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For the ambitious crowd out there, there is simply too much to learn and not enough time in the day to learn it all.
Learning is a skill and a process that can be made more efficient and that is what we’ll focus on here today.
When I was college, there were many times where I just did what I had to do to pass tests and get good grades. Once I graduated and entered “real life,” learning became more important to me.
This required learning the correct way to gather and consume information, synthesize it, retain it and implement what I learned into my life.
Through the years, I have viewed many resources (like this blog) to find the best methods to learn.
You might be on the same path. You want to learn more and you want to learn faster.
This post will have 20 things to do for learning more and learning faster.
I have chunked these tips into two overarching requirements. To accomplish this, you need to focus on…
- Getting more information into your head
- Retaining the information you learned
These two things will require efficiency, motivation and consistency and these tips will help you achieve this through actionable steps.
GETTING MORE INFORMATION INTO YOUR HEAD
Getting more information in your head comes down to two things:
- Consuming more material in a shorter amount of time
- Extending the period of time you are consuming information
CONSUMING MORE MATERIAL IN A SHORTER AMOUNT OF TIME
Consuming more material in a shorter amount of time requires you to be more efficient with your learning.
1. Plan your day of learning
Planning your learning will only take a few minutes but can save you several hours over the course of a day.
Break down what you need to learn into its simplest components and plan how you will learn those components.
2. Focus and minimize distractions
To learn more in a shorter amount of time, you are going to need to be deliberately focused.
Staying focused will require minimizing distractions.
When you set out to learn, clean your workspace of clutter and create a comfortable environment that will allow you to dial in.
Keep your phone away from you and avoid checking it during your learning time. Reading texts and social media while learning will prolong the needed time to learn something and will hinder you from retaining the information you are studying.
3. Increase your speed of reading
Consuming information faster is another obvious way to learn more in a shorter amount of time.
Try to amp up the speed that you are reading through the material. This will feel hard at first, but reading with speed is a skill and skills become better with practice.
After some time, reading at a faster speed will become easier for you and you’ll be comfortable at the faster rate.
4. Watch and listen to content on 2x speed
Once video and audio content began offering the option to adjust the play speed, my own pace of learning increased two-fold. That’s due to me turning the play speed up to 2x.
Whenever I listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, or online lectures, I always opt to increase the play speed.
It might take some adjusting at first, but soon the 2x play speed will become normal to you. When I occasionally watch and listen to content at normal speed, it almost feels too slow and I feel like I’m wasting time by not playing things faster.
5. Don’t multitask
On the surface, multitasking would appear to help you learn more in a shorter amount of time, right?
Well, that doesn’t end up being the case.
By multitasking, you aren’t ever giving your full undivided attention to whatever it is that you are learning.
Doing math homework while listening to an audiobook might seem like a good way to learn two things at once, but you’ll just end up learning less about each of them.
Think of the famous quote by Confucius, “The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither.”
Focus on one rabbit at a time with learning. The better way to learn two subjects is to fully focus on one thing and later fully focus on another.
EXTENDING THE PERIOD OF TIME YOU ARE CONSUMING INFORMATION
The second sub-component of getting more information into your head is to extend the period of time you are consuming information.
6. Maintain good health
The rest of the steps below will not be effective if you first don’t address your health.
Health includes sleep, diet and nutrition, and exercise.
Sleep is important for all aspects of your life, especially with learning and memory.
Sufficient sleep will enable you to study longer and study deeper into topics as well.
Studies have shown the negative effects of poor sleep on memory. Memory and recall decline drastically with the less sleep someone has.
All-nighters are touted by college students and professions requiring long hours. Sometimes there is no other choice but to pull an all-nighter to meet a deadline.
For learning, it’s best to refrain from pulling all-nighters and get adequate sleep.
Diet and nutrition
Diet and nutrition will fuel your body and brain, which is necessary for optimal performance.
What to eat for the most effective learning is deserving of a post of its own and I’m sure I will write one.
In the meantime, I would recommend you look up the best foods and supplements you can consume for peak energy and focus.
Exercise has its benefits for your health and well-being which keep you energized while you learn.
The more important benefits of exercise I have found come from the mental benefits.
Exercise can be therapeutic and offer a nice break in between deep learning sessions. A workout can offer an outlet to clear your mind and refresh.
This is important in extending the duration of time you spend learning.
For example, if you sat down and tried to learn for as long as you could, you might be able to get 4 or 5 hours in before your motivation and focus begin deteriorating.
However, if you told yourself you just had to sit down and learn for 2.5 hours at a time, with a workout in between, each 2.5-hour chunk is a lot less intimidating and you’ll be energized and focused for both blocks of time.
A great book called Spark dives into the benefits exercise can have on the brain’s performance: Book Review: Spark by John J. Ratey, MD
7. Build up to longer times gradually
If you are used to spending an hour a day on learning, suddenly telling yourself you are going to triple that amount of time a day is going to be intimidating and might be intimidating enough to prevent you from ever trying.
You might also experience burnout.
A good way to get to the point where you are learning 3x the amount you were before is to gradually build up to it.
If you study for an hour a day on average, increase that learning time by just 10 minutes per week.
If you started week 1 with a 10-minute increase for a total time of 70 minutes of learning, you would reach 180 minutes of learning (or 3 hours) per day in 12 weeks.
That’s three months to triple your time allocated towards learning.
By increasing gradually rather than an immediate increase, you’ll slowly adjust and become accustomed to the increasing amount of time.
This makes it almost unnoticeable that you are spending more time learning because you adjust and the new time becomes normal to you.
8. Focus on short bursts of deep learning with frequent breaks in between
Taking breaks sounds counterproductive when you want to increase the amount of time you spend learning.
You might be asking, “Why would I take a break when I could just push through and complete all my learning in one sitting?”
Breaks are necessary to allow the mind to refresh and reset and will prevent you from burning out.
Commit to studying intensely in chunks of 30 minutes with zero distractions and take a small break in between.
After several cycles of that, take a larger break every several hours or so.
9. Space out learning with rewarding activities
This tip piggybacks off the tip above. On your breaks, reward yourself with something.
That could be a reward of grabbing a bite, going to the gym, checking social media or socializing with friends.
Rewarding yourself after periods of study will boost your morale and increase the chances that you’ll continue studying once the break is done.
10. Study several subjects in succession and through different methods
Rather than learning all about one topic for several hours, study a few topics within a block of study time and rotate which topics you learn.
I’ll give you an example through my own method.
If I set a period of 3 hours for learning to improve at work, I might spend 1 hour on learning about finance, 1 hour on excel and 1 hour on tax law.
Within each hour, I’ll take a short 5-minute break at the halfway point.
Along with studying topics in succession, you can also mix up the different ways you are consuming material.
My hour for learning about finance might be through an online course. The hour studying Excel could be me watching tutorials on YouTube. And the hour spent studying tax law could be me just reading from a book.
By mixing up topics and switching the mediums from which you learn through, you’ll be able to tough out longer periods of learning through rotation.
This will keep you from becoming bored and tired.
11. Remind yourself of your “why”
This is where the motivation comes in. To study for longer, you’ll need to be motivated and find reasons to push past the point of comfort in learning.
You could be learning to…
- Get a degree
- Become certified in something
- Improve your skills for a promotion
- Learning simply to grow
Whatever your reason is, it’ll need to be strong enough to push you forward and you’ll need to remind yourself why you are learning when things get tough and you feel like giving up.
RETAINING THE INFORMATION YOU LEARNED
Consuming information is no good unless you retain that information and can recall what you have learned.
This will require studying, practice and implementation.
The following tips will help you cement the information in your head for future use.
12. Mix up how you are consuming information.
Up until recently, learning was done primarily through the reading of books or through in-person lectures.
With the development of technology, new mediums of learning emerged.
If you want to learn about accounting, you can learn through several ways:
- In-person lectures or classes
- Online courses
- Google searches
Mixing up the ways you consume information is beneficial because you’ll learn things from different angles, which can help a subject stick in your memory for the long-term.
Learning is different for everyone.
Some learn visually and others through audio.
Some may learn better teaching themselves or having someone lecture to them.
Reap the benefits from the various ways to consume information and that information will be likelier to stick.
13. Mix up and modify how you study information
Similar to mixing up the ways you consume information, mixing up the ways you study and practice also has benefits for retaining information.
You don’t want to study the same way over and over again.
By changing the way you study, you are forcing your brain to practice and recall in different ways.
You’re making connections from different angles and the more ways you make connections and recall information, the more you’ll fully grasp and comprehend what you are learning.
To mix up the ways you study and practice you can…
- Write notes by hand
- Type notes out (for the sake of speed) and annotate them after
- Create flashcards
- Review and practice in silence and also speaking aloud
- Use remembering techniques like memory palaces and acronyms
- Study in different locations
- Study at different times of the day
14. Use effective note-taking
There are many note-taking methods out there including the outline method, Cornell notes and mapping.
When it comes to note-taking, I would recommend that you try out several ways and find out which one works best for you.
For note-taking to be effective, it needs to provide the following:
- Fast way to transfer information to notes
- Contain components to help you remember
- Be easily accessible and understandable
Simply transfer the main points from what you are learning into some form of notes that will help you remember and grasp a topic.
15. Reflect, simplify, compress information and synthesize
Topics you embark on learning about will vary from simple to complex.
For the more complex and demanding topics of learning, one way to comprehend and retain is to break things down into its simplest components.
Once you break topics down into their simplest components, you can master the fundamentals and build out from there.
As you practice and study, take a second to reflect on what it is that you are learning.
Simplify what you are consuming and write summaries in your notes or on the pages of a book.
After a session of learning, reflect more and synthesize the information.
16. Review information periodically
This tip is commonly referred to as spaced repetition.
As the name implies, this involves repeating your study and learning periodically across time.
If you spent hours during a day learning about a topic, you can solidify the information and skills you learned by going back and reviewing what you learned multiple times, with space in between each time.
The spacing of time between each review will vary based on the circumstance. If you have a test in a week, you can review your notes hours apart from each other or every other day.
For topics you want to learn to reference throughout your life and career, you might review a topic every few weeks or months.
Over time, your memory and recall of something can decline. By reviewing information periodically, you are keeping those connections in your brain active.
This activity will help in learning something for the long-term.
17. Implement what you have learned
Practicing takes the information you have learned and implements it into something.
They say the best way to learn something is by doing.
Practice is a form of active learning that is known to help people master the things they have learned.
A great way to practice and implement what you’ve learned is by working through examples.
Examples are given for most topics people decide to learn about.
Practice and recreate the examples that are given through a book, video, lecture, etc.
Once you understand those examples, you can take this a step further and create your own examples.
Creating your own examples takes good grasping of a subject. By working through and understanding enough to create an example, you’ll have higher chances on retaining information.
18. Teach someone else
You might have heard the following sayings before:
“The best way to learn is to teach.”
“When one teaches, two learn.”
Once I tried teaching others about the topics I have learned about, my retention of the information increased drastically.
As an example, the Bizness Professionals blog is a medium through which I teach and master concepts.
To create resources for you and the rest of the readers, I have to fully understand the topics of which I write on.
This requires extensive research, reflection and creativity to produce content that is helpful and accurate.
You can teach others in a similar way by creating lessons and tutorials. You don’t have to publish it to the public. It can be kept to yourself for your own use.
Other ways to learn by teaching other include:
- Tutoring and mentoring
- Studying with peers
- Creating YouTube videos
- Writing research studies
- Pretending you’re teaching someone even though you are alone
Teaching is a great way for mastering something because it requires you to simplify information, identify the most important concepts, present it in a logical and organized manner. Teaching others is a core part of the Feynman Technique, which is a mental model used to help learn and fully understand any topic.
This will all help with your retaining and recall of information.
19. Health: sleep, diet, nutrition, hydration, exercise
Health was already discussed for the first half of the post regarding getting more information into your head.
We bring it up again here because health is also important for memory and retention.
Odds of retention and mastery increase when your health and nutrition is optimized.
20. Brain workouts
Just as you work out and exercise your muscles for performance, you can also work out your brain for performance.
Taking 10 minutes a day to work out your brain will keep it sharp and in shape which can help make your learning more efficient and can help your memory so you can retain the information you learn.
The specific memory games will directly work out the centers of your brain associated with memory. These workouts will work that memory “muscle” in your brain and it’ll translate over to your learning.
If you made it down to the summary, congrats to you! This post was larger than usual and was packed with information.
Bookmark this page and use it to come back and reference from while you pursue the learning of something.
Although this post discussed a lot, the underlying ways to learn more and learn faster is to…
- Consume more material in a shorter amount of time
- Extend the period of time you spend consuming information
To do this, it will require efficiency, motivation and consistency
Learning is a journey and you’ll find your best learning style through trial and error.
Experiment and tailor the way of learning for what suits you best.