Making a habit

My path to web development, part 3

Keeping at it

As you may know, I chose TheOdinProject to guide my way on my journey to become a web developer. One of the first thing they emphasises on is getting you to get tools to achieve your goal, tools to help you learn better. There are no secrets and no amount of talent that can get me to my goal, other than putting the necessary hours into it. Also, when you don’t practice for a while, you quickly lose what was not solidly anchored in your mind. So I started looking more and more into techniques that can help me to put the required amount of time to achieve my goal.

Planning for success

In today’s world, we have almost unlimited access to knowledge about anything one could possibly want to learn and the resources are almost endless. Time, however, seems to be the limiting factor for most people and makes most of us lose sight of our goals. All the information is out there, but so is an incredulous amount of distractions as well. And of course, this is without talking about the daily grind that is our modern life. Maybe sometimes you are feeling like me; when I want to do something of my skin, I often feel a lack of energy blocking me from doing anything useful.

Also, when learning a new skill, you start at the rock bottom of the metaphorical knowledge mountain and the peak seems so far away. You start putting in a lot of hours each day on learning new things and you are quickly gaining new knowledge but then your energy level gets low and you do nothing for a couple of weeks. You may feel like you just need to put huge extra efforts into each course but you are far away from the truth. You are way, way better putting a realistic amount of time each day into learning and be consistent with it than to reserve a single big chunk of your day to complete an online course or a project. If you plan 30 minutes each day for coding and miss a session, you won’t be out by much. However, miss your single big day and you will be out by a lot.

Keeping up with a routine of 30 minutes of practice or reading each day for three months will get you 42 hours of actual work done. That’s a lots of hours when you consider that you only need to spend a fraction of your day on learning. You also get the added benefits of creating mind and muscle memory by repeating the same tasks every single day.

Time for practice

I’ve read about this very subject while writing this post. There is a lot of great advice out there but I also think that there are some bad ones too, especially on when to schedule your short learning sessions. I am of the opinion that only you know what is best for yourself. Some might like the “getting up early” mindset better while others prefer to get it all done at night. Try some variations on that and come up with the best plan for you.

For me, since I have a somewhat strange work schedule, it is almost impossible to plan ahead a fixed amount of time or a time of day that I’ll be sure to respect. I have however decided to work on those sessions as soon as I wake up on my free days or during lunch at work when I cannot do otherwise. In fact, when I am at work, I cannot actually learn with a computer, so I use other mediums, as stated in part two of this series (books and podcast), and my smartphone which is my best friend in those cases.

One of the best tip I got from the “Cortex” podcast is to log any amount of time spent on a project some way or another. There are apps that can do it for you automatically or you can do it on your own (I just downloaded the “toggle” app to try it for myself). What you need to do here is to be honest about it. Were you really focusing your attention on the task at hand? If you find yourself getting distracted easily, you can use the Pomorodo technique. Basically, you need to set a timer for a short burst of work, say 20 minutes, and focus on a certain task for the entirety of that time. After the time is up, you can restart the timer if you feel like it or set another timer for a short break and allow you to get distracted during a set period of time, say 5 minutes. Then, you start again.

Another great advice I got by listening to that podcast is the use of background noises for concentration. I like to listen to music but I sometime find it distracting. Having nothing to listen to is also somehow distracting for some reasons. So, I found the “AsoftMurmur” website, where you can listen to a variety of background noises like thunder and rain. So far, I really like it and I feel like my productivity has improved since I tried it.

If after all those tips and tricks you still find that being on a computer is distracting, you could try blocking the websites that prevent you from being concentrated. Remember, if you follow the Pomorodo technique like I do, you need to be 100% focused on the task at hand for a short amount of time.

I’ve got to admit that by writing this post I am pushing myself to be a little more consistent. It is so easy to let life, other passions or pure procrastination in the way of your goals. I personally have some trouble with the later from time to time. Having a schedule here is key. Find a way to put those minutes and hours in, they really add up quickly when you keep at it.

In the next post, I will talk about my latest read: Designing Interface Animation: Meaningful Motion for User Experience, from author Val Head. In the meantime, log those hours in!

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