The 10 things I’ve learned about personal development that will help you be more productive.
We don’t care about personal development in the IT world. Soft skills? They are for dummies and non technical people but not for us. We are the software developers, testers, network administrators — we are engineers and we love learning. Our passion is discovering new technologies, new frameworks or programming languages but we don’t even think about “wasting” time on personal development. Sounds familiar?
I’ve worked in IT for more than ten years. I’m a programmer, team leader and a guy who puts a lot of effort in trying to understand the business. In my spare time I created three different companies: one in IT, one in sales, and one more in the healthcare industry. None of them is alive today, but they gave me a lot of knowledge and useful tricks that helps me today to do my current job much better.
In this article, I will show you the ten most valuable lessons that I’ve learned in the past three years of very intensive personal development trainings, coaching and by reading hundreds of books. Believe me, it’s worth your time.
1. Take notes and write down everything that you do, think, feel, and learn
Our brain can remember a lot of things, but only in short term. After one week, you are going to forget everything that you read here. You should know this — sometimes you don’t even remember what you did yesterday, am I right?
You have only one way to remember things and ideas that are important to you. You must write them down in the notebook. The best is old, analog, paper notebook because our body has an unique skill called muscle memory. When you write down anything on paper, your brain remembers this fact, and your body creates a backup of this information. Sounds good?
When you are writing notes, you can look them up in the future. Your notes are like saves in a game. You can quickly load any state from your past and compare with the present. When you do this regularly, you will see how you significantly progressed compared to another period.
We don’t notice the progress in short-term because changes are too small but when you look back to your notes after a few weeks, months or even years you will see a huge change. One percent of growth each day gives you more than three hundred percent in a year — including free weekends.
When I look back, I did a lot of things which seemed impossible for me a few years ago. For example, I do less and earn more. I had talks on the largest IT conferences in Poland. I started recording some online courses and much more. Because I have that notebook, I can compare my present self with me from the past.
David Allen, author of the book “Getting Things Done” said: “Mind Like Water.” This means that if you store all ideas, tasks and other things which you need to remember in the notebook, you create a space in your mind for new thoughts. If you don’t do this, you block your mind by everything you have to remember.
2. Start with the tools that you already have
How often do you think about buying new stuff? New gadgets, new gear, because you think you need them to do something better? Do you think you need a special microphone and recorder for recording voice memos, you need a new camera for pictures and video and many other things? Wrong! You have all that you need in your pocket and even more.
Today your smartphone is a powerful tool which you can use every day to be much more productive. Maybe you use it only for calling friends and scrolling down on the Facebook, but you can do more.
Your phone can organize and remind you about the tasks you need to do. You can learn foreign languages with Duolingo, create your own podcast with built-in dictaphone apps and use the camera to record video and share your knowledge on YouTube or other social media. You don’t need anything else. You can have a wallet, documents and millions of books to read or audiobooks to listen on your phone.
Don’t search for new tools but start using the one you have now in a productive way. Your smartphone is much more than Facebook, music and games — use it wisely and use it fully.
3. Four stages of the competence
As software developers we want to know everything, but at the same time, we often are not aware of what we don’t know. It’s related to the learning process and shows why many people are not able to share their knowledge. I will give you an example to clarify this.
If you are a car driver, probably you don’t need to think which pedal you should press or how to use a steering wheel. On the road, you are annoyed by inexperienced drivers, and you don’t remember how you drove for the first time. If you aren’t a driver, you can try to describe to a 3–4 years-old kid how to tie his shoelaces. Sounds easy? Then try it :)
For adult people, the learning process has four different stages. In the beginning — you don’t know, what you don’t know. It’s a moment when you use buses and don’t think about a car. You don’t need it, and you don’t care about driving.
The next stage is when you know what you don’t know. It’s a moment when you go to driving school and start learning. You are scared about the number of things which you must learn and you are not sure if you can do this. This moment is hard, but when you pass it, you get to the next stage.
Then it’s the time when you know what you know. You are not the best driver yet, but you are able to drive a car. All the time you have to think about using throttle, brakes, shifting gears or looking in the mirror. You understand how to drive, but you need practice. After each hour in the car, you feel more confident behind the wheel, and after a long time you reach the last and the most exciting stage — you don’t know what you know.
This moment is awesome. You don’t need to think about the particular actions when driving. You just get into a car and drive 140 km/h on the highway doing many other things at the same time. You finish the learning process, and from now on you are a driver.
The same schema works for everything that you learn. When you know these four stages, you can focus to reach the last one as quickly as possible. To learn faster, you can use six simple questions, which change your perspective and help to avoid wasting time.
4. Questions thinking — six secrets of the productive meetings
People love talking, but only a few can listen. This is the reason why you spend too much time on meetings and leave them without any conclusion. People talk a lot but don’t listen to others. How many times did you hear a presentation and afterwards you didn’t remember anything specific from it?
You can change your next meeting by focusing on six simple questions:
- WHY — define a reason for the meeting
- WHEN — define time for work and deadlines
- WHO — define people that you need
- WHERE — define required resources and places
- WHAT — define a goal to reach
- HOW — define a way to achieve this goal.
Follow them one by one and sum up answers for each question in one sentence at the end of the discussion.
When you have a clear answer to this six-question your work will be much more comfortable, and all your sessions will be short and productive. You need to try it!
Good practice is to repeat the question until you have a clear answer. For example, if you ask “Why we need this?” you will get some answer. If this is not clear enough, you can ask “OK, but why exactly do we need that?” and clarify your needs until everyone in the room has a clear vision for the topic.
If this is not enough for you and you want more, I have the next powerful tool to improve your communication.
5. Eight profiles of people and eight ways to good communication
If you work with other people, probably you see the difference between you and them. Some people have a lot of energy; some don’t. Some people will create new things, and some are the guardians of the old order. Is something wrong with them? No. They are great people, and you need all of them in your team.
Maybe you know systems like Insight Discovery, SDI, DISC or Wealth Dynamics? Personally I like the last because it’s based on five thousand years of Chinese traditions and observations written in I-Ching — The Book of Changes.
That book became the foundation to build today’s psychology science. The idea behind all these systems is to split people into different profiles with different strengths and weaknesses.
In Wealth Dynamics there are eight profiles:
- The Creator — They are good at creating profitable ideas and businesses, but not so good with the day to day running of a business. Successful creators will delegate everything, except the creative process. Don’t give him your idea. Help him finish his stuff.
- The Star — extroverted and shiny profile relies on the strength of their personality and aware of the pressure of always having to deliver. Give him a product or idea and freedom to make a show.
- The Supporter — Great networkers with loads of energy and enthusiasm. Their greatest wealth can be achieved when they join forces with others. Most supporters don’t believe in themselves — they need a great leader and other people around.
- The Deal Maker — relies on relationships, connections and being able to react intuitively when the best opportunities present themselves. He brings the best deals and also the best failures.
- The Trader — someone who naturally hunts out bargains, naturally loves haggling and gets immense satisfaction from a great deal. They are equally as good at finding high price buyers. For traders, the most important thing is time.
- The Accumulator — They are patient, disciplined and will stick fast to a successful system. Incremental growth is the key to success. You just have to watch if they don’t accumulate too much.
- The Lord — loves to control everything. You can find a lord where there are fixed assets generating cash. They don’t want attention like the stars and like to create wealth quietly. They are stable and trustworthy.
- The Mechanic — Perfectionists who like to finish things, rather than create them. They want to make everything better — fine tune them. Most people in IT are this profile.
Back to the Questions thinking, for each profile a different question is important. For some of them even more than one. If you talk with a Mechanic, Creator or Star you should focus on WHAT. They are intuitive, innovative and they need to know what needs to be done.
For the Star, Supporter, and Deal Maker the key question is WHO. They are extroverted and focused on growth. They need other people to do their work.
For the Deal Maker, Trader, and Accumulator time is the key. They need to know WHEN they need to do something.
Last but not least the Accumulator, Lord, and Mechanic are focused on HOW. This is the reason why most developers must have a clear vision on how to do something.
All eight profiles are strongly focused on WHY. As Simon Sinek writes in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action — Always start with WHY.
If you know the profiles of the people in your team, you can communicate effectively and delegate the work better. All eight profiles have different flow and they are good at different things. What is a FLOW? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of flow theory, defines flow as a mental state of complete absorption in the current experience.
Maybe you remember that moment from your past when you started doing something and forgot about all the world around. When you were done you looked at the watch, and you were shocked because these few minutes of pleasure turned out to be a few hours in real life. Give people a job related to their strengths and you will see how productive they can be.
6. Count your money and create your personal budget
John C. Maxwell said — “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Counting money is a big problem for many people around the world.
In IT we earn decent salaries, but many of us spend more than we should. If you don’t want to have any problems with making ends meet, you need to remember this simple formula:
Earnings — Expenses = Savings
If you spend more than you earn — you are in big trouble, but if you know your numbers, you can efficiently manage your finances and not worry about the future.
How can you get your numbers? It’s simple — record your spending. The good idea is to collect all receipts and save them later into a budget app or simple spreadsheet where you keep all your income and expenses, divided into categories like food, transport, house, clothes, etc. Use only these types, which you want to measure.
After one month of saving receipts, you will see where you are losing money, and how you can spend it better in the future. Probably you will see a lot of additional positions on spending list, and start thinking how to change it? How to earn more? And how to work smarter?
People are afraid to talk about money, because they don’t understand where money comes from. The definition that can help you and which I love is “You can earn as much money as many other people’s problems you can solve.” People can pay you more if you can solve more of their problems. From this perspective, your knowledge and experience have real value for other people.
Money is essential from one more point of view, which is genuinely hated by most of the people in IT — selling.
7. Become the best salesman in your company
You think I am crazy because this is not your job? You are a software developer! Your mission is to write good code and create helpful apps, but not selling, right? Sure, but your work will become worthless if you miss one thing — clients!
Clients are the oxygen of every company. The money for your salary, training, tools, and even free fruits in the office flows from their pockets. If the client is angry, confused or annoyed, he won’t buy your product. If you don’t look at your application from the client’s point of view, you won’t even know what challenges they would like to have.
How can you do this? You should be the best client of your app. Use it like your client would and feel his pain when the application doesn’t respond as expected. This method called dogfooding” — use it, please.
The client doesn’t care about perfect code. The client does care about the value your apps provide. OK, but where is the selling?
You must know one important thing about selling. It’s a process which you use all the time. When your friends ask you to go out for a beer in the evening, they sell you a vision of a good party and a headache in the morning. When your boss doesn’t agree with your perfect idea, it means you are a weak salesman because he won’t buy your point of view. Do you understand?
When you start thinking as a client, you will see his problems, and you can find solutions for them. If you can sell this solution to the decision makers, your life will change because as you remember from the previous point — “You can earn as much money as many problems you can solve.”
Since I understood these rules, I earn much more money, undertake more exciting challenges, see more happy clients and have more possibilities to help others look, feel and live better.
The next thing which I learned is one of the most terrifying things in the world, but without this power, your progress will be hard. It’s public speaking.
8. Share your knowledge with others on conferences, meetups, and workshops
Maybe you heard that people fear public speaking more than death. I have good news — this is bullshit. If you can meet with your colleagues and tell them about your last project, holiday or party — you have all the skills needed to be a professional speaker.
By definition “public speaking” is speaking to a group of five or more people. In my career, I did the presentations for three people and 600–700 people groups too. Do you know what the difference is? There is none. Stress is the same; preparation is the same, and the presentation can be the same.
You need public speaking skills only for one reason — to teach others. Sounds weird, but this is the key for the fastest way to learn anything. When you start teaching others, you will learn much faster, because you have to understand the topic, before you start sharing your knowledge.
When you make a speech or do a workshop, your knowledge is going to be stronger each time you share it with others. Preparation to presentation will structure and organize knowledge in your mind. When you start giving talks, you will learn also directly from yourself. So if you have any problems now with some subject, start preparing a presentation about it and try to teach others about it. Maybe it sounds crazy to you, but believe me — you can do this.
Try it yourself and be honest with your audience. If you don’t know something, just say — “I don’t know, but I can learn and tell you when I find the answer.” Honesty has a powerful value. You don’t need to hide anything or lie to the audience. Telling the truth is an excellent tool and when you use it, people will come back for more.
You can start preparing for your first presentation right now. Find the topic which is the most important for you. Take six questions from the fourth point in this article and answer each of them from the perspective of eight profiles, starting with WHY it’s important to you.
To reach solutions for challenges, you need to find excellent sources of knowledge and high-quality content. Where can you find it?
9. Sources of truth
The best way to gain knowledge is to find an expert on the specific subject — have a coach, mentor or learn from the master. When we look back in time, all great people had a mentor. The teacher who led them and taught them more than others. These people spent all their life working to be the best in their field. Don’t you want to learn from the best?
Sometimes it is hard, because you must pay a big price to access them. Not only money but also time, effort, sweat, and tears. They are really busy people and you must give them a reason to spare their time with you. As you know from Star Wars — Jedi master can have only one apprentice at a time. Why should they teach just you? Sometimes it’s impossible to meet with a mentor because he died centuries ago, but they live in their books.
Since 2015 I have read more books than during all of my life. Before that, I looked at books like on something boring as most of the school books. I changed my perspective, and I’m grateful for this. Now when I’m looking at books, I see the most important things and moments from other people lives.
Many experts write books to preserve their knowledge for other people. You can get their experience for a few bucks or sometimes even for free. If you don’t like reading books — you can always listen to audiobooks. This way you are learning and doing something else at the same time!
There is one challenge — how to choose the best teacher or book for you? I searched for the answer to this question many times, and now I know: there is no answer. You must try as many things as you can and choose the best for you. You cannot judge the source of knowledge, before you try it yourself. You may be looking for the right mentor your whole life and not find one, or — what is worse — never try, out of fear that the one was poorly reviewed on the internet.
Now it’s time for the last and the most valuable lesson of my journey:
10. Most people don’t care about you, so you shouldn’t be afraid of their opinion
Imagine how many things you don’t even try to do, because of you are scared of others’ reactions? How many times did you hear about something — “this sucks”? Then you tried it, and it turned out to be something great for you. You know what I mean?
Today we have around 7,5 billion people in the world and it is impossible to make everyone like you.
On your way you will find people who will support you, people who will hate you, and others who don’t care about you at all. You need a lot of strength, faith, and great vision to move forward and do your job when the people around you don’t believe in your idea and pull you down.
Believe in yourself and do your job as best as you can. You must be strong and know one thing — you are not alone in this challenge. Find people like you and people who appreciate your work and idea, and don’t care about others’ opinion. If you know why you want to do something, just do it! I wish you all the best on your journey.
Ten things that you learned from this article are only the tip of the iceberg. You can use them as a compass to start practicing and dig deeper into your personal development. Then you will see, how these ten things influence your life. Today you learned about:
- Taking notes and writing everything down
- How to be more productive using the tools that you already have
- What are the four stages of the competence and how to use them
- What is a flow and what are the strengths and weaknesses of eight types of people, according to Wealth Dynamics
- How to count your money and create a personal budget
- Why you need to become the best salesman in your company
- How to share your knowledge and learn faster by public speaking
- How to find sources of truth
- Why you shouldn’t care about what other people think
Whatever you do, to be a few steps ahead of others, you must learn continuously. Read or listen to as many books and podcasts as you can. Find people who are much better than you, pay them for their time and learn from them. Take notes so you don’t forget, share your knowledge with others and create your budget. Don’t be afraid of other people’s opinions and start asking the right questions.
To see the change, you need time. Setup an alert in your calendar in one year from now to check how many points you introduced into your life and let me know how much your life has changed. I will keep fingers crossed for you :)