Knowing how to learn things quickly is invaluable – both in life and in business. As a matter of fact, I’d go as far as saying, learning new things is something that you should be striving to do at all times. From your earliest years at elementary school, all the way to your retirement and beyond. A talented, successful person always uses every opportunity to pick up new skills, learn how things are done, and find ways to leverage that knowledge to better their life. And that’s precisely what we’ll be talking about in today’s article!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to my success series. With today’s instalment, I’ll present you with my top three favourite learning techniques, and give you a little tip on dealing with everybody’s worst enemy – procrastination.
The two approaches to effective learning
The way I see it, there are two main components to learning effectively – “focused work” and “relaxed work”.
Is all about sitting down and reading until you understand the subject. You don’t necessarily have to be passionate about the subject at hand, a general love for learning is enough here. For example, I’ve picked up a great number of skills that I’ll probably never put to practical use myself, but which have helped me tremendously in leading my business. Knowing how every little aspect of my office functions, the exact methods, by which my cleaners carry out their daily tasks, or the intricacies of website design and development have been invaluable.
Learning things that you’re passionate about is much faster, easier and enjoyable, while still remaining every bit as beneficial. Personally, I’m very passionate about business, eco-friendliness, green living, minimalism, effective leadership and health. My interest in the other subjects has helped me rid my home of dangerous plastics, eliminate toxins from my immediate environment, dramatically decrease my carbon footprint, declutter my home and office, get in shape, fix my diet and improve my health.
If you’re looking to learn something new or pick up a valuable skill, you’ll need to apply one of the two approaches. Of course, you can’t force yourself to enjoy something – you either love it or you don’t. That’s also why I keep talking about passion for business- if you like the idea of running a business, you’ll be naturally more inclined to pick up on the necessary skills, without even thinking about it.
Starting a business can take a significant toll on you, especially if you aren’t good at maintaining high levels of personal productivity over long periods. And if this description feels oddly familiar, don’t worry – you are not alone. There are countless other entrepreneurs out there who struggle with the exact same problem. But does that mean you should give up? Most certainly not! There are multiple techniques that you can use to get your creativity following and remain productive throughout the day. Below, I’ll go over of the most popular ones.
The Pomodoro technique
An interesting approach to focused work, the Pomodoro technique has recently enjoyed a lot of attention in the digital world, especially in the tech field. The idea behind it is simple, yet some people have found it really useful.
The Pomodoro technique tries to capitalise on the fact that we are all a lot more productive when 100% of our attention is given to the task at hand. But since we can’t stay completely focused for the entire duration of the workday, we lose a great deal of efficiency. So, instead of working for multiple hours before taking a break, the Pomodoro technique suggests that you set a 20-minute timer, during which you’re wholly dedicated to your task. Afterwards, you get to take a short (and hopefully – well-deserved) break before diving back in. Naturally, you won’t be able to finish the entire thing in one sitting, but it’s not like you are trying to do that either. You’re simply trying to give it your all, without any distractions or breaks for twenty whole minutes.
How and why this works
First and foremost, the Pomodoro technique introduces a certain element of urgency by giving you an incredibly short “deadline”, that you’re trying to fit into. When properly applied, this can be quite stimulating, especially if you’re good at working under pressure. Additionally, if you do manage to knock out a significant portion of the work during your short time-frame, you get to pat yourself on the back for a job-well-done, stimulating the reward centres in the brain.
If you can handle working under this principle, you’d be able to get a lot more done in a much shorter time-frame. Naturally, you can’t keep this up forever – you’ll eventually get tired from performing at 110%, and your progress will slow down. Which this brings us to the downsides.
First and foremost, the Pomodoro technique can introduce a large amount of stress in the already stressful lives that we all live. And, if you happen to have issues dealing with stress, can’t perform well under pressure, or if you’ve got health conditions that would get irritated as a result, I’d advise you to avoid this technique at all costs.
Furthermore, after a couple of “sessions”, when your mind inevitably begins to slow down, and you start failing to meet your own “deadline”, you will no longer get to enjoy the rewarding feeling I mentioned above. Instead, it will now be replaced by irritation and disappointment that you weren’t able to meet your own expectations. And I don’t think that I need to tell you where continuous repetitions of this lead.
The Pomodoro technique can be highly effective for individuals who perform well under stress, have no issues working tight deadlines and have no prior stress-related medical history. As a matter of fact, it can be an excellent tool if you’ve got an exceptionally short deadline with no wiggle room (say, if you were trying to knock off three-days worth of work in one weekend, or something similar).
If for one reason or another, the above paragraph doesn’t apply to you or your current situation, I’d suggest that you don’t rely on the method, as it would probably do you more harm than good.
Efficient Learning Technique #2 Mind Mapping
If you were to sit down and think about it, you’d come to realise that most of your knowledge is connected to memories, sensations and ideas of different periods throughout your life. That’s normal – it’s how our brain manages to categorise and keep track of so much information at the same time. And there’s a way to leverage this basic function of the mind to achieve exceptional results – mind mapping.
How and why this works
Our minds aren’t suited towards memorising blocks of text or information just for the sake of storing them. The mind isn’t as much a file cabinet, as it is a photo album. It’s much better at saving feelings, images and emotions. But how can you capitalise on that knowledge? You simply attach your information to said images, feelings and emotions. Allow me to elaborate.
When you’re learning things, you shouldn’t be trying just to memorise the information so you can spit it back out on demand. Instead, you should seek to understand its more profound meaning and see where it all fits in the bigger puzzle. Look for the relationship between what you’re learning right now and other things that you already know. Everything is interconnected – both in our minds and in the outside world. Things interact and have an effect on each other. By looking for that effect, that interaction, some people manage to solidify their knowledge without little to no real effort.
Learning and remembering things by using this technique can allow you to remember a great deal of things almost indefinitely. As long as you bring out the knowledge once in a while, be it in a discussion or as a solution to a practical problem that you’re currently faced with, it will remain with you for the rest of your life.
Assimilating information with this approach can sometimes be really time-consuming. Furthermore, it works best during self-reflection. It is only when you sit down in a quiet place, with no real distractions or worries, that the mind can truly process the bigger picture in the required way. If you happen to be short on time constantly, or if, for one reason or another, you aren’t big on the whole “reflection” thing, then this technique might not be your cup of tea.
This is an excellent approach for people who enjoy self-reflection, philosophy and have enough free time to practice them on (at least) a weekly basis. If quiet reflection isn’t your idea of a good time, I’d advise you to try a different approach.
Efficient Learning Technique #3 Learn by Teaching Others
This one is a personal favourite of mine, and it has helped me tremendously throughout the years. I’ve consistently been applying this, both to my personal and professional life, and I’ve seen an excellent return for my time. Even the very act of writing this book is allowing me to practice this technique!
Also referred to as the “protégé effect” teaching others is a straightforward technique, with little to no downsides.
How it works
When you’ve got a particular piece of information that you want to understand (and remember) better, you simply try and explain it to someone, using your own words. And you don’t even need a real conversation partner for this – you can play it all out in your mind. You take your talking point, and you try to present it in the best possible way, without using any complicated technical jargon, and without referencing things that your listener wouldn’t understand. If you happen to need to go over references, you’ll need to “simplify” and explain them as well.
This helps you assimilate information much better, because it encourages the mind to seek out and focus on connections that you are subconsciously aware of, but never really thought about. And once you manage to put your explanation together, you can immediately see how it fits in a bigger picture, which you can then use in combination with the mind mapping approach we discussed earlier.
How you can use it
The protégé effect is primarily associated with the academic context, where teaching others can help you learn material that you need to learn yourself. However, the protégé effect can also benefit you in a variety of other, non-academic environments. For example:
When it comes to hobbies, teaching basic skills to novices can help you refine and master those skills yourself.
When it comes to work, explaining essential procedures to new employees can help you remember those procedures better yourself.
When it comes to general knowledge, explaining concepts that you’re interested in to people who aren’t familiar with them can help you improve your understanding of those concepts.
This method can be used as an addition to a number of other learning approaches, as well as stand on its own. You can apply it to virtually any type of information, knowledge or task, and you can also use your conclusions later on in real conversations, should the need to teach others arise. Yes, this really does come in handy for business endeavours – it’s exactly why I enjoy it so much.
Sadly, this method does come with its own set of disadvantages as well. Much like mind mapping, the protégé technique can require a lot of time to leverage and is difficult to apply if you lack detailed knowledge in the given area. If, for example, you were trying to explain the negative impact of someone’s carbon footprint, but you had no idea of what green gases are, or what exactly they do, you wouldn’t really be able to apply the method at all.
The protégé effect has requirements, similar to those of mind mapping, but with the added difficulty of needing prior knowledge of the subject material. It can be an exceptional tool of picking up and remembering new information for subjects that you’re especially passionate about or things that you absolutely need to remember. Still, it requires a great deal of time to put into practice.
Efficient Learning #4 – Dealing with procrastination
You can’t really have a discussion about learning without mentioning procrastination. And, before we wrap things up for today, we’ll do just that.
The biggest problem that most people face when trying to learn or try new things is the desire to procrastinate. The drive to put things off until you “feel like it” is entirely completely normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all struggled with it. Using your lack of drive as an excuse, however, is not acceptable, especially if you have any sort of business-oriented aspirations. Again, I’m not trying to imply that I don’t feel the urge to procrastinate. Quite the contrary – I have to face it every day. But I just don’t give in to it. I know how to handle it, and I know how to alleviate the consequences of ignoring it.
Studies show that, if you are to ignore the urge to procrastinate, it is almost guaranteed to fade away on its own after a couple of minutes. The whole “trick” is to avoid giving in. Yes, I know that it’s incredibly tempting to do so. And yes, I know that it can sometimes feel impossible to ignore. But you have to try. You owe it to yourself, and if you manage to do it, you’ll thank yourself later.
And there you have it folks – my 4 biggest tips about learning effectively.
It might sound a bit overwhelming at first, but I never said that becoming a business leader would be easy now, did I? The journey from an aspiring entrepreneur to a successful business leader is one of self-discovery and self-improvement. It is no coincidence that some of the most successful people in the world today are almost religiously dedicated to self-improvement.
We’ve all got our strengths and weaknesses, and there are different aspects of our personalities that we have to work on. But the thing that separates the successful people from everyone else is the fact that we’re willing to walk the walk. We do what’s necessary to succeed, and that is precisely why we get to enjoy the benefits of our work later down the line.
Whether it’s dealing with procrastination, getting rid of annoying or harmful habits, changing up our lifestyles, or expanding our comfort zones, we, as business leaders are constantly looking for ways to become better individuals. And I’d say that it’s precisely this struggle, this constant strive for waking up a slightly better version of yourself every morning that makes business leadership such an amazing and fulfilling pursuit. Don’t do it for the money. Do it for yourself and for your loved ones. I know I do.
And what about you? What are your personal favourite learning techniques? How do you go about processing large amounts of information in a pinch? Please leave your thoughts, ideas and experiences in the comments below – I always love hearing from you! You may also want to read my previous blogs such as “Daily improvements for a better life.”
Thank you all for reading, and until next time:
Stay Green and Motivated!
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