It’s not learning specific tools and languages that counts - it’s the constant learning. Intensive training in one thing for a few days fails since learning is something one has to do, it takes experience and needs goals and feedback.
Set SMART Goals
Lofty, unspecific goals don’t do much to get one there. Hone in on specifics with SMART goals so you’re more likely to reach them.
- Specific - The goal should be concrete, not vague, so you know exactly what it is.
- Measurable - You should know exactly when you’re done, and measure how much closer each incremental step brings you.
- Achievable - Make each goal realistic to achieve from where you are now.
- Relevant - Choose goals that are important to you, are passionate about, and are under your control.
- Time-boxed - Give yourself a deadline so the goal isn’t forgotten. Set small milestones along the way to stay motivated.
Don’t forget the larger context of goals. A goal that sacrifices too much long-term health for a short-term benefit, or vice versa, isn’t worth it.
Have a Pragmatic Investment Plan or PIP
Treat your knowledge portfolio of skills and information with as much care as a financial portfolio. Don’t relegate it to “I’ll learn in my spare time.” Actively and deliberately allocate time to your learning. Make sure your PIP meets the following needs:
Have a Concrete Plan
Set short and long-term plans in whatever time frame works best for you. Use SMART goals for a range of goals from small objectives (buy and read a certain book) to larger ones (do X in a new coding language, write articles, speak at a conference, etc).
The planning part matters more since it brings you more in tune with your goals.
Get a good mix of languages, environments, techniques, soft skills, and even non-technical interests. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Consider the risk vs. reward ratio, but remember all knowledge investments have some value (even if it’s not direct). Remember spending more time on something doesn’t automatically bring value.
Active, Not Passive, Investment
Keep evaluating your plan and getting feedback, realistically seeing how it’s going. Are you getting the expected results? Keep track of what’s happening in the industry, and add and remove plans as needed.
The financial version of this is dollar-cost averaging. You’ll sometimes invest too much or little, getting varied returns along the way. In the long-term, these even out and lead to a good investment.
The takeaway is committing to a minimum, regular investment. Set a ritual and schedule them regularly. Don’t just wait for “extra time” for it to pop up.
Plan your investment and what you’ll be doing beforehand, so when the time comes you can get right to it. Buy or download what you need, get a rough plan together for what to build, etc.
Find Your Learning Mode
- Visual - See the material. Videos, pictures, graphs, etc.
- Auditory - Hear the material. Lectures, podcasts, seminars, etc.
- Kinesthetic - learn by moving and touching. Physical experience and learning by doing or crafting.
Enhanced Learning Techniques
Reading with SQ3R
Reading is one of the least efficient learning methods but is also one of the most common. It can be improved with the SQ3R method which follows these steps:
- Scan - Scan the table of contents, summaries, chapter headers, images, etc.
- Question - As you scan, keep of list of questions you have.
- Read - Read the whole book.
- Recite - Summarize and take your notes. Try to do this during your first full read through.
- Play with the info in different ways if it helps you remember. Put it in different formats or make something silly with it.
- Review - Later on, reread the book and your notes. Expand on your notes and discuss it with others.
- Just rereading them doesn’t help much. Try to quiz and test yourself on the info too.
Mind maps are visual outlines of information that have many different topic nodes connected to a base root (do a Google search of what this looks like). They help since they emphasize the relationships between data and ideas, which greatly reinforces learning and understanding. It also gives many opportunities for creativity in colors, symbols, and doodling that makes it more fun to read and adds spatial cues to reinforce knowledge.
This is one of the best ways to simply “play” with the info without trying too hard to understand it perfectly. A great fit when you’re unsure of what a piece of content will teach you.
Drawing the mind map by hand helps greatly, especially for solo learning. Redrawing a messier first version to a more-organized second one also helps since it reinforces the associations. This is the same for any transcription of “raw notes” to cleaner, better-edited notes.
Documenting over Documentation
Writing notes helps retain info even if you never read them again. Writing notes or taking screencasts are good ways to manage this. Either way, the note-taking process better engages and prepares the mind.
Teaching to learn can take many forms. Explain something you’re trying to understand to a rubber duck, a surrogate for someone who has no insider knowledge of your field. Talks and blog posts are also good options which also share knowledge with others.