Discipline, Routine, Self-learning and Motivation.
At the beggining it was really hard for me to work from home in a disciplined manner. It’s difficult in the modern world with so many distractions. I believe that the ability to focus on one task could be considered a superpower in the 21st century. I started looking for materials and techniques that could help me to avoid slacking into procrastination mode.
The first course that I actually finished and advise everyone to check out is “Learning How To Learn” on Coursera by Dr. Oakley and her husband. I wish this course would have been given to me in high school, so good it was. They explained how our brain works, how to deal with procrastination, how to learn faster and better, different mnemonics techniques. It was really helpful. I still sometimes return to these videos to remind myself how we should really learn.
One of the recommendations given by Dr. Oakley was to plan out your day because we have roughly four working slots in our memory, and if we don’t write down our tasks, they take up the space in our working memory that could be used for learning. Another useful advise was to study several different topics in one day, rather than focus the whole day on one topic and then another topic the next day. This was really helpful to maintain my motivation because when you’re studying one thing for a long time it can get boring or frustrating, especially if there is something that you don’t understand.
At this point I was banging my head against walls of web-apps, feeling like I’ll never deeply understand the technological stack underneath. I was also having trouble deciding what would be the best thing to focus on first. Dr. Oakleys’ course motivated me to make a plan. I looked online and found the eqiuvalent of a Computer Science bachelor curriculum here at Open Source Society University (OSSU). To keep me on-track and away from burning out, I decided to divide my day between programming, infosec study, hunting for bugs and taking the first few courses from this curriculum. Probably most importantly, I took up the recommendation to start each day with the most hardest task first. My most productive days are the ones in which I follow through with this. Now I’m so happy with this decision!
One of the first courses in the curriculum was “Effective Thinking Through Mathematics” taught by Michael Starbird which also was a lot of fun. The professor explained the way of thinking to be succesful to solve problems (different games and puzzles in this course) plus a little bit of math. The main take away for me was that if you have a hard problem to tackle, the best way to go about it is to break it down into the smallest manageable chunks.
I also took the CS50 course from Harvard on Edx. It was informative and fun, and I enjoyed solving the programming assignments! As they advice on OSSU you do not need to finish this course but only the first half (involved programming in C). I did that and now I’m doing the next course in the curriculum which is from MIT “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python” which I had previously started a few times but never finished.
When you are trying to achieve long-term goals, motivation is hard. As pointed out by Ray Dalio (in his great book: Principles) it’s easier for our mind to focus it’s attention on first-order consequences (immediate results and pleasures). But when you are teaching yourself how to program or trying to understand another math concept the second- and third-order benefits are not obvious for the mind. I found it really helpful to use little tricks that Dr. Oackley suggests, like rewarding yourself with a little something (such as checking twitter, eating an apple, taking a walk) after a finished assignment. Especially after a long walk in the nature, your mind is clear and full of creative ideas that you cannot wait to come try at home (hint: do not take your smartphone with you!).
Planning out my day, doing the hardest thing first, interweaving several different tasks into one day and rewarding myself for the small achievements has brought many benefits. It doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with desires or I’m on plan every day, but I have definitely seen the progress. Keep hacking, keep learning!