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Consolidating Your Learnings Through Reflection and Journaling

KIRSTEN ZVERINA

Senior Product Manager at Google

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Problem

I like learning. I’m a curious person by nature. I love figuring out how things work, or learning new skills to make better products. So personally, if I’m not learning, I’m unhappy. Over my career, I’ve faced many learning challenges, as I moved from engineering into product. I’ve worked in companies of literally every size: from my own startups, to investment banks to large e-Commerce firms, on B2B, B2C and B2B2C products, at different life-cycle stages and P&L criticality. So I’m good at learning fast. But I relied on a lot of mechanisms (like in person training) that aren’t possible in a pandemic. And like a lot of folks, there were so many ‘fires burning’ in this pandemic, that I struggled to do proactive work and keep learning. I was soon very frustrated and worried my own skills were stagnating.

Actions taken

Ask for help, ‘be kind to yourself’

So I asked my leadership and peers how they were doing deep work and learning at this time. It turned out everyone was struggling and had their own unique battles to fight. I felt a little comforted by the fellowship but I really needed to fix this problem fast. I still remember one great suggestion in these chats, was just to be ‘kind to yourself’ and set a slower, sustainable pace for learning, in challenging times.

Block the calendar

Accepting it would be at a slower pace, I still needed to find a way to grow my skills. So I tried planning in-depth work sessions for learning. I cleared spots in my calendar, set objectives, switched off distractions and focused solely on the task at hand. And this focus was great for things like strategy but it was really hard to see, if I was learning overall.

Exercise

Per a mentor’s suggestion, as the pandemic lockdown restrictions in London eased, I started taking 1 - 2 hour walks, listening to my favourite music. This was incredibly effective at helping me step back, clear reactive ‘fire fighting’ thoughts and focus. In fact, studies have shown that short exercises can improve job performance, productivity and the overall workplace environment. I didn’t believe it at first but it helped. And per my own experiments, a walk of 1 - 2 hours to music, is very effective for reflecting and consolidating learnings.

Keep a Diary

Lastly, another mentor suggested I keep a diary of my product craft learnings. I had not kept a diary or journal since high school, so I initially laughed off the suggestion as a cute joke. They were not kidding apparently, so I tried it. It worked brilliantly. And now as Friday ends, I take time to write down what I’ve learned in my ‘product craft’ journal. And I plan what I want to tackle or learn, in the coming weeks. This changed my experience with learning in the pandemic, and helped me take time out over the weekend to restart well on Mondays.

Lessons learned

  • Remote working, especially in a pandemic, is not experienced the same by everyone. We all have unique needs and battles. Some folks have lost family and friends, and are not in a space to think about anything to do with work. Some folks are early in their careers and can’t learn from others in the office any more. Some folks are late in their careers but suddenly caring for children or eldery relatives and struggling to find space for a call, let alone time to think. Whatever your own growth challenges, hopefully some of these actions like journaling, may help you too?
  • Plus, being able to look back over months of your own learning, in your own journal is great! You see your mistakes and learnings, in your own hand-writing and remember how you’ve grown. It helps sharpen your skills, while also putting it into a ‘bigger picture’ context and perspective. And it gives you an extra record of your growth and progress. So if you are ever lost, or struggling to develop in this pandemic - try and see if this helps you, to find your own way back onto your growth path!

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KIRSTEN ZVERINA

Senior Product Manager at Google


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