Weeknote: Finding new ways to learn

The last year has made us rethink how we do many things in our lives. Forced to adapt, we have found alternative ways to see friends and family, to do our work, to spend a lot of time at home… One thing that I reflected on this week was finding new ways to learn. 

There was the initial boost of creativity and impetus to try new things in the first lockdown – maybe you also tried baking, gardening and sewing. But that enthusiasm went away for me as restrictions and lockdowns became a routine. Also, I was very focused on learning crafty things – but learning at and for work became secondary.

Learning at work became secondary

The first few months, I was in survival mode as we figured out how to adapt all our ways of working to the remote environment, while also getting to grips with how the world was changing. 

Following the initial shock, I have spent most of last year on creating a work/life balance. And this has taken a lot longer than I would have expected. I have experimented with my work hours, eg when I do what type of work. I have also experimented with my free time, eg what type of activities are best to get me out of the work mode. It has been journey of self-discovery and how to best motivate myself. 

I think I’m 80% there. I still have days where I find it hard to let go of work thoughts, despite all efforts to create better boundaries.

When it comes to ‘work learning’, this has been difficult to fit into my new system. I have always learned for and about work outside my work hours, be that on the weekend, or in the evenings. It’s something I am passionate about, and it’s something I’ve always done that way (just like I write this blog). But it also means that this has conflicted with the boundaries I have been trying to set up in the working-from-home context. There are days (and they are still quite frequent) where the thought of a work-related podcast or book just feels too triggering. I am in self-protection mode, where I ward off any work stress. But through adapting to the new context, I am slowly getting to a place where I can learn again.

What learning looks like now

Podcasts: I used to listen to podcasts on my daily commute, which means that my podcast consumption went down dramatically this year. In my new routine, I use food shopping and occasional walks as my podcast time. It’s not as much time as I dedicated before, so now I curate my listening more carefully. I only regularly listen to one product-related podcast (The Product Experience), my other regulars are HBR’s Cold Call, the Wired podcast,Intelligence Squared and Squiggly Careers. They don’t specifically apply to Product Management, but are real food for thought, opening my mind to new ways of doing and thinking. 

Reading: I have been trying to read, but as I used to love reading in coffee shops (and in France these have been closed for a good 6 months now) this has been harder. While I can read ‘fun’ books at home, I have struggled to read work-related books at home. That’s to do with the boundary-management I mentioned above. I splashed out on a Harvard Business Review paper subscription, and quite enjoy the format, as I can pick it up and read only an article a time, and don’t have to commit too much.

Learning with my colleagues – This is a completely new thing for me, and a much more intentional practice that I’ve developed this year. This can take different aspects, but to give you examples:

  • I recently watched a talk with a colleague (she shared her screen and sound), and we paused and discussed what was being said, how it applies to our context
  • With the product team, I’ve been organising learning sessions. We’ve been reading Product Management in Practice, and chapter by chapter we sit down to talk about what we found interesting, and what we could take away from it.
  • We also do a product clinic, where one person comes with a problem and we swarm around the problem to think of what we might do about it.

These practices are the most rewarding and effective. They are fairly easy to do, so I manage to stay focused, they are directly applicable to my work and they have also further strengthened the ties with my colleagues. 

Learning other things  Particularly after I listened to the episode of Intelligence Squared with David Epstein, I felt even more inclined to learn about things not related to my job or career. He argues that in most fields – especially those that are complex and unpredictable – generalists, not specialists are primed to excel. So learning about random things you’re interested in isn’t only fun, it can also be useful!

For the past few months, I have been learning to play the piano – fulfilling a childhood dream of mine. I have also been doing free courses on Coursera (one on Financial Markets I recommend!) to learn about things just because I find them interesting, for the joy of learning.

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