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Proactive Learning

Something that I’ve had to learn is how to allocate my time while at work. There are of course times when I don’t have enough hours in the day to get things  done, but I generally find that I am able to keep up at work and have some time leftover. What I dislike about this is the times when I’m worn out from work and just find myself bored and not really wanting to do much of anything – this usually results in me thinking about relativity and how time must now be flowing….very….slowly….

bored at work
Kind of what I’m trying to avoid at work!

So, I’ve started picking up skills that I know will either come in handy in the future or that I want to learn now, but don’t spend the time on them outside of work. These need to intersect with my job; I’m not against checking email, looking at Facebook, or anything like that, but if I’m being paid for my work I do want to provide something of value.

That said, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Programming – I picked up the basics of Java in college but I think that really did more harm than good. I asked around and eventually checked out Python for some computational modeling I wanted to do this past winter and it turns out that Python is very easy to pick up and fairly robust. Since then I’ve learned to do some modest graphical output in addition to the raw computation.
  • Audio lessons – I picked up a pair of headphones just for use at work. Now that I always have them there I will occasionally hop onto YouTube, Khan Academy, The New Boston, iTunes, or somewhere else to listen or watch a lesson on programming, math/physics, business management, or something else that is interesting and pertinent.
  • GIMP – It was going to be hard to justify getting a legitimate copy of Photoshop on my work computer, so I downloaded GIMP and have just started checking it out over the past week. This is probably the most tangential of all my “side” work that I am doing; I don’t have a huge need for digital image manipulation but I do really want to have this skill in my “toolkit”.
  • Electronics / microprocessor programming – this one might fall under programming as well, but I picked up an Arduino starter kit to make a photometer out of. I just needed something to give a digital output of reflected light versus incident light and this seemed like a good solution. The kit was $74, the spectrophotometer that they are currently using costs about $10,000. That said, I still haven’t gotten around to finishing it up; I did the proof of concept and got busy with other things…hmmm…now I know what I’ll be working on the next time I get bored!

I’m interested in what other people do – I know most people can’t be working solely at exactly what they are supposed to do for 8 or more hours a day. What do you do?

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