Learning efficiently is a game changer and it is going to become increasingly important in the coming decades because the world is evolving at an unprecedented pace.
As the famous historian Yuval Noah Harari tells us in his awesome book "21 lessons for the 21st century":
Technological innovation and AI are going to accelerate at a pace we've yet to really comprehend so unless you are 80 years old or something, you will have to repeatedly reinvent yourself in the coming decades to survive that change - you'll probably change your job a number of times to not become obsolete.
This means that if there is one skill we should master to create a great life, that is the ability to learn rapidly.
From learning technical skills, to getting my fitness game up, or learning skills just for fun, I am obsessed with learning and evolving myself. Today I want to share with you the system I use to learn anything the smart way.
This article is based on my YouTube video on the same topic - I highly recommend you watch it for a more detailed understanding. In this video I first describe a smart learning system and then I go through 7 techniques for effective learning. The idea is to cherry-pick the techniques you like the most and add them on top of the system to create your own personalized system for learning anything smarter and faster 🔥
For those of you who prefer reading, let's go through it, more briefly, in textual format.
Decide the skill you want and exactly define the level you want to reach - whether it's learning to play guitar or getting started with Deep Learning, what is the level of target performance you want to achieve? Be specific 🎯
"If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."
The next step in hacking the learning curve is to deconstruct the skill into its basic, fundamental components and then using the 80/20 principle, a.k.a. Pareto principle - the goal here is to separate the 20% of learning material that will give us 80% of results 🧩
- Say you want to learn to play guitar. There are some main chords (Em, C, D, G) that you can be used to play a lot of songs. So if you just learn those few chords and a couple of strumming patterns, you will be able to entertain people at the next party!
- If you are getting started with Machine Learning then instead of trying to learn everything under the sun, you can focus on some core algorithms (like regression) and concepts that can be used to solve most of the problems.
(Pareto principle is fantastic, isn't it?!)
Practice with NO distractions from the outside world. From checking our emails every ten minutes, to scrolling through our Instagram feed or reacting to notifications, multitasking and not paying undivided attention to the task at hand prevents us from learning fast.
📌Focused practice. Undivided attention.
Practice with Consistency because there is no way to get around the fact that skills acquisition requires work!
If you can dedicate as little as 30 minutes per day for the next 30 days of consistent focused practice, that will be enough! Of course, to gain mastery you will need more hours, but 30 days will be sufficient to become good enough. Once you have achieved your target performance, you can repeat the 30 days loop to get to the next level.
"Atomic Habits" is a great book on learning to develop new habits and making them stick. For example, habit stacking tells us that we can couple the new habit with an old one to make it stick - you can practice the skill you are working on immediately after making your morning coffee or before brushing your teeth in the evening ☕
Create fast feedback loops. You can't get better at something unless you know how to track your progress.
For example, if you are learning to code or preparing for an interview, you can test your progress on LeetCode. If you are learning to play an instrument, you can record yourself. If you are preparing for an exam, you can take some mocks to test the subskills. If possible, you can set up some checkpoints with a mentor or coach.
Don't quit before or during the dip. There is dopamine hit when we begin something new. But once the honeymoon phase is over, we experience the "dip" and most of us quit. To not fall victim of the dip and give up too soon, pre-commit at least 30 days of daily practice to check how important that skill is for you 💪
"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first." - Ray Congdon
Feynman is a very famous physicist. His goal was to be able to explain even the most detailed and scientifically complex information to a child - if you can breakdown something intricate in a way that a child can understand, then you have a good grasp of the topic yourself.
Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA have found that when students take notes by hand, they listen more actively and they are able to identify important concepts much better. When we are taking notes on a laptop, we tend to be more mindless and distracted - ditch the computer or tablet in favor of the good old way of writing things down by hand.
Brief, frequent learning sessions are much better than longer, infrequent ones. Yes, those 90 minutes long lectures are not very effective! Our attention span has decreased too much. However, 5–10 mins of practice is not enough either. For the sweet spot, technique 4.
This is a time management technique where you break down your tasks into 25 minutes of focused blocks of time - just the right amount of time to feel productive, without feeling the temptation of getting sidetracked.
You can find many apps and online timers to help you track your pomodoro sessions.
Aim for 2 pomodoros a day for 30 days for the skill you want to acquire and see the magic happen!
Research tells us that we are able to remember concepts better if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions because when we repeat the information over a longer interval (e.g., a few days or a week later), it sends a stronger signal to the brain that it needs to retain that information.
Our brain needs time to recharge and file all of the information we fed it into proper "memory bins". Storing memories is one of the most important functions of a good night's sleep while cramming and all-nighters disrupt this active storage of content into long-term memory. So, prioritize downtime to learn more efficiently.
Immerse yourself in an environment most conducive for learning the skill you are working on.
For example, when learning French, if you can manage a trip to France, that will accelerate your learning. Or say you want to transition from Software Engineering to Machine Learning/Data Science roles. While you are still in the skills acquisition phase, and haven't reached the stage where you can switch roles, you can start by getting your foot in the door (under your current role) by being part of a team that focuses on Machine Learning to hack your learning curve.
Generally, creating a dedicated space for learning is also very effective - use your bed for sleeping, not studying, because our brain creates associations with our physical spaces over time.
In summary, the idea is focused consistent practice with 80/20 rule to mark the territory and then combining this learning system with a few learning techniques of your choice, like Pomodoro and Feynman, to create your personalized system for learning anything the smart way.
Let me know in the comments which skills you are going to learn :)
If you found this article helpful, help me reach out to others who might benefit from it as well by giving it a thumbs up and subscribe to my YouTube channel for more smart content that can 10x your life 🔥
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
- 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
- Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career
- Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
- The first 20 hours -- how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman