The Simple Word That Can Vastly Improve Your Life

Reading time: 4 mins

barack-talk-hand

Even the Former US President could be stopped by this word…

The Magic Word

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a legend about a word that was so powerful, that it stopped bullies, conserved your time and energy and even helped you feel happier in your life. But alas, as time moved forward and technology became advanced, that word started to fade away, only to become legend…
I recently discovered that word and want to share that discovery with you!

 

The magic word is… No. That’s it.

 

But in our daily lives, many of us find it really difficult, uncomfortable and even rude to say that to a boss, a colleague and even a family member. For some people, ‘No’ is akin to a swear word.
But what I have realised is that as our lives get more complicated and busier than ever, saying ‘no’ is absolutely critical to our long term success and happiness.

 

3 Reasons Why We Must Say No More

 

1) Stress and Overwhelm

Hulk-The-Avengers-movie-image

Yeap. This is how I feel during morning rush hour too.

We live in stressful times.

 

 

Many people say that ‘multi-tasking’ is the answer but more and research is showing that multitasking is more likely cause us to burn-out rather than be productive.
Our brains were not designed to handle so much information and we are suffering for it. A lot of personal development books today focus on time management, productivity and ‘getting more done’. But don’t confuse doing more with being more effective – I still make that mistake.
At one point, I was a full-time teacher, a part-time events manager, aspiring coder and caring for a sick relative and I totally burnt out. My health was poor and I was chronically exhausted. It took me awhile to realise that I was not the T1000 and I was a human-being that needed to rest.
terminator-hand

Even the T1000 said ‘No!’

Sometimes by doing less, we feel guilt as if we are ‘letting the team down’. But the opposite is true – if you push yourself to the point of having a nervous breakdown or severe illness, you won’t be no good to anyone. Sometimes the most caring thing you can do for others is to look after yourself.

 

2) Opportunity Cost

box-nothing

Yeap. Poor woman didn’t even 1p. Painful!

If you went to the Self-Help section of your local bookstore and picked up just one of the books, 9 times out of 10 it would full of fluffy statements like “follow your dream” or “you can do whatever you set your mind to – if you want it back enough”.

 

Although they are some seeds of truth in these statements, they don’t really give the full picture. As I mentioned in a previous blog, humans have the great ability to oversimplify things known as ‘abstraction’. Which is great in some cases but can case great problems in others. Most humans find it extremely hard to accurately see all the pros and losses of a future event.

 

For example, looking at the average superstar CEO/artist/entertainer/athlete, most people wouldn’t mind having the money and apparent freedom from a ‘normal’ deskjob. But could they handle the pressures of fame, like no privacy, public shaming and humiliation, the lawsuits, never knowing who you can trust and the gruelling hours of practice/performance that will keep you #1? Although there are many positives in their life, the tabloid papers remind us the extreme downsides as well.

 

Every time that you ‘yes’ to something, you are in saying ‘no’ to something else. Everything that you do costs, in either time, energy/health or money. And there are no exceptions. Most of us make choices without counting the cost. Saying ‘no’ allows us to make choices on our terms rather than someone else’s.

 

3) Focus

jean-claude-focus

The perfect image of intense focus.

Guys I really struggle with this one: I think that my focus DNA is faulty.

 

I have noticed this is my journey learning to code. If I create a 2 hour block to code this is what usually happens:

 

a) Start coding (20 minutes)
b) Come across a challenging piece of code & wrestle with it – then wonder why I bothered trying to learn it in the first place (20 minutes)
c) Watch YouTube/surf the web then feel guilty and try again (30-45 minutes)
d) Loop

 

After a ‘2 hour session’, I walk away feeling proud of myself when in reality I did 30 minutes work.
Saying ‘No’ is not always dealing with external factors or people. Sometimes the person that you will really need to say ‘no’ to is… you. Sometimes you will have to say ‘no’ to the distractions, being comfortable, trying to make sure that everyone is happy and enjoying short-term pleasures for long term gains.

 

Former British Prime-Minister Tony Blair once said “once you decide, you divide”. The word ‘decision’ comes from the latin word ‘caedere’ which means to ‘cut off’. Every time you decide you completely cut off another part.

 

As I wrote before, my Old Man used  to like to garden and he would often prune the flower bushes. The Old Man would explain that in order for the actual flowers to be stronger, we would have to cut off additional leaves so that they didn’t take up extra resources. The word ‘no’ does not have to be a swear word. The word ‘no’ can be used as a powerful tool to cut off the unproductive things in your life that take up your natural resources so you can focus on what really matters.

 

Thank you for reading! Do you struggle to say ‘no’ like I do? Where can you insert more ‘no’s’ in your life? As always let me know what you think by leaving your comments below or tweeting at me via @karlwebdev.

 

See you next Thursday

 

Karlwebdev

 

Great Resources That Can Help You Learn To Code

teamtreehouse

Hi Guys!

I hope that you are well! As I am well over a year into my coding journey, I just thought that I would put together a couple of the resources that have really helped me progress on my path! It’s a collection of online courses, books and meetups (in the UK) that have been a great help! Hopefully they will help you too!

Online Courses

Teamtreehouse.com

I can’t speak highly enough of these guys! Teamtreehouse.com is an online school that teaches a whole lot of courses to teach you to code and get you job ready at a reasonable price! They use a combination of video, code quizzes and have a great online community that will help you if you get stuck! I am currently taking the techdegree now and I have written some blogs about my progress! It’s definitely worth a look!

CodeAcademy.com

It’s a free online coding school that uses primarily text and code quizzes that teach you to code in a number of languages. What I have found great about CodeAcademy is that they walk you through a number of real-world projects so that you can gain experience. I use this alongside Treehouse and this has really reinforced my learning!

Books

HTML & CSS: Design and Build Web Sites and JavaScript & JQuery: Interactive Front-end Web Development by Jon Duckett

These books are brilliant! Duckett does a great job breaking down the key components of Front-End Web Design which is HTML and CSS in the first book and JavaScript and jQuery in the second book! The books are gorgeous to look at and I have found them to be great reference points. Take a look at my review of Duckett’s first book here!

Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley

This book honestly has transformed my learning journey. Oakley’s book challenges the assumptions that maths and science is a GOD given talent and that these skills can be learnt. Oakley’s book is about Maths and Science in particular but about learning how to learn. I have taken many of the ideas in this book and applied it my own life with great results! Read my review here!

Meetups/Workshops

Codebar.io

Codebar.io run free weekly workshops, regular events and try to create opportunities for our students making technology and coding more accessible to underrepresented groups. Now they have a number of branches in London and around the UK and branches in Berlin, Germany and Barcelona, Spain. These guys have been absolutely essential in my growth as a programmer and if you are in the UK or any of the other places, please look them up!

Thank you for reading! If there is any resources that you have found helpful in your path to learning to code, list them in the comments below or tweet me @karlwebdev!

As always, see you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

 

The Number #1 Skill You Need To Be Great At Coding

Reading time: 5 mins

sherlock-vision

This man knows how to do this well…

Houston… We Have A Problem

Since starting to learn to code over a year ago and now 6 months into my Techdegree, I am in a very weird place in my journey. On one hand, when it comes to Javascript, I can just about get my head around the concepts and ace all the little code exercises that are part of the learning program.

But when it comes to creating a new project from scratch or when I am given a more complex challenge, I become stuck. I have reached what Eric Trautman said in his brilliant blogpost “Why Learning To Code Is So Damn Hard” the ‘Desert of Despair’. After a couple of months of scratching my head, I slowly realised that I was missing a key tool to help me survive this desert, Indiana Jones style…

Problem Solving

This I discovered was the million-euro answer. It’s problem solving. The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘problem-solving’ as the “process of finding solutions of difficult or complex issues”. Although good coders can write decent code and through some programs together, great coders use their code to solve problems. Like giving dogs and cats typewriters and expecting them to produce Shakespeare, was like my method of writing loads of code and hoping that answer would reveal itself – there had to be a better way.

4 Steps To Solve Problems

In my search for the answer, one book to my rescue. “How To Think Like A Programmer: Problem Solving For The Bewildered” by Paul Vickers was written for people like me: folks who just wanted to learn not just how to code but when to use it and build stuff. Vickers felt that a lot of coding books and online resources would teach you ‘how’ to code but would not tell you ‘why’ you would use a method and ‘when’ you would need to apply it. Vickers felt that the actual language i.e JavaScript or Ruby shouldn’t be the main focus but the problem that you are trying to fix.

Vicker’s book is extraordinary (book review coming soon) and he devised a 4 step framework that you could use to help you tackle most coding problems!

1) Understand The Problem

apollo-13

You know the catchphrase… I said it already!

Vickers believes that most of the coding problems that we have is simply because we do not have a enough of a grasp of it to solve it. Humans are good at ‘abstraction’ which means that we can look at something i.e a thing, an idea and a person and understand what it is without going to very specific details. For example, if I asked you to ‘think of a dog’, in general you would think of a small animal with four legs, fur and a tail without having to think about whether it was a poodle or a rottweiler.

But in coding, the issue is that these ‘abstractions’ lead to assumptions that can actual hinder us in solving the problem. A great personal example of this was once when I was teaching a school class, I had a video clip that I wanted to show them but it was showing without any sound. After 10 minutes of unhooking the speakers, checking the software drivers were up to date and turning the machine on and off, I realised that the actual volume in the Media Player was turned off! It’s only when I went through it step-by-step, did I realise the error in my thinking.

If you are confronted with a large, complex problem, break it down it smaller, simpler chunks and solve those instead. Another tip I gained from the book is that if you become stuck, explain the problem to yourself as you would a small child: this will force you not to think less abstractively and take it step-by-step and this really works!

2) Devise The Steps

ironman-rocketboot

As they say the Iron Man suit wasn’t built in one day…

Once you think that you have understood the problem and broke it down to it’s core components, not you can start planning the steps that will give you the solution. This is not a static process: while planning the steps, you may find that there still maybe flaws in your thinking and you may have to go back to Step 1. Don’t worry, as the planning helps strengthen your understanding of the problem and lead you to new possibilities that you just would not of known in the planning stage.

Vickers suggests that you should display plans in more than one way i.e flowcharts and pictures so that it forces you to look at your plan from at least more than angle and this can help you get a different perspective on how it can be done.

3) Execute The Solution

wright-brothers

The Wright Brothers had the right idea…

Once you have done Steps 1 and 2, its now time to put the plan into action. So does that mean that as soon as you click ‘launch’, your job is done and you can sip your Tetley tea? Not on your life. To quote that great philosopher Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Remember as much as you plan, it’s not possible that you will perceive every possible outcome. Your code will have to go through a ‘testing phase’ where you will have to remove bugs and rearrange your code until everything runs smoothly.

At this point, it very easy to get discouraged when your program doesn’t work properly but remember this is normal when you ‘ship’ your solution. Good programmers understand this and don’t let the bugs and the failures hinder them and they keep on truckin’.

4) Reflect Upon The Solution/What Did You Learn?

obama-thinking

This fella will have a lot of time to reflect now…

So you executed, everything works smoothly and you are ready to jump on your horse and ride into the sunset. Not so fast Clint. The best programmers will often look at their solutions and evaluate them to see what they could learn. Great programmers ask themselves questions like:

  • What could I have done better that would make the program faster/more responsive/less bug prone?
  • What did I do well?
  • If I had time, what could I add/take away that will make the program better for the client/user?

Good coders don’t work in isolation. They allow peers and other users to critique their work and make suggestions on how they can improve. Throughout this phase, Vickers believes that good coders write documentation not just for other users but themselves which helps consolidate everything that they have learnt.

Conclusion

Although this framework is incredibly simple (as it should be), it has been a real eye-opener for me as it gave me a plan of attack in which to help create better solutions.

Another aspect I liked about this framework was that made me feel that it was OK not to have the right answer straight away and we have to sometimes have to fail many times before we get the ideal solution. Of late, while learning to build more complex programs, I felt frustrated much of the time and dare I say it, part of me was questioning whether I really had ‘the chops’ to learn coding and was feeling a little lost. This framework has given me confidence that ‘failure is not final’ and in fact is the true path to successful and happy coding!

Thank you for reading! What did you think? As always, leave your comments below or tweet at me @karlwebdev.

See You next Thursday

Karlwebdev

Book Review of “Little Bets” By Peter Sims

little-bets

Hello People!

I have a question: what does edgy comedian Chris Rock, animated movie powerhouse Pixar and Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.com have in common? (I know that this sounds like the setup to a bad joke but just roll with me here!)

They all take “Little Bets”.

So what are they? “Little bets” are small, concrete low risk actions that are made to discover, develop and test ideas. Peter Sims believes that the most innovative, creative and successful artists, individuals and companies consistently use “little bets” to stay ahead of their fields and Sims provides the step-by-step playbook in which they make this happen.

Betting The Farm

When it comes to creativity and innovation, there are generally 2 assumptions:

1)    The people who come up with the most creative and innovative ideas are just geniuses i.e Walt Disney, Prince or Steve Jobs

2)    The great world changing ideas come to these people in a flash: fully formed, perfect and the superstar creative puts all his time, resources and energy (bets the farm) on this idea and becomes a gazillionaire.

Sims through extensive research and by doing in-depth interviews with 4-star generals, superstar entertainers and Silicon Valley pioneers disagrees. What Sims noticed is that although they operated in different fields, these pioneers used surprisingly similar approaches to coming up with great ideas and solutions using experimentation, being playful, looking at the project/problem from every angle and if something is not working, changing direction quickly or ‘pivoting’. Many chapters of the book cover one of these aspects in detail and at the end of each chapter, Sims provides concrete action steps that you can implement into your own projects.

How This Book Can Help You

For me this has been a great book. The number 1 take-away of this book has been what Sims calls “small wins”.

Sims explains that when most people want to start a new project or goal, they look at it from the wrong way around: they start off with this grand vision of what the end should look like i.e landing their first coding job or building a successful business and they plan all the steps that will get them there. But Sims believes that is a bad idea as with any detailed plan, things are likely to go wrong and there will be many external factors that will throw the plan off course. Most people at this point get frustrated and give up.

Sims argues that innovators instead of focusing on the ‘grand plan’ focus instead on “small wins” which are small , positive actionable steps that show them that they are going in the right direction. Sims used comedian Chris Rock as an example of this trait. Before Chris Rock embarks on a worldwide stadium tour or major hosting gig, Rock will many months before go to tiny, more intimate venues locally to test his material. Rock comes unannounced with has a rough outline of the subjects he wants to discuss on a legal pad: many of the jokes are half-baked and many “bomb” but when he does get a laugh, Rock watches intently, logging it down. After doing this dozens of times, Rock slowly builds and refines his act to the award-winning, box-office smashes that he’s known for.

The “small wins” concept has a lot in common with “The Slight Edge” where it focuses on small consistent actions rather than massive ones. At first when I signed up to the Teamtreehouse Tech Degree, I honestly believed that I would be able to become a proficient coder in 6 months – but things didn’t go to plan. I started to get frustrated and wondered whether coding was for me. But remembering this lesson, I started to focus on the “small wins” like understanding loops or functions rather than landing that coveted job. The “small wins” focus made my learning less frustrating and increased my confidence that I was improving and nearing my goal.

Verdict

I loved this book but the only downside was that it could be a little wordy in places and towards the end it got a little repetitive – but don’t let that stop you! This is a must-buy!

Final score is 7.5 out of 10

Thank you for reading! As always let me know what you think by leaving your comments below or tweeting at me via @karlwebdev.

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev