds true for coding than anything else, because once you take a break from learning, it can be difficult to recover. However, a process map helps you keep track of what you’ve learnt and what you need a refresher on.

3. Can you please advise me on forming relationships with people that are more experienced than me in certain fields that I’m interested in? Not a parasitic relationship oh. Like even one with someone like you, how does one go about it?

Relationships are a sacrifice — especially for the more experienced party. Hence, the first thing to do is show them why you are worth the sacrifice of their time and attention. A lot of Nigerians attempt to get into professional (and romantic) relationships expecting to take, without expecting to give. This tactic rarely ever ends well. Have something of value to offer if you seek to form relationships with people who are more experienced than you. At the very least, prove to them that they will not be wasting their time and attention on you. This is where a track record of learning/progress comes in and why I’m particular about working on projects, no matter how small. Don’t try to start off relationships displaying your CV or your 2.1 or whatever you got in school, start by showing what you can do, how you add value now, and how you can add more value in the future.

Take advantage of social media. Social media has made it easy for us to interact with those far more experienced than us, so be sure to take advantage of it. Not in a parasitic way as you’ve stated, but in a more organic way. Don’t ask for permission for them to be your mentor, just engage them in a smart non-bothersome way and the relationships will develop gradually. Ask smart questions (not questions that are a google search away. I hate those bloody questions) that intrigue them. I’m still learning a lot on building relationships with more experienced individuals and hopefully by the end of the year, I’d have learnt a lot to warrant an article.

My final piece of advice — be ready to sacrifice a lot if you’re serious about stepping up. If you aren't ready to make the necessary sacrifices, don’t bother starting.