Deciding when to learn something new is often a question that is not given enough thought. People tend to take up new personal learning initiatives in the spur of the moment, only to lose that momentum a few weeks down the line.
They don’t realize that the amount of time they have spent doing this repeatedly is tremendous. If one calculates their time in these brief periods of temporary inspiration, they would be surprised.
In all this, the real motive dies an early death. It is as if giving birth to a dream in a very unplanned way, only to let it die. So it becomes imperative to think and decide When to learn and What.
In this post, we discuss the timing aspect of the learning path with respect to its investment, start date, end date, and a few other elements. I hope this will help you plan and optimize your learning journey in a meaningful way.
The topic to be learned is not the subject, but the focus is more on time management. If you want to know Why people take up learning new things in tech - read this.
Identify Cost Of Time
To make sense of our decisions about time investment in learning, we should ask a few questions about our current situation. Since learning is essentially a journey that takes us from one plane to another, we should take a moment to understand what we do today.
Someone might be new in tech. Some may have a few years of experience in whatever profile they are in, and some may be highly experienced. What we do today does not directly influence what we want to learn. But often, the other dynamics associated with our professional lives indirectly affect our ability to learn.
Understanding the nature of the job we perform today helps us understand how demanding the job is. Happiest are those who have all the time in this world. If you do not have a job (for good or bad) and intend to learn, this is the best-case scenario. It is straightforward to find a few hours daily for some focused learning. Time is cheap here.
However, if the nature of the job is such that you absolutely cannot spare a single moment and work long hours - things can get challenging. In these situations, time is expensive for two reasons: finding the time itself and the quality of attention span. A highly demanding job also demands good enough rest - so the attention span outside of work hours may get affected.
Identify the cost of our time. The cost here essentially means - with whatever time we can churn out, is it worth spending on a learning activity we choose? If the time is cheap, spending it without much thought is okay. However, if it gets expensive, we may want to gauge its worth before committing to learning any topic.
Find Structured Time
Routine and revision are essential aspects while learning any new skill. Learning anything new requires us to dive in and out of the subject multiple times. The more we do it, the better we get. Investing our time for a while and then not continuing the same makes us forget whatever is learned.
I give overwhelming importance to time because it is the only thing that cannot be earned. So if we have known the worth of our time and have decided to pick something new to learn, it is time to identify the available timeslots in our schedule.
Pull out a sheet of paper and write down how a typical work week looks for you. Identify the off-work hours and mark them in your favorite color. Calculate how many hours you can block just to read, practice, and think about the new topic. Freeze this schedule and make it a point to follow it religiously in the coming weeks.
When I had just started to identify the importance of lifelong learning, I made the mistake of overestimating the amount of time required to learn something new. I thought of it as a massive investment of time and had to give up my life to achieve my learning goals.
It turns out it was all wrong. Learning does not need us to be with the books physically for as long as possible. It is about how consistently we think of the topic. Reading something for hours together is a very inefficient way to learn anything.
Instead, try to do it for a few minutes every day. Trust me, I thought this was absurd. How can one even complete learning a topic with that kind of speed in this lifetime? Here, the golden rule is to not focus on the target completion date, but to give our most in those few minutes we spend daily doing something.
Do not take a few minutes literally - it could mean anything from 15 minutes till 2 hours every time we sit to learn. Of course, this also means we may sit to learn multiple times in a single day provided we have that much time available. Small and convenient steps cover a long distance if done consistently.
Identify your sweet spot and set this time aside in the slots you marked in the previous section. There is a time when we start enjoying the learning journey. At times we get carried away and lose track of allotted time - this should be avoided. Wrap your learning experience in the allotted time alone.
Preserve this linkage/excitement to make you get into the topic the next time you arrive here in the next timeslot. As mentioned before, you have to dive in and out of this topic as many times as possible - this helps in broadening your comfort level with the subject. What could be a better way to do this than in the phase of excitement.
However, there will be a time when we find the topic very challenging to grasp. This can cause resistance every time we enter the decided timeslot. Never give up at this point. Similar to easy and exciting phases, this is also a phase - with sustained efforts, we can conquer this.
By crystalizing, I mean to make sure to dive in and dive out of the topic as many times as possible - no matter how complex or easy the topic is. This is the best way of getting to know a particular tech well.
Plan For Compensations
We all are humans, and the world is not perfect. It is normal to miss one or two of our scheduled learning slots. If that happens, prepare a plan to cover up for those slots.
Please note that this is not compensation to achieve the target date, but this is more about maintaining learning momentum. Do not let that gap creep in. When the gaps grow, we get discouraged thinking about starting it all over again. Compensations are important to avoid this.
Also, suppose we cannot continue to spend the allocated time for an extended period due to unavoidable circumstances. When we return to the schedule, we should not force ourselves to carry on from where we left. Take as much time to remember everything again and be comfortable with it once again.
Compensations are a way to save our learning goals - a contingency plan. Instead of giving upon them, it allows a kind of elasticity to the otherwise brittle and rigid goals.
Set Start Date But No End Date
Once we have sorted everything above, there is no stopping. The next upcoming slot is your target start date/time per your schedule. However, there is no need to rush. Take your time to let that sink in. Just think lightly about it when you are not around resources.
On the other hand, do not set any end date. Again, one should not rush while learning. Everyone has a different pace of learning, a different way of grasping things, a different approach towards learning any topic. The only way to identify yours is to make sure you understand the concept at hand well before moving ahead. The key to effective learning is to take slow and effective steps.
Stick To The Plan
By this time, you have it all sorted out. All you need to do is just stick to the plan and never give up. The rewards of completing the process of getting comfortable with a new skill are amazing. Skills are incredible assets to have.
Just remember, there will never be a definite indicator that will indicate that the learning is finished. It will never be finished. The realization happens when the skill naturally flows out of you at the right time. That is when we thank ourselves for putting in efforts.
Skills are the compound effect of the time and efforts we consistently put in over the period. Combine this with a never-give-up attitude, and we are good to go.
We have covered why and when one should learn a new skill. In the next post, we will cover a generic learning process of acquiring a skill successfully.