Thursday, September 25, 2008
"How did I do this last year?" I asked myself, unable to focus my eyes to read much beyond 11pm.
I think I've finally crossed the line, dipping below "zero" on the Cumulative Sleep Index, and that's a good thing. I'm remembering now that things really start picking up once I've exhausted all my stored-up energy and I begin, in a sense, running on fumes.
Once I reach terminal tiredness, tiredness itself falls away. I'm operating on just five hours' sleep last night and I'm feeling great. During the summer, any less than eight hours a night would leave me groggy the next day. Clearly I'm into a new zone right now. This is where I thrived in college, where I lived on something close to 3-4 hours of sleep a night with fantastic results.
Of course, I could just be delirious, like the man walking toward the oasis in the desert anticipating a long, tall drink of water.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Overall, my hypotheses have been proven out: I have been more productive than at any other time in my life, and somehow I've managed to keep the other parts of my life together as well (no pets have died from neglect, laundry and dishes always get done, food on the table, etc.).
But now that the reality of the middle of the semester is setting in (on a timeline where midterms come just two weeks into the semester!), I'm struggling with a new challenge. Last week I learned that, due to a reorganization at my company, the number of accounts I cover has doubled. I was so good about my planning this year, I thought I had everything planned out and under control to a degree that would allow me to have a challenging but attainable year (remember, as a sales rep I get paid on my attainment). Now my account list has doubled, and these aren't small accounts either! So it's back to the planning table and I need to assess how my risk profile has been irreversibly altered with the past week's changes.
As I face two looming deadlines for midterms and the meeting invitations continue piling up in my inbox, I'm trying to keep the old maxim in mind: God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Or at least He's not supposed to! :-)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Then, suddenly, it's Saturday night, my family's in bed, and I'm faced with a daunting choice:
- Get a leg up on reading for the next class weekend
- Go to sleep to catch up on my rest
- Completely veg out, either a) browsing the Internet (usually getting sucked in to some random YouTube video thread) or b) watch Tivo until my eyes dry out and/or the sun peeks over the horizon
Do you want to take a guess as to which choice I usually make? Let's just say it's >2. This happens on a regular enough basis that I know there must be some reason (it can't be me, after all, can it?).
I think it has a lot to do with exhaustion combined with the false belief that "two weeks is plenty of time to get my reading done for the next class." As I've seen time and time again, two weeks will pass in a flash, so I'd better get off this chair right now and crack a book if I know what's good for me.
The jury's still out on which decision I'll actually make. And hey, is that ice cream I spy in the fridge?
I just got home from class and realized I've spent eight of the last eleven days in all-day sessions (that's 10-12 hours/day for those of you keeping track). Throw in a trip to Florida for work this week, a ton of reading, and two group projects already done, and it's amazing none of us have committed ourselves to the nearest padded cell.
One other thing I'm also remembering about this experience is how quickly we regain that stamina I spoke about last week (was it really just last week?). I was happy get most of my reading mojo back this week (hopefully along with some of the retention), and as long as the coffee holds up, I seem to at least be able to stay awake in class.
Nonetheless, it's pretty amazing that we already are getting our midterm exams and that we're almost halfway through our first round of two classes. Before we know it, finals will have passed, the semester will be over, and we'll be catapulted into our last semester together.
That was a good reminder to me today as I sat talking with classmates at lunch: although you can't imagine it now, this time will be over before we know it, so amidst the chaos, at least make an effort to savor the relationships, laughs, and even the humiliations (thank you, Advanced Financial Management!) that are part of this quick, strange, wonderful journey.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Not so for our IT class. This is our third session and already the professor has based his lectures on information that is not only dated but also inaccurate:
- He claimed the total sales at Wal-Mart were in the neighborhood of $175 billion. In fact it was $397.3 billion.
- He claimed that Apple had the largest market capitalization of any technology company. In fact, Apple is #3 behind Microsoft and IBM.
- He claimed you could only buy Dell computers online, using Dell's direct model. In fact, Dell now sells PCs through Best Buy stores as well.
- He claimed you couldn't buy M&M's online. In fact the company has offered custom-printed M&M's on its website for years.
- He asked, "Who ships anything via next-day shipping anymore?" Um, how about just about everyone in business?!?
- He claimed, "everything Microsoft has, Apple had years ago." I'm not even going to touch that one, it's so uninformed.
It would be different if he were espousing items we couldn't easily check online, but this is pretty basic stuff.
Further bringing us down the rabbit hole of technology, I found this morning that our IT professor has himself been blogging about us.
Is it possible to create a blogging feedback loop? Or a blogging Hadron Collider?
Should be fun to find out.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Going into this program, I dreaded the thought of classes like Statistics and Accounting. OK, Accounting was pretty hellish, but the classes I enjoyed most from first year were Managerial Accounting and, yes, Statistics. That fact still surprises me. We had a full roster of more "touchy-feely" classes last year: classes like Organizational Behavior, Strategy, and Marketing, and while those were enjoyable, what stands out for me are the more analytical classes.
If you know me, you know that's pretty much the opposite of how I view myself. I'm an English major by training, though I'm also a bundle of contradictions. Growing up, I loved electronics and taking things apart to see how they worked; throw a computer into the mix and I was in heaven. I'm pretty sure my path to dot-com greatness was first averted by a spate of math teachers in high school sent by Satan himself; this is when I gravitated to the school newspaper (later to become managing editor) and it's also when I first read a work of literature (my parents had books, but it would be a stretch to say there was much reading going on in our house growing up).
All of this led to a liberal arts degree, though I was almost a joint English and Environmental Science major. And looking back to my college experience, I think I enjoyed my junior year class in Geology more than any other class. Again, totally out of the realm of what I assumed to be my "style". The professor even approached me and asked if I'd consider changing my major to Geology, so there may also be a lost opportunity of Geologic Greatness in my past as well.
And here we are, circa 2008. I work in sales which is a lot more about art than science, I've managed magazine publishing endeavors, worked in nonprofit fundraising, and explored the higher education market as well.
More and more, I'm wondering how much opportunity I'm not noticing in both my personal and professional life because of my self-notion as someone who doesn't (or shouldn't) be drawn to topics like Statistics. Yet I am. Could there be a little patch of untapped Statistical Greatness in my future?
For the rest of this academic year, I'm going to try viewing my tastes and attractions in a slightly different light.
Finance, anyone? Coming from an Engligh major, that's pretty radical talk.
You can see how it's going.
One funny thing I did want to share was a Yogi Berra quote from yesterday (related to us by our Finance professor):
The story goes: One day, Berra ordered a pizza. When asked whether he would like his large pizza cut into four slices or eight, Yogi replied: "Four, because I don't think I have enough appetite to eat all eight."
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Simply stated, it takes pure stamina to power through a day of work at our regular jobs, followed by evening personal lives that include families and small children for many of us, and then to pick up a book or do homework for three hours each night (7 days a week) while class is in session.
I thought I was tough. I thought I'd retained much of my edge from first year. What I'm learning this week while on retreat (where the work just doesn't stop, even at night or at 6 in th morning) is that I am sorely lacking in stamina. Somewhere between the early bedtimes and homework-free days of summer, I lost it. Time to build it back up!
Right after first year began, I remember going to the zoo one Sunday morning after class with my family. I'd been up the night before until 2:30am and was up again at 7 with the kids-- all in all, a respectable 4 1/2 hours of sleep, but some additional factor (the accumulated fatigue of a weekend of class) made me literally fall asleep standing up at the zoo. I feel like I'm right back there tonight! That's what the Pepsi and Red Bull was supposed to counteract an hour ago down in the hotel bar. Now I'm facing a mountain of reading for tomorow morning ("tommorow" being the class period that begins in 9 1/2 short hours). Time to push the limits and rebuild that intellectual stamina.
We look at value add all the time in our jobs: economic value add (EVA), market value add (MVA), and other methods look at finance impacts of various activities. But what do you do at the end of a long class day in a classroom that doesn't have working ventilation and you're trying to assess the value-add of the class you're sitting through?
Here's my formula-- see if it works for you. It's not a numeric formula (though you could measure quantitative items like number of slides or lines of notes), but you get the gist.
Step 1: Consider the assigned readings (books, articles, cases, etc.). Do the assigned readings.
Step 2: Consider the PowerPoint slides the instructor has prepared for class. Review them online. Note: if an instructor doesn't post the slides in electronic form before the class, it may be fair to ask yourself what they're trying to hide (you know the kind of professors I'm talking about).
Step 3: Come to class, and take notes.
If you do all this, NVA will be a measure of net new insights or information you gain by coming to class and taking notes. I have captured all notes from all classes in the last 13 months electronically, organized by date and class, and I find that I take copious notes in some classes and almost no notes in others. Sometimes this is due to having firsthand experience with the subject matter (i.e., less need to take notes), but sometimes it's due to a professor just "phoning it in" during class and reading rote from the slides (or, worse, reading from slides his/her TA prepared for them).
Classes with high NVA will generate lots of meaty notes because attending them will be a worthy investment of your time and because attending will increase your knowledge by giving you things you couldn't glean from either the readings or the PowerPoint slides. Classes with low NVA will be have few if any notes (or, worse, just doodles in your margins) because the professor is largely regurgitating what was in the book or in the slides. In low-NVA cases, you could get just as much by staying home and reading the information for yourself.
In addition to the three variables above, NVA results can be augmented (or decremented) by two additional factors:
1. Guidance and coaching ("help") you receive from the professor on assignments or in-class exercises (higher values here imply marginal NVA even when the other factors may be low)
2. Number of random web pages you find yourself visiting as a distraction during class (likely because you are suffering from bone-crushing boredom). High numbers here translate to lower NVA (unless you have a diagnosed attention deficit disorder).
So, working toward a formula, how about:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Learning, for me at least, only (or best) seems to take place when I can suspend the nay-saying voices in my head that shout out, "Who do you think you are, taking a finance class? You're an English major, pal!"
As I learned last year, it takes conscious effort for me to keep those voices at bay, but when I can, what arises in the space between "what I know" and "what I'm being exposed to" can indeed be called learning.
It could be worse, though. There are also two cameras aimed at the professor, and they follow him/her around the room via some mysterious auto-humiliating technology.
So now we have even fewer places to hide. Look for videos of us on YouTube soon, I'm sure.
I think there's something primordial in all of us that kicks into gear each fall. Decades of "first day of school" have worn their paths in our psyches and some part of us still thinks about getting books, school supplies, and new clothes when the beginning of September rolls around. For the second September in a row, it's been great to get back into these rhythms. There's an anticipation about the first day of class, whether that's kindergarten, high school, or graduate school.
Enough for now-- I'm so behind on reading, I need every minute I can get!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Well, now it's a pretty concrete notion-- FOUR MONTHS has dwindled down to ONE WEEK! One week from today we will reconvene in downtown Minneapolis at a really ugly-looking hotel and resume classes. I have cracked my books for the coming semester, but only slightly-- clearly I am still in a stage of massive denial.