I want to be like Max.
The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article about Max Deutsch, who challenged himself to “a series of monthly tasks that were ambitious bordering on absurd.” Solving a Rubik’s Cube in 17 seconds, learning to play the sitar, sketching an accurate self-portrait. Challenging chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen. Max has a love for learning new things, and apparently the time to set for himself a goal of learning something new each month.
I am inspired to follow in Max’s footsteps, although I do not have the kind of time he has to devote to this effort, nor am I about to learn how to land a standing back-flip. So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, and tailored for the finance audience, I will put forth my goals for 2018 of things to learn and do, one for each month. Hmm, looking at this list, I should have spent the remainder of 2017 resting up.
Happy New Year and best wishes for a fulfilling 2018!
- Get smart on blockchain. This is on the list of things I should have done by now. I bought “Blockchain Revolution” by Don Tapscott book after attending his session at the AFP Conference in 2017, but really I have just been watching from afar. This year, I will actually read the book and think about how it could impact my company and my personal life.
- Meditate. More than a decade ago, the CFO of my S&P 500 company talked about the benefit of meditation, and distributed a CD of how to teach yourself how to do. I still have the disk, but have not listened to it. However, there is sufficient scholarship and devotees who extol the benefits of meditation: Reduced stress and anxiety, improved concentration and attention span, improved emotional health and self-awareness, and improved mental health.
- Focus on data science and data visualization. I will start with an online course to introduce me to the topic and of course, look through AFP guides and materials on this topic. However, study without application is like a sandwich with only bread, so that leads to…
- Learn a data management package. I have people on my team who mine data for me to look at; that is not good enough anymore. “Database thinking” is so important to how the world works that outsourcing this activity is contrary to the current and future trends in the workplace—self-service applications and an intuitive understanding of data. There are several competing packages with free trials that the hardest part is deciding which one. It is better to choose one and go forward than to equivocate.
- Refresher on statistics. This could be a third bullet under data science, as we are bombarded with so much information that managing it well is more important than ever. Also, with volatility becoming the new normal, understanding probability becomes more important in forecasting and understanding the options in front of us and remaining agile in our thinking. So many options here, the challenge is which topic and through which channel. In order to keep this “attainable” and “time-bound” (in SMART goal terms, I am leaning towards an online class.
- Up my Excel game. I have gotten to the point in Excel where I know what I know, but have not advanced beyond that. To keep me growing, I will sign up for weekly Excel tips to be delivered to my inbox, look for new applications in my every day activities, and also look for an online class.
- Set an athletic goal. How does an athletic goal make a list of ways to improve my game at work? Per the Harvard Business Review, “Studies indicate that our mental firepower is directly linked to our physical regimen. And nowhere are the implications more relevant than to our performance at work. Consider the following cognitive benefits, all of which you can expect as a result of incorporating regular exercise into your routine:
- Improved concentration
- Sharper memory
- Faster learning
- Prolonged mental stamina
- Enhanced creativity
- Lower stress
Enough said. My goal is go back to something I did before I had kids: Complete a metric century bike ride. My kids are now old enough that I will try to coax my family into joining me.
- Wake up early every morning. This may be the hardest thing on my list. I am not morning person, but I tired of my morning-loving friends who gloat about how much they get done before I finish my first cup of coffee. I am a night owl by nature. I love the hours when the house is quiet and I get to organize myself. However, as I get older, it is harder to be productive at late hours, and there is an increasing body of evidence of the mental impairment that comes with getting a good night’s sleep. Forbes reported a list of 10 advantages that come with waking up early, including easier commutes and quiet time in the office; a feeling of being in control, optimism, better planning and being proactive; better sleep rhythms (assuming that I can go sleep earlier). No more snooze button for me.
- Keep a work journal. How can we lift ourselves out of the thicket of to-do lists and inbox paralysis? Take note of where you are and where you are going. HBR notes four benefits to a work diary: focus on what matters, patience, planning and personal growth. I can search the web for writing prompts to help get started. What tasks energized me or drained me this month? What do I like or dislike about my colleagues? What are some positive and negative things about my work environment? Is there anything I can do to be happier at work? What are some pros and cons about my current job? Notice the strengths of people around me and give credit or compliments in my journal, which will flow into my verbalizing them in person.
- Reacquaint with old friends and colleagues. Expanding your social network is a good thing for personal and professional reasons. People are happier and healthier in life and in work with strong relationships. Professionally, the benefits of networking include sourcing expertise, partners, referrals, and opportunities. And the “strong benefit of weak ties” mean that you can tap into networks of people who are distant from you and significantly broaden your interactions. There really is little downside, just a question of how to get started and do it well. Here are some tips:
- Just do it--No loss if you are not in touch. Most people understand the benefit of networking
- Know why you are getting in touch
- Keep the first contact light—something simple, don’t write a huge novel
- Find a reason to get in touch—send an article, ask their advice, share good news or change of position
- This link may be useful.
- Read a book. I don’t read enough books. I read newspapers and am addicted to podcasts, but there are some things that required a long-form content to explain and deliver. I noted one book above in my blockchain item, the next one on my list is “Vaporized” by Robert Tercek, which I also picked up at the AFP conference in San Diego. I should set a goal of one book per quarter, but for me, this is already a stretch.
- Pursue a certification. Continuous learning is important to yourself as much as it is a signal to others that you are growing and adapting. What is relevant to you, your employer, your field, or the field that you want to be in? I already have my FP&A certification and—true confession—I was seduced by a Black Friday sale. I bought a course bundle that offers a Certified Information Security Manager certification, “designed for information security managers, the certification emphasizes the relationship between information security and the business goals of the enterprise.”
Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, is a contributing consultant and author to the Association for Financial Professionals. Reach him at [email protected].For additional insights on FP&A, subscribe to the AFP monthly newsletter, FP&A in Focus.