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Self-paced courses such as the ones in the IT Professional Program that you are enrolled in can provide extreme flexibility in your scheduling. You, the student, can decide when you want to read the material, practice the Lab exercises and take exams if there are any in your program. This helps you work around work, family and life. However, the flip side of all this flexibility is schedule slippage—it is very easy for things to keep coming up and very little or no progress on the courses happens. In the past, I have suggested that you schedule time on your calendars (preferably one that electronically reminds you of scheduled events) when you can have uninterrupted time to read, practice Lab exercises and study for exams if they are part of your program. I suggest you find time once a week or every other week (especially at the beginning—maybe as you get into the rhythm, this can become once a week). Try to find a 2–3-hour block of time. Get buy-in from your friends and family. Make certain that they know you need uninterrupted time to further your career and future. All of this is to help you find what is called flow.
Flow is a state of pure concentration and focus—what some people might call “being in the zone.” The concept of flow was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a distinguished professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University and former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago. In 1990, Csikszentmihalyi published the groundbreaking book about his life’s work titled, appropriately, Flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, a state of flow has six components:

  1. Attention. You feel a deep sense of concentration and complete focus.
  2. Action. You feel a bias toward action, and you move forward with your current task quickly and efficiently—your focused awareness helps drive the momentum. Every action feeds into the next action, creating a flow of successful actions.
  3. Self. You become less aware of yourself, and you shut down your inner critics, doubts, and fears. You think less about yourself (reflection) and more about the task at hand (action). You lose yourself in the task at hand.
  4. Control. Even as you’re less self-aware, you enjoy an increased sense of control about the present situation, giving you calm confidence and allowing you to think outside the box and develop creative solutions.
  5. Time. You lose the ability to experience time passing.
  6. Reward. The labor of the activity is all you want to do; there may be no external reward but being immersed in the activity is intrinsically rewarding in itself.

Csikszentmihalyi laid out three conditions to achieve flow: (1) your goals must be clear, (2) the feedback mechanism in your environment must be immediate, and (3) there must be a balance between opportunity and capacity. He added, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
When working through a program, have clear goals in mind. That goal may simply be to get through the current chapter with high comprehension. The various Lab exercises give you the immediate feedback mechanisms you need. Do you feel that you understand what you did in the exercise? Do you need to drill deeper by reading command manual pages? Can you perform the exercise without referring to the solution? Can you change up some of the values and constraints and still accomplish the task? And, finally, is the lesson challenging for you, but with practice, still obtainable? Was learning something new fun and exciting to you? Do things “click” and make sense? Do you start to see how this can fit into your future?
You won’t always achieve flow when you study and learn new material, but when you can, it is incredibly rewarding. This is for your career, your future. Good luck and enjoy the journey.

Kevin C Smallwood--IT Professional Program Mentor


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