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Visual book review: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast (Josh Kaufman)

The idea of learning a new skill can be overwhelming. If you break the skill down into specific things you can learn, it becomes much more manageable. Tim Ferris used this to hack cooking (video) by dissociating it from shopping for groceries or cleaning up. Josh Kaufman’s new book The First 20 Hours fleshes out how to rapidly learn, illustrating it with stories, examples, and practical tips for a wide range of skills. A key insight? You don’t have to be amazing, just good enough to enjoy the skill, and 20 hours is enough to get you there if you learn effectively. (Even if it turns out to be more complex than that, stick with it anyway, and then see where you are at 20 hours.) Click on the one-page summary below to view or download a larger version. 20130705 Visual Book Review - The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything... Fast - Josh Kaufman Feel free to share this visual book review! (Creative Commons Attribution – I’d love it if you link back to this site and tell me about it. =) ) It should print out fine on letter-sized paper, too. The book is both practical and entertaining, especially if you’ve been curious about some of the areas he covers in his chapters. =) While the advice is common sense, the application of the advice makes it interesting – and the stories might nudge you into taking similar steps towards the skill you’d like to develop the most. Besides, the book has stick figures in the chapter on yoga and shell commands and a Ruby tutorial in the chapter on programming. Not that many books can pull that off, although if you’re the type who reads things like travel books for just one chapter, you might grumble about paying for all the other chapters you’re not interested in. 20 hours isn’t going to make you an expert in something, but it might get you farther than you think. Intrigued by the ideas? You can check your local library to see if they have a copy, or buy your own: The First 20 Hours (affiliate link). What I’m going to do with this book One of the benefits of this experiment with semi-retirement is that I have the time and space to explore what I’d like to learn. Not all of it at once, but I can certainly make decent headway on a few skills I want to improve. I rarely start from scratch, so it’s not that I’m really spending my first 20 hours on something – new interests are usually offshoots of something that I already do well or enjoy, because unfair advantages lead to other unfair advantages. I like programming, writing, going through flashcards… I even get along with accounting.

    The biggest new thing that I don’t yet intrinsically enjoy is strength training, which (as the name indicates) is probably more about

training

    – my body has to adapt to it, and that takes time.

So, let’s pick another skill. Something that I haven’t dived deeply into, but that I’m curious about. Some candidates:

  • Creating animated videos (and not cheesy fake-written ones, either)
  • Programming speech recognition macros (NatLink)
  • Visualizing data with D3.js or other visualization libraries

Of the three, I think visualizing data with D3.js will be the most fun for me. I can break that down this way:

  • Manipulate the data into a form that’s easy to work with in D3.js
  • Create typical graphs
  • Create custom graphs
  • Add interactivity
  • Use D3.js for non-graph applications
  • Integrate the visualizations into web apps or blog posts

In terms of barriers, it’s really just about sitting down with some data and the documentation. I’ve worked with D3 before. I just have to practise enough to grok it. The most important skill to master first, I think, is creating typical graphs. If I get that into my brain, I can imagine custom graphs and other applications from there. So learning this skill might involve doing “programming kata”: take an existing data set and visualize it in different ways using common chart types. It’s also useful to look at how other people are breaking down skills and learning them. Duncan Mortimer (who I think is the same as the Duncan Mortimer behind this WriteOrDie mode for Emacs?) wants to write blog posts better. He came up with this list of skills that he wants to work on in terms of blogging:

  • Choosing a topic
    • Brainstorming
    • Asking yourself questions
    • Topics that choose themselves — blogging what you’re learning or as you’re learning
  • Drafting the post
    • Structure
    • Avoiding editing while writing
    • Writing quickly
  • Editing the post
    • Textual tics
    • Restructuring
  • Publishing the post
    • Scheduling posts for future publication
    • Uploading to the hosting service
    • Adding categories and tags; making it ‘discoverable’

I’m also interested in writing more effectively. For me, the key things I’m working on are:

  • Outlining: Planning the structure before I start writing. Doesn’t work for all the posts, but I might be able to use it to speed things up. Practice: Flesh out my sharing outline (hah, you can even send patches or make suggestions through the issues queue) as a separate activity from writing. (See how I’m doing so far in terms of time.)
  • Illustration: Coming up with a hand-drawn image to illustrate my blog posts nudges me to think about the key point or idea in the post, and it’s good practice for sketchnoting too. Practice: It’s like adding an item to my blogging checklist to quickly sketch an image if I can.

Anyway, here’s the book again if you’re curious. Disclosure: I’ll get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon using the links in this post, but you could also see if your local library has the book. (I got this one from the Toronto Public Library!) Check out first20hours.com for more info. Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!

For another visual take on this (pretty colours!), check out Cynthia Morris’ summary. Enjoy!

Sketchnote Lessons: Drawing Emotions

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

Want to make your drawings more interesting? Add emotions! Drawings of emotions can communicate so much more than words describing emotions, and they do so in an immediate, visceral way. For example, consider the list of words below, and the faces beneath them.

image

Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, you can draw basic emotions easily. Simple combinations of eyebrows and mouths say a lot. You can show different degrees of emotions by emphasizing parts.

image

You can combine emotions, too. For example, angry eyebrows + happy smile = evil overlord plotting to conquer the world. >=)

Play around, and you’ll find even more emotions that you can express with small changes to the face. For inspiration, you can look at smileys and emoticons.

image

Icons and symbols let you be even more expressive. You can pick these up from comics and smileys.

image

Emotions aren’t just expressed with the face. Posture can communicate emotions powerfully too. Explore the physicality of emotions by looking at how actors show feelings, or by imagining yourself feeling those emotions.

image

You can also show emotions in how people relate to each other.

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Metaphors are fun to play with, too.

image

Learning how to draw emotions isn’t just useful for sketchnoting. You can draw emotions in order to understand other people better. Mindmaps or empathy maps can help. You can draw your own emotions, too. When I’m faced with a difficult situation or a confusing tangle of emotions, I try to break down the different emotions I feel and the reasons why I feel that way. When you understand why you’re happy and sad and worried and excited all at the same time, it’s easier to move forward.

Want to learn more about drawing emotions? The best resource I’ve found so far is the Bikablo Emotions book, which has a lot of full-body emotions. Here’s a sample of the drawings I made based on part of the Bikablo Emotions book. (There are even more emotions in the book – check it out!)

emotions

Children’s books are a good source of emotions. I remember loving the Mr. Men and Little Miss series when I was growing up, and I look forward to discovering other wonderful illustrations as I go through the library’s collections. =)

Comics are another great way to learn more about expressing emotions, from the concise forms of newspaper strips to more elaborate drawings in comic books.

And then there’s learning about all these emotions in the first place, because it helps to be able to recognize the emotion and give it a name. Wikipedia has a few good pages: Contrasting and categorization of emotions, Emotion classification. HUMAINE proposes a classification of 48 emotions (see Wikipedia for an easier-to-read list) The Center for Nonviolent Communication lists 259 emotions in their feelings inventory.

I’m thinking of going through those lists and practising drawing all these different emotions. Want to join me? I’ll post stuff here once in a while, and I’d love it if you sent me links to your drawings!

Series Navigation« Sketchnote Lessons: Speech bubbles and thought cloudsSketchnote lessons: Stick figures »

Redesigning the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell

Along with Patricia Kambitsch and Alex M. Chong, I co-organize the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell. It’s a small gathering of graphic recorders, sketchnoters, mindmappers, doodlers, illustrators, artists, students, and so on, and we meet on the last Tuesday evening of every month at OCAD University (100 McCaul Street). We’ve had six meetups so far, and we’ve been thinking about how to make the meetups even better.

The goals for the meetup redesign are:

  • Encourage people to share their work so that others can learn from them and give feedback (if desired)
  • Line up different speakers who can share techniques and approaches
  • Help people improve their visual thinking skills through challenges
  • Here’s the agenda from a past meetup:

    7:00pm Welcome and brief introductions. There’s usually a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board. For example, one time, participants were asked to map where they were on a “visual thinking” map. Another time, people drew things related to weather.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Presentation and Q&A
    7:30 Open space show&tell: people volunteer topics they would like to discuss, and then the group splits up into smaller groups. People have paper and markers so that they can take notes. People are free to shift from group to group. For example, someone once brought three editions of a cookbook spanning different decades in design. Other people have brought delightfully-illustrated shopping bags, inspiring books, and so on.
    8:10 Open space round 2
    8:45 Report back from open space, final remarks
    9:00 Pub night (often at Sin and Redemption)

    The current approach is good. The open space is great for a multiplicity of topics. Still, there are a few challenges we’d like to address. It can be difficult to find a speaker – sometimes there’s a last-minute scramble. It would be great to get participants to be more actively involved both during and after the meetup, too.

    This is what we’d like to try as the new agenda structure:

    7:00pm Welcome, brief introductions, plus “Share Your Work”. Before the meetup, people can upload things they’d like to share to the Flickr pool or e-mail it to me at [email protected]. I’ll compile the images into a presentation that will loop as people come in and settle down. As before, there’ll be a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board too.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Technique presentation and Q&A: In addition to accepting volunteers, we might also brainstorm some topics of general interest and then ask people to present on them (or present them ourselves).

    imageGroup doodle: There’ll be a wide roll of paper and markers or pastels so that people can doodle during the presentation. This has actually been part of all the meetups, but it might be good to explicitly encourage people to get down there and draw things. (And it helps people remember!)

    7:40 imageIn focus: Brave souls share something they’ve worked on, optionally for feedback and suggestions.
    8:00 Open space
    8:30 Recap of the open space
    8:40 Harvest: We review the group doodle and the open space, and people talk about what they’re planning to take away from the meetup.
    8:55 imageVisual Thinking Exercise: We set a group exercise that people can do at home. For example, for emotions, it could be “Draw different emotions and share them with the group in the ‘Share Your Work’ section. For example, you can start with joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, anticipation. Play with more!”
    9:00 Pub night

    Meetup communication plan example:

    July 16 (-2 weeks): Meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, and submission instructions for “Share Your Work”

    • July 23 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker, soft deadline for Share Your Work (unless I can find something that makes this easier to do)
    • July 31 (+1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions
    • August 6 (+1 week): Follow-up e-mail with notes and the challenge
    • August 13 (+2 weeks, –2 weeks): Follow up e-mail with challenge results so far, meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, submission reminder
    • August 20 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker
    • August 28 (+ 1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions

    Here are some theme ideas:

    • Emotions (this is the next one we’re doing)
    • Visual biographies
    • Quick lettering
    • Visual ways to plan your life
    • What makes drawings funny?
    • Working with colour
    • Choosing the right visualization for your data
    • Drawing abstract concepts
    • Beyond the built-in charts
    • Tool talk
    • Fun with words

    It would be interesting to do a survey so that we can learn more about people’s interests, prioritize topics, and see what other ideas we can draw out from people. =) Maybe after a couple of months with the new meetup structure, or if I have the mental bandwidth to do a survey?

    I’ll keep you posted on how this meetup redesign works out!

    (Curious about Visual Thinkers Toronto and want to join us at one of these meetups? Sign up at VisualThink.org!)

    Slice of life: Meowrnings

    Almost every morning, we can count on being meowed awake by our cats. They seem to do this in shifts so that only one cat is meowing at a time. They don’t really have a snooze button or a time sitting, but they seem to pause for a little bit if you meow back or fully close the door.

    imageThis is one of our cats, Neko. (Yes, I have a cat named “cat” in Japanese.) She’s usually the early morning meower. We’ve been trying to figure out why she meows. So far, we’ve determined that:

    • it’s not about breakfast, since there’s plenty of food,
    • it’s not about water, since she has that too,
    • it’s not about being able to drink from the bathroom faucet, since she doesn’t always do that even when I offer, and
    • it’s not about not having company, because she still meows me awake even if W- is up and about.

    My current hypothesis is that Neko is checking if I’m still there, since she doesn’t meow W- awake if I’m already up. It seems to match experimental observations. She’s only temporarily satisfied by voice; she insists on seeing me. She doesn’t cuddle or anything, just walks downstairs with me and goes about her usual cat life.

    I raised her myself (hello, 2AM and 6AM soy milk feedings!), but when I moved into the dorm for university, I saw her only on weekends. And then there was that six-month span when I was in Japan, and four years (four!) when I was in Canada. Whenever I was home, Neko took to sleeping on top of me, probably to make sure I didn’t go anywhere without her knowledge. (Then she would bite my ankles at 5 AM so that I could let her out of the room to do her business.) My mom says that even though Neko avoided her most of the time (my mom’s not a cat person), Neko would cuddle up with her whenever I left on my trips.

    Leia is usually the next one to meow. She usually meows if our door is left open a crack (for circulation), but closing the door often helps. Leia just wants to be picked up and cuddled. (She usually sticks around in the bathroom, meowing, until I get the message.) Luke is the meower of last resort. I think he meows because he wants someone to play with and sometimes the other two cats won’t give him the time of day. (Luke is usually the only cat at our door when he’s the one meowing, while we often wake up to all three cats waiting if it’s Neko meowing.)

    I try to avoid anthropomorphizing the cats too much, but it’s fun to speculate at what goes on in their head, especially if you can test the hypotheses. =)

    Neko is about ten years old now, and the other cats are four years old. The Internet says that indoor cats tend to live between 13 and 17 years. There will come a time when our mornings are quiet. In the meantime, I can appreciate the racket; our cats and their quirks.

    One of the tricks I picked up from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is that of negative visualization: imagining loss in order to enjoy a deeper appreciation of what you have. I practise it frequently. Not so much that I dwell on it, but enough to sharpen my enjoyment of life and be ready for the inevitable sadness. There will most likely come a quiet morning, maybe years from now, when I’ll look back at this sketch and and trace the outline of a memory. I practise imagining loss with pets, with friends, with family, with W-. Emotional exercise.

    Sometimes I’m up earlier than I’d like, but the cats are worth it.

    Visual book review: Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future (Terry Pearce)

    20130628 Visual Book Review - Leading Out Loud - Terry Pearce

    If you’re a corporate leader trying to transform your organizational culture, Leading Out Loud would be a good book to read in order to plan how to align your personal values and your organization’s values with a communication plan that resonates with people. Even if you aren’t, it might be a good read if you often sketch out a vision of the future and work on getting other people involved.

    Want to read the book for yourself?

    Let’s see if it works on the small scale. What would my Personal Leadership Communication Guide look like? I’m not leading anyone through an organizational change, but it might be worth going through the steps anyway.

    I. Establishing Competence and Building Trustworthiness

    Clarity of Purpose: I care about remembering and sharing what we learn. The problem is that we waste time by forgetting. We waste opportunities by hoarding what we know or being self-conscious about what we can teach. Think of all the time you spend rediscovering solutions to problems you’ve already solved. Think of when you stop and wonder, “Where did the time go?” with nothing to show for it. We learn so much, but it disappears. If we can get better at learning and sharing, imagine how much more we’d be able to do. I want to learn more about learning and sharing so that I can not only share my life, but also inspire and help other people share theirs.

    Credentials and vulnerabilities: I’m not an expert. At 29 years old, I can’t even claim to have learned very much. I get things wrong. I make mistakes. I forget.

    But it turns out that you don’t have to be an expert, and sharing probably even works better if you aren’t. I’ve been sharing my learning notes for more than ten years. I’ve been learning about drawing and screencasting as ways to share more effectively. I’ve even been working on learning how to interview people so that more people can share their lessons learned through me.

    Empathy: I wouldn’t be this comfortable with learning and sharing in public without the amazing support of people who have taught me and encouraged me throughout the years. When I wrote about an obscure topic and heard, years later, from someone who used one of my tips to solve a problem, that appreciation spurred me to write more. When I made a mistake in my server configuration and sent hundreds of e-mails in a short span of time, people forgave me, and that forgiveness helped me be less afraid to experiment. I learn from comments, conversations, questions, role models, and inspirations. There’s so much out there, and that’s a real gift.

    I know what it’s like to worry about whether you’re going to waste someone else’s time or mess up someone else’s work. Sometimes that keeps me from writing or publishing, but I’m getting better at going ahead anyway. More often, I struggle with not feeling that I understand something well enough to write about it – and then I remind myself that “showing my work” helps other people learn from or even correct it.

    There’s a lot I need to learn about sharing more effectively. Writing with a plan. Cutting out excess. Making things clear. Drawing, editing video, and so on. I need questions and answers and feedback. I think it will be a good adventure.

    Commonality: We’re all learning, and we all have more to learn.

    Willingness to be known: Why does this matter to me personally? I was a child when I realized that life is too short to spend figuring everything out on my own. I devoured books – voracious enough that my grade school principal said I wasn’t a bookworm, but a booksnake.

    I started finding the gaps that I couldn’t learn from the books I read. I started learning things on my own and from other people – and, too often, forgetting. I share because I don’t trust my brain, and because I’m curious about what I can learn from people if I help them leapfrog me. I don’t want writing to be limited to authors or drawing limited to artists. I want people to feel comfortable using whatever they want to capture and perhaps share what they learn.

    II. Shared context

    Blogging made it easier for people to share their thoughts, but still, surprisingly few people do it. New technologies make it easier for people to draw, but people tell themselves that they can’t doodle. I wonder what’s next, what could encourage people to share more, what could help me share better.

    I don’t have a burning platform; it isn’t a timely issue. Except, perhaps, that life is short, and I forget, and things unshared are conversations that don’t happen. So yes, I have a very selfish reason for sharing. =)

    III. Declaring and Describing the Future

    Here’s the future I imagine: an awesome life. A life filled with doing and learning and sharing, saving other people time or inspiring other possibilities. It’s a small vision, an individual one. The bigger vision is to help other people live their own awesome lives. =) Better than a foggy life, yes?

    What does that future look like and feel like? I imagine I’d follow my curiosity, dipping into my outline or list of ideas for more inspiration. I’d read, try things out, talk to people, write, draw, share. We’ll ask questions together, dig into things deeper, explore more. It’ll be useful and fun.

    But it has to be more than that. It would be good for me to learn how to order my thoughts and write books, so that I can help people who are new to a field instead of just people who are in the middle of it. It would be good to learn how to make the most of whatever new tools are developed. It would be good to get better at encouraging other people to share.

    IV. Committing to Action

    Here are some steps I need to take:

    • Practise writing with objectives, outlines, and plans.
    • Practise illustrating ideas – mine and other people’s.
    • Practise talking to people and sharing what I learn from them.
    • Practise experimenting and breaking out of my comfort zone.
    • Dig into workshops and virtual meetups as a way to help other people learn and share.

    If you want to help out, comments, questions, and suggestions welcome!

    Want to read the book for yourself?

    Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!

    Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review. Also, if you buy the book through the Amazon link above, I get a small commission. (Check your local library if they have it, if you have a library near you!)

    Here’s the recording from “How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking”

    Check out my Evernote resource page for the one-page summary and Q&A. Enjoy!