Staying competitive and ahead of the curve in business while operating in a world that is always changing, advancing, and evolving at such an unprecedented pace has become a science of its own. Learning new skills has become so common that there are perhaps more methods out there for doing it than are humanly possible to adopt. I’ve chosen for this post, six of my favorite true and tested techniques that will help you learn things better, faster, and for longer, and that will help you make learning a lifelong habit.
1. Teach others
There’s a saying that if you are unable to explain a technical topic to someone in simple terms, then you probably don’t really understand it well enough yourself. Just like writing and taking notes (explained in more detail below), when you go through the steps of explaining things to someone else, you end up becoming clearer on points that may have not been so obvious to you at first. You’re also more likely to run into questions that you may have never encountered before, allowing you to develop a more comprehensive understanding of your topic.
2. Timed bursts, and the 80/20 rule
You can only absorb so much in any given span of time. Like watering a garden, if you give it its weekly supply of water in one go, you will waste all of the water that the garden simply cannot use right now. Alternatively, you can pace things and give the garden water as and when it needs it. Experts suggest dividing your study hours into 50 minutes of intense learning, followed by 10 minutes of relaxation to allow the brain to cool down and churn over what it has taken in.
Productivity experts say that if you focus on learning only the most critically important topics of the subject at hand (usually measured as the 20% most important content), you will end up learning the other 80% automatically. Everything about any given topic related, so if you can develop a detailed-enough mental map of your study subject, your mind will make logical connections of its own and you’ll end up augmenting your learning as you go along.
3. Take handwritten notes
Your laptop may be faster, but using a pencil and paper will help you learn things better. Taking notes on your laptop is more of an absent-minded transcription task than a learning task, and it is also prone to a higher incidence rate of distraction from, say, email, or other applications. With a laptop, you are also more likely to take notes word for word (because the speed of note-taking allows you to do so). However, with handwritten notes, you are more likely to be forced to reframe things in your mind and to take notes in a different form from how the concepts are originally delivered to you, meaning right away you’ve thought of the same content in two different ways.
4. Develop healthy habits
You can train your mind to make it a sharper, more analytical tool by living healthy. Regular exercise has countless benefits, the least of which is that it improves learning and memory. One study found that memory and the ability to think clearly improved significantly after a single exercise session.
The same goes for meditation, avoiding too much junk food, getting enough sleep, keeping yourself properly hydrated, and taking time to relax. Sleep is required for basic brain function, maintaining good judgment, and keeping reaction times sharp, and is as important for memory as basic study is, as explained in this detailed article by the Harvard Medical School. A well-oiled machine is a high-performance machine, so be sure to keep your body as well as your mind in tip-top shape to be able to apply yourself to your fullest.
5. Keep yourself pumped and stick to a schedule.
Having goals is inextricably connected to success. Keeping your work hours and downtime spaced, taking only scheduled breaks, avoiding distractions, and continuously working towards your study goals will together help you to reach them. One way to structure things is to give yourself rewards for every achievement reached, slotting away slabs of time to do what you need to do, and to develop habits that fall more or less in line with the six points here. Once you’ve nailed down your approach to learning, you’ll start to reap the benefits of actual learning, and learning things (and remembering them!) will become second nature to you.
6. Change your learning methods.
“Reconsolidation” is what I call the process by which memories are recalled and modified with new knowledge. It plays an important role in strengthening skills and learning. Studies have found that if you perform slightly modified versions of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you simply practice the exact same thing several times in succession. Like taking notes by hand, reconsolidation allows you to approach the same material in a new way. Other examples might be using flashcards for one study session, then taking notes the next time, and then teaching someone what you’ve learned for the third session. Doing things this way will help your brain remember and recall information more efficiently and effectively.
In summary, keeping up to date in this fast-paced world is a challenge, and everyone is out to jump you for the lead. By staying on your toes with these effective approaches to learning, you’ll be in a better position to stay ahead of the pack and to continue to learn effectively throughout your life.