DEV Community

Abhinav Pandey
Abhinav Pandey

Posted on

Efficient Learning - The full guide with principles, science and techniques

As individuals who take initiatives to improve our abilities and become a better version of ourselves, our learning can become much more effective and faster if we develop an efficient learning process. Below is a list of principles, scientific studies and techniques which will help us in defining such processes:

The Principles

  1. Learning vs Winning

    In theory you shouldn't have to prepare for a test in a class any more than you have to prepare for a blood test.

  2. Success and obstacles

    • you need drive and persistence
    • embrace the early obstacles
    • everyone was once a beginner
    • important topics are not easy to learn
    • failures are progress
    • keep a positive perspective. E.g. I'm not there yet but I will get there (by doing this).

    Enjoy sucking at something at first

  3. Quitting is ok

    • it is possible that the path is not for you
    • it is important to know when to quit in order to find the things better suited to you

    Sometimes we have to know when to turn around and pick the right path in order to use our resources efficiently.

  4. Compound learning

    • learn in small chunks every day

    If you improve by 1% every day, in 70 days you're twice as good.

  5. Your failures don't count against you

    • People will not remember how many times you failed in the process.
    • They only care about what you are now.
    • You don't have to be successful a lot of times.
    • Nobody cares about how many interviews you failed. They only care about the one you passed.
    • Do not avoid doing things because of fear of failure.

    The more failures we have, the more feedback we will have for improvement

  6. Choice vs Chore

    • "I want to do this" over "I have to do this"
    • learning is a choice like watching a tv show and not a chore like washing clothes.
  7. Pareto principle

    • 80/20 principle - 80% success comes from doing 20% of the work.
    • achieve initial 80% as fast as possible
    • define the 20% you need to do for it
    • ask yourself the below question

    Is this the best use of my time?

  8. Skill stacking - Career strategy

    • don't lose your curiosity
    • value learning in your decisions and practices
    • gather and combine skills in unique ways
    • develop many skills that work well together
    • develop combinations that make you stand out
  9. Happiness factors

    • To be a good learner, first focus on being happy
    • identify areas that make you feel happy . Examples:
      • physical and mental health
      • good sleep - to feel energetic
      • learning everyday - gives a sense of achievement at the end of the day and keeps me motivated
      • getting enough leisure time - to relax my mind
      • having control over my work - stress management
  10. Productivity time

    • Find time of the day when you're most productive.
    • Learn during that time.
    • Do not start learning at that time of the day when you were otherwise not doing anything productive.

Method of Loci

  • Memory palace technique
  • Memorize objects in sequence by creating a narrative out of them.


  1. Follow your passion
    • you don’t need to be passionate to become good at something and enjoy improving your craft
    • being passionate about something does not mean building a career is the only way to pursue it
    • aim for creativity, control and impact instead
    • sometimes passion arises after learning
  2. You can avoid risk
    • risk is part of the process
    • to succeed at something, enjoy taking risks
    • do not hesitate from trying new things once in a while
    • get out of your comfort zone and stop playing safe
  3. Your mentor is always right
    • a mentor's opinions and knowledge are bounded by their own experience
    • don't always agree with one person or one source of information
    • form your own opinions and techniques
    • nobody knows everything completely
  4. Mastery needs 10000 hours
    • practice matters but there are many factors involved
    • your intelligence and learning capability matters
    • your current level decides how tough or easy the path is for you
    • you don't always have to be a hard worker
    • focus on efficient learning and not on how much time you put into it.


  1. Everything is a game
    • growth mindset - intelligence and capabilities can grow
    • locus of control - internal (you are in control of your life's outcomes) vs external (your life's outcomes depend on external factors like fate)
    • if you believe you are in control of your life, you believe that you can improve your skills rather than blaming external factors
    • you are a player in a game who gains XP with each challenge
  2. Feynman Technique
    • To understand something well, you need to be able to teach it.
    • good way to learn and test your knowledge
    • be able to answer questions about it
    • do not hide behind jargons - use simple terms to explain concepts
    • take notes in a way that is shareable to others (or create a blog like me)
  3. Trunk based knowledge
    • start from the root - fundamentals
    • build a knowledge tree where the root is ever-relevant and even if the leaves become irrelevant in short-term, it is possible to learn something new because of strong root knowledge
    • makes it easier to adapt to the future
  4. Efficiency trumps grit
    • improve work efficiency and avoid working too hard
    • being busy all the time indicates bad time management skills


  1. Focus vs Diffuse mode
    • Focus - concentrate on one thing. No multitasking.
    • Diffuse - let the brain wander freely. E.g. exercise, sleep, going out.
    • Go back and forth. Focus for a while and diffuse for a while.
    • Grows your brain just like exercise and rest grows your muscles
    • taking breaks is good for high performance
    • The science behind it
  2. Sleep
    • Sleep clears toxins from the brain
    • Long deep sleep is important. Toxin cleaning is an energy intensive process. It does not happen unless body is at rest for a long time.
    • Check out this article
  3. Procrastination

    • you don't want to do something right now because is isn't going to feel good. You brain automatically suggests something more positive - like watching YT videos or playing games
    • it is an issue with managing our emotion and not our time
    • you could be a good time manager but still not feel like doing some tasks (I relate strongly)
    • Understand that by delaying an important task we are just delaying the mental pain
    • Best way to tackle this is to be strong and do that important task right away - Get rid of the pain and feel better.
    • Some tricks for the affected. Must read

    Screw it, let's do it

    • Richard Branson
  4. Brain training

    • Practice something to create strong memory
    • exercise your brain by repeating what you learn
    • give your brain enough diffuse mode
    • Too much biology to prove it.
  5. Regular Exercise

    • prevents depression and anxiety
    • elevates mood
    • gives rest to the brain (diffuse mode)
    • Here's a study to back it up
  6. Feedback

    • negative -> "You're doing this wrong" (criticism)
    • positive -> "If you do this, I will give you this" or "I like how you did this" (motivation)
    • criticism is usually more actionable - enjoy criticism when you are in the middle of your learning or towards a high career stage
    • motivation is important at the beginning - gives you power to battle the obstacles
    • Some science for the nerds
  7. Long term vs Short term memory

    • long term - created by repeated learning - like faces of your friends, flag of your country, driving skills, etc.
    • put fundamental concepts and principles in long term memory by practicing them at regular intervals
    • short term - things you memorize for a short term purpose - like a small list of tasks you have to do today or .
    • goal - move important concepts from short term memory to long term using spaced repetition - repeat a concept after a few days or once a day
    • associate a short term memory with a long term memory to speed up the process - E.g. Associate the name of an Egyptian God (new learning) with the mental image of pyramids (something you never forget).
    • Here's the science
  8. Active vs passive learning

    • watching other people demonstrate things or reading a book - passive (easy and inefficient)
    • taking notes, practicing, problem solving, tests - active (difficult but stronger)
    • Some passive resources to explore further
  9. Motivation

    • Extrinsic - money, fame, new job - getting recognized for your efforts
    • Intrinsic - autonomy(control), mastery, purpose - having an internal drive to do something
    • Long term learning motivation is always intrinsic.
  10. Goals

    • Kaizen - continuous, small, incremental improvement
    • small steps compound over a long term
    • S - Specific
      • Get Healthy < Lose weight < Lose 10 Pounds
    • M - Measurable
      • Reliable way of measuring progress
    • A - Actionable
      • Clarity of actions required to achieve it
      • If actions are not clear, break down the main goal into actionable sub-goals
    • R - Relevant
      • Should add value when achieved
      • Prioritize Low Effort and High Value goals
      • Use 80/20 Pareto principle
    • T - Time-bound
      • Lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks
      • Define milestones and assign a date to it
    • Goal setting is an ongoing process of action, evaluation and revision.
    • A small video to summarize this.
  11. Pays not to be busy

    • Be surrounded by people you like to relax your brain.
    • Healthy leisurely time is key to better functioning of the brain.
    • Learn with ease and do not rush through it
    • Read more
  12. Chunking

    • learn in chunks - fundamental pieces of knowledge
    • combine chunks to fill the missing pieces and complete your learning
    • bottom up approach of learning
  13. Solving problems

    • Sequential problems - focus mode
    • Intuition or creative solutions - diffuse mode
  14. Deliberate practice

    • you can have temporary frustration when you think you are not growing in a area
    • Deliberate practice needs:
      1. Specific goals - push yourself to the edge of your limits
      2. Intense focus - work towards it in focused mode
      3. Immediate feedback - from mentors or peers
      4. Frequent discomfort - when you are not moving forward
    • Start with a discomfort zone and try to bridge the gap. Once you reach a comfort zone, get feedbacks for improvement and define the next step.
    • The better you get at something, the more enjoyable it becomes.
    • Feedback and discomfort will keep you motivated to get even better.
    • Turns your potential into your reality
    • Some help from Japan
  15. Spaced repetition and habits

    • learn in small sessions
    • repeat periodically to make your concepts stronger
    • forming habits allows you to learn effortlessly
    • saves you a lot of mental energy required to
      • decide what to do when
      • focus on how to do it. E.g. How much focus do you need to brush your teeth?
    • Form habits which help you learn so that you do not have to answer the same questions everyday
      • Where to sit while I learn?
      • What time should I start?
      • How much time should I give it?
      • Where should I take notes?
  16. Be Adventurous

    • Try new and exciting things regularly to keep your mind active
    • Do not get into a monotonous mode. It kills your creativity
  17. Have an endpoint

    • When you're doing something with focus, have an idea of when you are going to stop and take a break.
    • Also applies to when to stop working each day.
    • Learn to get bored - gives your brain a pause.


  1. Pomodoro

    • 25 mins of focus, 5 mins of rest - together known as 1 Pomodoro (no hard rule, go slightly longer if it suits you but not too long)
    • use a timer/stopwatch to repeat like Tomatoes
    • good way to prevent procrastination as its difficult to lose focus in 25 mins
    • start with the hardest task in every Pomodoro and then move on to easier tasks
    • Rest time means you do not do anything brain intensive. Do not look at your phone or read articles on the web. Maybe close your eyes or get something to eat or walk around in the house. Try to avoid pen, paper and screen at all costs.
    • You do not have to do Pomodoro all day. You only do it when you need to work and its fine to do other stuff in between. E.g. you can work for 1 hour doing 2 rounds of Pomodoro -> watch an episode of your favorite show -> get back to work
    • Just know that 25 mins of focus and 5 mins of complete rest is your strategy whenever you sit down to work.
    • Sometimes your brain will not stop thinking about the work in those 5 mins. Its fine. Practice will make it perfect.
  2. Chunk the subject

    • Learn in chunks to keep them into your memory.
    • Using chunks together gives you meaningful knowledge.
    • Same as habits - gets you to auto-pilot mode.
    • Divide and conquer the subject
    • Learn most commonly used chunks first. It helps you quick started on new things and builds a base for stronger concepts
    • When starting on a subject, break it down into a page of chunks
    • Prefer books/courses with small chapters.
  3. Spaced Repetition

    • forgetting curve - the more times a concept is repeated, the longer it takes to forget it.
  4. Deliberate Practice

    • Create a Pomodoro each day for something unique(+1)
    • Write down this special achievement in an excel
    • Define the +1 for the next day
  5. Roadmap

    • Long term roadmap for specific achievements
    • Take special time out to create the roadmap before starting to learn
    • Have a well-defined purpose
    • Could change on the way but you are at least not starting blind
    • Coggle
  6. Interleaving

    • different problems in sessions for variety
    • shift between 3 or more skills/techniques to learn them
  7. Einstellung Effect

    • It is the habit of brain to solve problems in a specific way even if better ways exist to solve it.
    • rigid mindset
    • keep up with the trends and continue learning to avoid this.
    • you are no longer a master if you're set in your ways
    • integrative complexity - willingness to accept different perspectives
  8. Community

    • to cheer/correct/grow
    • things to learn from others
    • get immediate feedback
  9. Habit

    • Cue - what triggers the habit
    • Routine - the ritual that is triggered by the cue
    • Reward - doing the ritual has some benefits
    • Belief - that the habit is important
    • Obvious - very relevant
    • Easy to do
    • Attractive outcome
    • Satisfying
    • Capture your streaks at
  10. System vs Goals

    • System - do something regularly with the objective that you are improving
    • Goal - end result - rigid objective - define a deadline and an objective to achieve by that deadline
    • Balance out both techniques
  11. Senses

    • Imagery in your mind helps
    • writing > typing
    • images, diagrams, infographics
    • strong neural connections are made when more senses are involved.
    • learn well in places that stimulate your senses
  12. Pareto Principle

    • Good way to remove what not to learn and prioritize what to learn first
    • Find your most important 20% and start with it.
    • Define effort vs impact graph
    • Start with the low effort high impact quadrant
  13. Parkinson's law

    work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

    • the more time you give yourself to finish a task, the longer it is going to take
    • set small targets and define an optimal deadline
    • practice deep work - use Pomodoro technique for small targets
  14. Deep work

    • Dedicated workspace
    • Power offs are well executed
    • Avoid procrastination and form a habit of learning
    • Schedule work time and set exact end time for each day
    • Find ways to get feedback
  15. Stakes and rewards

    • Your learning needs to be tied to a positive outcome to maintain motivation
    • Something should be on the line to give you drive
    • Strategy - decide on a goal and announce it - put something on the stake if you fail
  16. Concepts vs Facts

    • Build concepts by revision
    • Test your recalling capability when you revise
    • Read the full book in first run -> read highlighted parts/notes in next run -> read less and recall more as you move forward
  17. Test yourself

    • Quiz yourself periodically to test your knowledge
    • Write summaries of things you just learned to check if you are able to recall information
    • If you get something wrong, write down why you got it wrong and learn from your mistakes
  18. The First 20 hours

    • Things that we can do in the first 20 hours can help us on our path to mastery
    • Create a roadmap
    • Define Practice drills or tests
    • Attach stakes/rewards to it
    • Use Pomodoro technique

These are notes from the course Learning to Learn [Efficient Learning] : Zero to Mastery diluted with my own interpretation of the subject. Do check out the course for the complete experience.

You can also find these notes at Github - more notes coming soon in the repo.

Happy Learning!!

You can connect with me at  

Discussion (0)