5 top tips for speedy learning

Picking up a new tool or technique doesn’t have to take forever. Here’s how to fast-track your learning.

The design world evolves super quickly today. New techniques and tools seem to come at you from every corner. One issue that bothers both beginners and experienced professionals is how to keep up with the insane pace. 

The solution hinges on two skills: the ability to choose what to learn, and the ability to learn it quickly. In this article I want to focus on the latter, and show you my five-step plan for speeding up the learning process. 

01. Prepare for pain 

 A hard truth we have to accept is that learning anything is difficult. Think about the time you tried to pick up the guitar or ride a bike. How long did you take? How many times did you fail? Did you give up? 

Many people (even myself) forget the path to learning is paved with confusion and pain. We want to believe we’re excellent humans with powerful cognitive skills. So if we fail to learn something quickly (like within a few hours), we give up and decide we’re not talented in this area.

Once you realise that learning is inherently difficult, you can adjust your expectations. Then you can create a game plan that will help you get even further than you can possibly imagine.  

02. Make a game plan

Now it’s time for you to create a game plan to get you where you want to be. Your plan consists of four things:

Why do you want to learn [insert thing here]? 

First, since learning anything is inherently difficult, you need to know why you want to learn whatever it is you’re trying to learn. The reason you give yourself must be strong enough to tide you through the initial difficulty.  

What’s the goal you’re aiming for (in this stage of learning)?

Second, you want to create a tangible goal so you know where you want to be at your particular stage of learning. Don’t be afraid to set one that feels attainable, but is a stretch at the same time. Don’t aim for the sky, because you’ll fall and hit dirt. When you’ve achieved your first goal, you can create a new game plan and aim higher.

What steps do you need to take to complete your goal? 

Third, if you’re taking on a completely new project, it might be worth spending an hour or two researching to see how other people have done it. You can then customise this path to hit your personal goal. The key here is practice – daily practice helps you remember things much faster. But how you plan is up to you.

When do you intend to complete your goal?

Finally, you want to give yourself a realistic deadline to complete your goal. If you can, create a timeline – this process will help you mentally prepare for the hardship in the days to come. While you’re at it, be willing to readjust your timeline if you foresee you’re not going to be able to hit your goal. 

03. Don’t compare 

Don’t compare yourself with other people. This invites envy (if they’re faster than you) or pride and arrogance (if you’re faster than them). These emotions hinder your learning. 

Also, don’t compare yourself against yourself. You will unconsciously compare the speed at which you learn an entirely new skill with the speed you progress at something you’re already familiar with. You’ll feel like a snail. You’ll feel like you have no talent for the new thing. This is stupid. You can’t compare apples with oranges. 

 04. Focus on quality 

Focus on learning things well rather than moving quickly. Learning well means understanding the concepts behind what you’re learning; it means breaking concepts down into principles; it means no copy-pasting; it means working out your own solutions whenever possible so your brain has to get creative. Finally, it means you’ll be slower today, but 20 times faster two weeks from now.

05. Adjust expectations 

Accept that learning is an uphill task. You’re going to be confused. You’ll wonder if you’re untalented and worthless. You’ll think you’ll suck. Most people underestimate the emotional pain and quit. They give up. Don’t let that happen to you. 

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 289; buy it here.

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