Book Breakdown: The Banjo

Title: The Banjo: America’s African Instrument
Author: Laurent Dubois
Genre: Non-fiction/History
Grade: B

The title of this book jumped out at me when I was searching for books on the banjo. It has great reviews on Goodreads so I thought I would give it a shot.

I didn’t realize there was enough material to write a biography on a musical instrument, but the banjo’s history is extensive. Dubois explores the earliest writings and images of the banjo to piece together how it traveled from Africa to America and the different groups that embraced and changed it. Strife shaped banjo music and some parts of this book were horrifying. I reconciled my continued interest in classic banjo songs and the twang of the instrument by realizing it’s always better to know the truth no matter how brutal.

An added bonus, Dubois introduced me to a number of different banjoists (and the word banjoist). I am now obsessed with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, even though they seem to have all moved on to solo careers. I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify so that I don’t lose track of these great artists.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the banjo. You’ll get a lot more than you bargained for. But keep in mind it’s an academic work. I’m glad I read it on our Surface so I could easily look up all the words I was sure Dubois was making up.

Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my Planned Preoccupation reading list.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Middle

This habit has been very challenging for me, so it’s a good time to stop and reflect.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – 6/5 banjo lessons
  • 36/66 days of playing the banjo
  • 3/11 weekly Saturday posts
  • Started a running list of pro-tips for practicing

Grade: C

Lessons Learned: The biggest challenge so far has been figuring out how to practice daily when I am traveling almost every week for work. This problem presented immediately, and I decided to modify my goal to 66 days of practice rather than 66 consecutive days of practice.

I’ve been struggling with the issues of traveling with my banjo.

  • The cost of a hard case
  • Checking the bag or carrying it around with multiple layovers
  • Where to practice when I’m in a hotel
  • The amount of time I will have to practice when onsite with a client

After weighing my options the choice came down to traveling with my banjo or stopping my banjo lessons. I enjoy playing way too much to give up now, so I decided to buy a hard case. I will be traveling every week for the next 2 months and I will use the rest of my time building this habit to find out if traveling with my banjo is sustainable.

I LOVE playing the banjo, and I’m glad to be taking steps to play more!

Take a look at the below video the see my progress!

Inspiration & Implementation: Strummin’ Saturday

I’ve been working on my banjo board for a while, so I’ve had time to pull in a lot of great resources. Listed below are my Top 3 Banjo Resources.

How to Play Music Faster: Ideal Practice Methods for Adult Musicians

Hensold’s keys to an ideal practice are:

Perfect Technique
Accuracy
Consistency

The article provides a lot of detail behind that short list. There are some concepts I don’t completely understand, but I am sure that will come with time. He provides practical steps for getting the most out of my limited practice time.

Free 5-String Banjo Lessons

These lessons are similar to my banjo teacher’s lessons. I appreciate learning everything from a teacher who provides instant feedback, but can’t always remember everything he tells me once I get home. This index is perfect for reinforcing the lessons I learned and making sure that I am practicing properly.

99 Essential Bluegrass Banjo Solos

This isn’t relevant for me now, but my teacher mentioned banjo tabs are kind of hard to find. I struck gold with a list that includes Foggy Mountain, Shady Grove, and Wreck of the Old 97. I can’t wait to level up to actual songs!

I had a lot of fun finding banjo quotes and videos to pin to my board as well. This banjo habit has been one of my favorites so far. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to add to my board by the end of my 66 days.

Take a trip over to Pinterest and start following my Strummin’ Saturday board!

TED Talks With Banjos!

TED has great musicians on their stage, and these are my favorite talks the feature the banjo.

“…we’re three brothers from New Jersey — you know, the bluegrass capital of the world.”

Bluegrass Virtuosity from New JerseySleepy Man Banjo Boys

These kids are awesome, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video. Their name inspired me to try Jonny’s method of banjo practicing. I’ve learned that when playing the banjo you’re supposed to look at your left hand on the neck not your right had picking at the strings. It’s been hard for me to look away from my right hand when practicing my rolls, but laying down and closing my eyes totally helped!

“Be good to your friends. Why, without them, you’d be a total stranger.”

The Joyful Tradition of Mountain MusicDavid Holt

Holt’s TED Talk showcases the music and songs that I associate with the banjo. It’s twangy and fun and you can’t help but join in. I’m learning bluegrass banjo so it was interesting to see the clawhammer style. Maybe I’ll try that next!

“The light that shown off of her eyes was a place I could have stayed forever.”

Building US-China Relations… by BanjoAbagail Washburn

Washburn’s earnest talk about finding and sharing her musical talent made me tear up a little bit. Music is a fantastic way to connect with our fellow humans. She will be on tour this fall and I would love to see her Chinese banjo music in person!

There seems to be a TED Talk on just about any topic, and it is a great way to get a new perspective on your interests. They have other banjo videos, but I liked these 3 the best.

Are you a fan of TED’s music? Please share your favorite video in the comments.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Start

I posted a teaser picture about this habit in January, and I’m finally ready to start building my BANJO! habit. I’ve wanted to learn to play the banjo for.ev.er and was ecstatic when Clayton bought me one for Christmas.

Habit: Practice my banjo for at least 15 minutes every day for 66 days

Start Date: Saturday, 08/05/2017

Projected End Date: Tuesday, 10/10/2017

Action Plan:

  • Take 5 banjo lessons
  • Watch 3 TED Talks about learning a musical instrument
  • Learn pro-tips for practicing
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Post weekly on Saturdays about my progress

Incentive: 10 additional banjo lessons

Lofty Goal: Finding my passion!

I’ve hardly touched a musical instrument so I knew I would need help getting started. I found a teacher on TakeLessons, and had a great first lesson. I thought it would be good to set a baseline so here is a short video of how little experience I have.

It’s going to take a lot of practice, but I can’t wait to go fast!

If you have any helpful tips about learning and instrument please share them in the comments!

Planned Preoccupation Check In

Happy New Year!

The new year is always a time for reflection, so let’s have a check in. I started this blog in the summer of 2015 and have cultivated 6 new habits and achieved 2 specific goals.

Writing

I have not been as strict about daily writing as I was with my initial habit. There was a point where the weekly posts were starting to cause me some anxiety so I took a few breaks over the course of the year. I want my energy focused on the habits themselves, not on this blog which should support the habits.

Meditation

Even though I don’t sit and meditate intentionally everyday this habit has helped me to manage my stress more effectively. I often focus on my breathing and clear my mind before I go into a meeting, or respond to a contentious email.

I have also completed 2 Headspace packs since I started this habit, and have the Motivation pack teed up as we dive into 2017!

Smoothies

I’ve got a freezer full of smoothie packs. It’s difficult to start the morning with a frozen drink when it is below freezing outside, but it’s still our quickest breakfast option. I also learned that if I freeze my ingredients on a baking sheet before I put them in the freezer bags they don’t turn into a big hunk of ice and are much easier to blend. So I’ve got that going for me.

8WW Meals

I have not kept up with this habit very well at all. I am often reminded of the Sharma quote, “knowing what to do and not doing it is the same as not knowing what to do.” Here’s to better food choices in 2017!

Spanish

This was the only habit I failed at during the initial 66 days, but it is the one I have kept up with the best since then. My mom started using Duolingo to learn Italian, and it is fun to check in with each other on our progress. I also have so many friends who try to engage my new found Spanish skills that I feel compelled to keep going!

Random Acts of Kindness

A great thing that came from this habit was learning about the generosity of my friends and family. Once I started talking more about philanthropy more people started sharing their good deeds with me. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

The structure this blog provides also helped me to organize our move to Red Wing and to get my Project Management Professional certification. Action planning focused my efforts and I was able to achieve my goals.

The support, suggestions, and encouragement you have provided in the comments have been invaluable! I am excited to continue on this journey of personal development, and know that 2017 will bring great things.

Here is a sneak peak of my next habit…

guessagain

Care to hazard a guess?!

Project Management Monday Check In

I lost touch with reality in the month of August while preparing to take the PMP exam, but it was worth the effort because I passed with flying colors!

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Completed the Agile PMP training seminar
  • DONE – Read Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt
  • DONE – Completed the RMC PMP Exam Prep course
  • DONE – Read the PMP Handbook
  • DONE – Completed the PMP application
  • DONE – Passed the PMP exam

The Agile PMP

The Agile PMP course was a part of the Project Management Institute’s SeminarsWorld event. Karl Muenchow led us through 2-days of great content. His presentations have helped me to reconcile the gap between old-world-PMP and new-world-agile frameworks. They are not as far apart as some would have you believe, and this new perspective has helped me a lot at work.

Book Breakdown

    • Title: Critical Chain
    • Author: Eliyahu Goldratt
    • Genre: Non-fiction, Business
    • Grade: C

This book was recommended to me by a colleague. It is supposed to do for project management what The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement did for production. I don’t think it is as good as The Goal. The sections about how padding estimates creates more problems than it solves was very well done, and it has helped to solidify my understanding of estimating. I would recommend this book as light reading for project managers.

PMP Exam

The rest of my action plan was geared toward the PMP exam. Submitting the application was a stressful process, but most exam prep classes give you some tips and tools related to completing the application. I also attended a PMI workshop that walked me through the process. I probably could have figured it out on my own, but was glad for the extra support.

I do not think I could have passed the test without taking a prep class. RMC Learning Solutions came highly recommended and I took their 2-Day PMP Exam Prep Course. It is an intense course that comes complete with homework! :/ They helped me to identify the gaps in my knowledge base and tailor a study plan for my needs. In the 2.5 weeks between the course and my exam date I studied for 37 hours and took 2 practice exams. And when I was done I saw the most beautiful email header I have ever seen…

Congrats PMP

And with that I have achieved my project management goals for the year! Now I am going to focus on other areas of personal development.

Please share any goals you have achieved this year in the comments below. We should all take time to celebrate the wins!

via GIPHY
via GIPHY

Writing Wednesday Check In

I am happy to report that I have kept up with my writing habit over the last 6 months. As always I’ll start with my stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Improved my blogging stats
  • DONE – 4/4 habits developed and blogged
  • DONE – 1/1 book on writing read

Blogging Stats:

  • 62 posts (↑ from 22 posts)
  • 34 followers (↑ from 16)
  • 547 visitors (↑ from 126)
  • 818 views (↑ from 249)
  • 179 likes (↑ from 72)
  • 39 comments (↑ from 12)

Completed Habits:

  1. Smoothie Sunday – Drink a green smoothie everyday
  2. Tidy Travels – Implement the KonMari method
  3. Food Friday – Eat an 8 Weeks to Wellness approved meal everyday
  4. Project Management Monday – Read the Project Management Body of Knowledge

Book Breakdown:

“Write what you like.”

The On Writing section is the heart of the book and I came away with a lot of great tips:

  • Master the fundamentals: vocabulary, grammar, and the elements of style
  • Read and write a lot
  • 1st drafts shouldn’t take more than a season (3 months)
  • Give your writing life by adding your knowledge of life (especially work)
  • Situation comes first then plot and characters
  • Begin with the story and progress to the theme
  • 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%
  • Writers Market

“Door Shut, Door Open”

King shares an unedited fictional piece, and then a mark up of the same work. This is exactly what I have been looking for in these writing books. King’s work as a teacher gives weight to the lessons in this book.

It’s a popular book for good reason, and I recommend it to anyone looking to improve their writing.

6 Month Goals:

  • Improve my blogging stats
  • Blog about 4 new habits (one in each category)
  • Read a book to help improve my writing
  • Watch a documentary on writing/writers

Accomplishments abound with this blog. My closet is clean, I drink smoothies, eat veggies, lost 10 pounds, and manage projects better than ever. The best part is I’m still doing all of my favorite things like watching movies, reading books, and trying new things; just in a more focused manner. Here’s to leveraging your strengths!

Keep an eye out for my next habit!

Project Management Monday – The End

I finished reading the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)! Now to review my action plan progress.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – Read the PMBOK
  • DONE – Found a study buddy at work
  • DONE – Watched 6/6 PMI webinars
  • DONE – Attended 2/1 PMI-Minnesota Chapter meetings
  • DONE – Posted weekly progress updates on improving my PM skills

Grade: A

Incentive: This week I am attending the Agile PMP seminar!

Lessons Learned: I had tried to read the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK) 2 years ago with poor results, and I really think this blog helped me to cross the finish line on the PMBOK. Breaking this into a daily reading habit helped me to hone in on each section. I absorbed a lot of information and dove into work breakdown structures, earned value calculations, and risk management.

My favorite part of the action plan was trying to form a study group. I met with all the PMs in my office and solicited a lot of feedback on the best way to approach the certification. I found another person interested in going through the certification process with me, and she has been a tremendous help. We’ve both signed up for an exam prep course and are hoping to sit for the exam at the end of the summer.

6 Month Goals:

  • Complete the Agile PMP training seminar
  • Complete the RMC PMP Exam Prep course
  • Read the PMP Handbook
  • Complete the PMP application
  • Take the PMP exam
  • Read Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt

This habit has kick started my career development this year. Getting through the PMBOK has given me the confidence to tackle all sorts of goals over the summer.

Any suggestions for a new habit? I’ve got a couple ideas brewing, but would love to get some feedback in the comments!

Webinar Wrap-up

The second round of webinars were much more engaging than the first. They are listed below in order of preference.

RiskReadyCreating “Risk-Ready” Project Schedules

  • Wesley Gillette
  • Rated: 5.77/7
  • Duration: 56:03

Gillette focused on how constraints, lags, and schedule logic can be hidden in the project plan and cause false results in your risk analysis. He explained that we need to challenge the way our schedules. We need clear assumptions and risks should be called out properly. This was the best webinar that I’ve seen on the Project Management site. There was an excellent balance between explaining new concepts and examples.

5 Essential Insights for Maximizing your Limited Resources

  • Jerry Manas & Maureen Carlson
  • Rated: 5.43/7
  • Duration: 61:10

I am a fan of big data and this presentation was centered on the 2014 State of Resource Management and Capacity Planning Report conducted by Appleseed Partners. They honed in on the idea that top performing companies had a holistic view of their demand pipeline and resource capacity by utilizing Project Portfolio Management software. Manas and Carlson did a great job co-presenting and it was obvious they had practiced.

RookiePMMistakes4 Common Rookie PM Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

  • Dana Brownlee
  • Rated: 6.34/7
  • Duration: 59:22

She spent a lot of time on anecdotes, but it was an interesting and engaging presentation. Her tips to address the “slacker” on the team were practical. Those interaction are never easy so I appreciated her insights on creating a culture of accountability. Brownlee’s 3 magic questions for clarifying task assignments are:

  1. What is your understanding of the task?
  2. What will the deliverable look like?
  3. What are the 1st 3 steps you’ll take to begin working on this?

I would highly recommend this presentation to any PM or manager.

Avoid the Three Major Mistakes of Organization Wide Change

  • Barbara Trautlein
  • Rated: 6.18/7
  • Duration: 45:46

This was a great topic for change management. My primary project is going to have a significant amount of process changes. Knowing that we have a blend of heart and hand change leadership styles will help me to leverage our strengths and avoid common pitfalls. I found Trautlein engaging, but this presentation was repetitive and oddly paced.

This was four hours well spent. I’ve come away with a wealth of resources and some great tips for keeping my projects on track.

Do you have a favorite webinar or instructional video? Please share the link in the comments.