As a freshman in college, I got a perfect score in my college stats class. That means I got 100s on all my homework and tests.
That 4.0 on my report card didn’t represent 90%, 95% or even 99%. It represented perfection: 100%.
I was one of four out of 25 who finished the course that semester (everyone else dropped out).
It felt like the culling process you’d find in a prestigious med school. But I wasn’t attending a prestigious anything. I was enrolled at a community college in rural California. After I transferred and earned my degree from an academically rigorous a prestigious college, I realized that that community college stats class was the hardest I had ever taken. It also prepared me for college, grad school and life and a small business owner in ways I wouldn’t fully grasp until years later.
What made the course both unique and challenging was that the professor made us read our math book and work out the exercises by ourselves for homework. We were to come to the following class with any questions and problems we had encountered. Then he would then go over the problems in the class. In many ways, it was customized learning, but most of the students weren’t used to taking that kind of personal responsibility for their own learning.
I loved it.
There were no mind-numbing, pre-written, turgid lectures. There was no set lecture schedule. We simply came to class with questions from our homework and went over them in class.
My homework load for that course was around 20 hours a week. (For one class in community college!)
The problems were long and hard. We weren’t allowed to use a calculator until later in the semester after we had mastered foundational concepts.
And slowly I found that I wasn’t just learning statistics, I was learning how to learn!
From Book in a Day to A New Website in a Week.
Flash forward 18 years.
I recently I read Donald Miller’s new book Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen.
It took me a single day to finish the 246-page book. (Hehe, one does not read 1000 books in 2 years in grad school and not come away with some handy skills :-D)
The point is not how fast I read it (I read it fast). The point is how I read it.
When I read, I’m active. I sit up at my desk with a notebook nearby.
Most importantly, I do the exercises.
Not later, not someday. Right then and there: mid-chapter, end-of-chapter, it doesn’t matter. When there is a call to action or something to think about or something to do, I do it. I write it down in my journal or open a Google Doc and get it done. In other words, I do my homework.
By the end of the day, I had finished Miller’s book, AND I had a new, branded story for my ideal client avatar. I also began the process of tightening my marketing materials. Within a week, my new website was finished. I had new copy, new graphics, new user flow, new calls to action, new landing pages and a refined product mix.
Are You An Active or Passive Learner?
At first glance, the stats class and Miller’s book may not seem related, but they are.
The students who failed and dropped out of stats had one thing in common: They were passive learners.
They may have thought they understood the content (and maybe they did in theory) but they hadn’t actually done the work necessary to master the material (in real life and in practical situations).
Mastery comes from doing, not from thinking about doing or imagining what one might do.
You have to do the work.
Next Time Do This
Next time you read a blog post, book, download a worksheet, or listen to a podcast that encourages you to take action, do it! Do that work–Right there and then.
Sit up and take good notes as you go along.
How does one read 1000 books in 2 years? I’ll tell you how I didn’t do it: I didn’t do it casually from a cozy armchair. I did it by sitting up at my desk with a notebook by my side, taking notes like it was my job.
Because it was my job.
I’ve done this with countless books from academic monographs to self-help books to (yes) business and marketing texts. When I read a non-fiction book, I treat it like one of the school-of-life’s homework assignments.
I end up learning the material in deeper, more meaningful ways by completing the exercises. As a bonus, I also have journals full of notes for quick reference.
Is it simple? Yes. It’s just about the simplest thing you can do.
Is it hard? Yes. That, too.
So many of us are so accustomed to consuming content passively and falling into the false belief that we’ve learned something new.
You don’t learn until you put what you’ve learned into action.
That’s why homework has been a part of the standard curriculum for centuries. It allows students time to practice and gain mastery over the skills. And it’s crucial.
Read during your high creative time, not your relaxing time.
I only read fiction or history books in the evening before bed. Why? Because both are relaxing for me. (I can’t fully express how wonderful it is to read history for pleasure again now that I’m out of grad school!)
If I’m reading a business or marketing book, I purposefully do so between 5am and 7am. Why? Because that’s my high, creative time. Of course, if you’re night-owl, you’d want to do your business and marketing studying at night.
If you get stuck, try emailing the author or website owner
You’d be surprised how many friendly guides are available and eager to help you. You may not get the author or website host personal, but you could connect with a smart and savvy staff member.