I know how it feels.
You want to get your current project done, but you perhaps lack a few skills, and you feel like it’d be such a drag and take months or years to learn them to an appropriate level. It feels more and more like an insurmountable obstacle, the longer you think about it.
Or maybe, you are very ambitious, and you want to accomplish so much in your life, that you can’t be wasting 10.000 hours just to gain a few skills. Or perhaps, you don’t have these hours left for you…
You have to apply these skills in practice. Yesterday.
Perhaps, you don’t want to spend all your free time learning, and you’d like to spend more time with your family, on your hobby, or to walk your dog.
It’s frustrating to think how much time investment this new skill or this new knowledge domain would require you to put in before you can get some returns on this investment of time, energy, effort, and your life.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
You don’t have to be the master of a skill to perform it well enough to get the job done or to achieve your goal.
Likely, your goal is not to become a professor of the topic, and you want to get practical knowledge and pragmatic experience with these skills. Here is what you can do to accelerate your learning as much as possible:
So that you can share and discuss your knowledge with. Mentors are people of a stronger skill, and support network will have folks who are much closer to you in their learning path.
Additionally, have an accountability buddy who will hold you accountable for the plans and mini-goals that you are setting.
This may manifest literally in you giving a lecture to someone else. Or you could start a blog where you describe your learning journey, or you can have a YouTube channel where you talk about that and present your learnings in a simple form.
This way, people like you, 2 weeks behind you, can learn the topic faster than you did. Make it even simpler and more accessible to them. If you can’t make it easy and straightforward to understand, that means that you have not learned it enough.
Practice speed-reading because most books have a lot of filler content to satisfy the requirements of the publisher and editors. Filler content sometimes is incredible, especially examples, but what you really need to have is not all the knowledge of these books in your head (because you can’t do that anyway).
Instead, you want to have a map in your head, where you can look up quickly particular knowledge or how-to of the skill.
Read/subscribe to blogs on the topic that you are reading. Engage with the author and the community around the blog.
Have a concrete, specific project that you can be working on and applying the skills that you are learning all the time, in parallel with your other learning activities.
Practice earlier rather than later. The practical experience is essential because it’ll show you where you are still lacking and what parts you still need to learn. This will allow you to dig deeper only on topics that you actually need to complete your project.
Preferably, find people who are capable of providing constructive feedback, so that you can properly learn from it.
Connect the new knowledge to already existing one.
For example, you can always relate seemingly unrelated fields, like programming and trains: train cars connected to each other can represent a linked list data structure.
Try to always look for such relations. Your brain will remember the information much, much better, and will gain an intuitive understanding of it.
Take notes as you are talking to your peers, mentors, or students. Take notes as you are working and encountering difficulties and challenges. Take notes when you have successfully overcome the issue.
Take notes on the paper with a pen, preferably. Digitally is okay (and better than not taking notes at all); it’s just that taking notes by hand is so much more potent. You might as well do that. Have your pen and notebook always ready to go.
The better you are at “learning as a skill” (and it is a trainable skill), the faster you will learn anything! So even if your current learning speed is not as fast as you would like, it’ll improve the more you practice it.
If you are just starting out, 5 minutes every day should be enough.
This is important as it makes your pre-frontal cortex stronger (the most critical thinking part of your brain). You can say that meditation is a workout for your mind.
Make sure you get enough sleep, and you eat properly. Have a good schedule. If you can, a fixed schedule every day. This will reduce the stress levels and will allow you to learn and perform much more efficiently.
Have a good diet. Eat enough brain foods, like fruits and nuts. Get at least a few minutes of exercise daily.
As we sleep, our brain is organizing all the information that you have gained on that day. And especially, it gives special attention to what was on your mind just before you went to sleep (in the evening and pre-bedtime).
This is why you should spend time working and studying in the evening (instead of watching TV). And just before going to bed, you should review your day, and plan for the next one. Here you can find more things you can do to prime your brain to do very productive work while you are sleeping.
Additionally, you can nap in between your learning and practicing sessions, so that your new knowledge and experience get processed by the brain properly and quickly.
That will increase your level of focus and the power of your memory and recall.
A good example here would be to get Gamma Binaural Beats or Isochronic Tones and listen to them while you are studying or practicing. You can read more about how they work and the research behind this tech here.
13. Replace the usual forms of entertainment with entertainment that is related to your topic and can educate you
For example, if you are trying to learn math, instead of watching just funny videos on Youtube, start watching funny videos about math (from great science communicators) that also will teach you something new.
This way, you are killing 3 birds with one stone. You are still learning the topic you need, you are relaxing and getting some happy laughs, and you are replacing a bad habit of mindless consumption of useless entertainment with a more healthier one.
Also, take notes when you learn something new—this will upgrade your experience as the brain will love doing this activity even more.
For example, when you are waiting in the queue, have your phone ready and charged, with headphones readily available so that you can: listen to a podcast about your topic, watch a video or a course, read a book, or listen to an audiobook, etc.
Another example is if you need to go to the restroom, you can make it your throne of learning. That’s a so-called toilet university, where you spend maybe even 5-10 minutes more time there to watch a course or read a few pages of a book.
When you start to look for these opportunities, you’ll find them anywhere: waiting for food in the cafe, eating, drinking your morning coffee, in commute, etc.
Principally, don’t let a second of your time go wasted.
15. Of course, it makes sense to use downtime sometimes just to have a break and let your brain rest.
Just make sure that you are really relaxing and letting your brain process everything, instead of bombarding it with new information (and actually tiring it even more out) with a TV, or Netflix, or some other form of useless entertainment.
Instead, take a short walk outside, or just stand, instead of sitting, or do stretches. Anything, but mindless consumption.
Take breaks often enough to let your brain process what you are taking in, and refresh before another deep dive session into knowledge or work. Perhaps use a Pomodoro technique or some focus timer.
Speaking of focus timer, here is what my former colleague is working on: Focus Timer that combines productivity and fun.
For example, if you are watching a course video, or listening to a podcast, try to use 1.5x speed.
This would be uncomfortable at first, and you may need to rewind a few times, but soon your brain will accommodate. (especially, if you are practicing meditation consistently—it trains this kind of focus skill and brain muscle).
Eventually, with practice, you can get to 2x, 2.5x, and even 3x if the speaker is on a slower side. This alone will save you vast amounts of time. Just don’t forget to take notes so that you actually retain the information you are consuming. Because at such speed without taking notes, you may lose even more.
Where you can practice the skills together, and maybe even complete a group project. This is awesome because we humans are social beings.
You are going to be more motivated and will pay more attention to the information you are learning. Also, you are going to get immediate feedback, and built-in accountability, so to not let others down.
It’s also fun!
On top of that, you can attend meet-ups about what you’re learning.
The deal is that practice always shows what you are still lacking and what you need to dig deeper into.
Use that to inform what resources you need to study and practice. This way, you are going to learn only precisely what you need for your goals, and you are not going to go too deep on the topic. (Unless you want to be a professor of this domain, you don’t want to go too deep, only to the extent that is practical and pragmatic from the perspective of your goals).
No matter what initial affinity you have with them!
If you ever feel that “you are not cut out to do X,” then read the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck. And get inspired to outperform any “talented” with your hard work, tenacity, and by making progress every day.
One of the most effective ways to be more efficient and faster at something is to have deadlines you have created for yourself and committed to.
This way, your brain will function at a higher focus level and will think about this learning and practical activity as one of the most essential things in your life.
Celebrate your wins to gain the motivation, energy, and momentum to fix your faults.
If you are not able to learn for X amount of hours consistently every day., start small, maybe something like 30 minutes a day, but make it a consistent habit. And then once you are confident you can pull this 30mins every day, without fail, ramp it up to 45 mins, and then to 1h, and then to 2h, and so on.
Keep the momentum going. For us, humans, the momentum is the most potent weapon, either to achieve our goals, aspirations, or dreams or to demolish ourselves (by having momentum in the form of bad habits).
Learn your best, Nathan.
Originally published as a Quora answer here.
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