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10 Effective Learning Hacks

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    Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your capacity to learn?

    Maybe you’re stagnating mentally after doing the same day job for years. Maybe you struggle to concentrate and retain new information. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by how much harder it feels for you to learn than for other people.

    The human brain is a muscle. We need to exercise it to keep it sharp. And part of that exercise is learning how to learn.

    "One hour per day of study in your chosen field is all it takes. One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do."

    I remember taking standardized tests in high school. I remember the stress of reading a passage and needing to answer quick questions in a limited time period. How was I supposed to remember and analyze everything that fast?

    When I became an adult, I ran into the same pressure in job interviews. Many would have tests and quizzes that tested memory, concentration, and mental quickness.

    So I developed a system to train my brain. By using these hacks, I’ve taught myself to retain more from just ten minutes of study than I could through two hours of reading when I was a kid.

    Learning Hacks

    10 Effective Learning Hacks

    #1 Sleep Enough

    #2 Start Early

    #3 Build Laser-Like Focus

    #4 Have a Distraction-Free Environment

    #5 Get Organized

    #6 Rewrite Your Notes By Hand

    #7 Use Memory Aids

    #8 Space It Out

    #9 Make Connections

    #10 Test Yourself

    #1 Sleep Enough

    If you want to learn more, you have to get enough sleep.

    That’s not what most people want to hear. It’s tough! It’s tempting to stay up late, enjoying your free time and suffer the consequences later. But that has a serious impact on your brain.

    Here are just some of the ways that sleep deprivation impacts your ability to learn:

    • You can’t focus your attention, so you don’t absorb information
    • You can’t form effective long term memories, so even if you do absorb the information, you won’t remember it later
    • You can’t feel positive emotions as easily, so it’s hard to get attached or passionate about the topic

    If you’re chronically sleep deprived, there’s a one hundred percent chance that that’s impacting your memory and concentration. Even if you follow zero of the other tips on this list, you’ll see a dramatic improvement once you start getting at least eight hours a night.

    #2 Start Early

    Sometimes you’ll need to learn something in a pinch. But most of the time, you’ll have hours or days or weeks to pick the information up.

    You might be tempted to leave it until the last minute. There’s a little voice in your head telling you that you’ll remember it better if you’ve learned it recently.

    That’s the devil talking.

    The best thing that you can do is start learning early. That doesn’t mean you should read everything once, quiz yourself, and then ignore it for a few weeks. Instead, it means that you should study over time to build the optimal mental connections.

    This is a good process for learning:

    • Skim the information.

    • Write down any bolded or highlighted terms with their definitions.

    • Read each section in full without trying to concentrate or take notes.

    • Read again more slowly, writing down notes as you go and pausing to make sure you understand everything.

    • Research any questions or confusion you have.

    • Reread your notes to make sure they’re cohesive.

    • Set the information aside for a while.

    • Quiz yourself on important facts and terms to see what you retain.

    • Reread information you don’t remember and take notes again.

    The earlier you start, the more time you have to repeat these steps. That means you’ll have a lot more opportunities to cement the information in your long-term memory.

    #3 Build Laser-Like Focus

    The ability to focus is a skill. Do you feel like you can’t concentrate on reading or education like you used to as a kid? You aren’t alone.

    If you spend a lot of time without focusing on any projects, your ability to do so will wane. It’s like losing strength in your muscles because you don’t exercise. Instead of lamenting your lack of focus, it’s best to rebuild it slowly, the same way you’d do strength training at the gym.

    For those with a very short attention span, this is a great way to start:

    • Get used to setting timers. Timers make it easier to focus because your mind knows that it’s concentrating until a predetermined endpoint.

    • Start with a five-minute timer. Focus fully for those five minutes with no distractions – no phone, no other browser windows, no television, no getting up.

    • When the timer goes off, take a two-minute break, then start again.

    These little sprints are a fantastic way to train your brain. If five minutes is too long, start shorter. Four, three, two, or even one minute.

    As focusing becomes easier, you can increase the length of time of both focus and breaks. The maximum amount of time that a person can focus without needing a break is about forty-five minutes. Some guides recommend starting there. But you should work your way up instead!

    #4 Have a Distraction-Free Environment

    Distractions are the enemy. When you’re distracted, it’s nearly impossible to absorb and remember information of any kind. And distractions suck away your time, leaving you less opportunity to learn.

    But there’s an important note: Different people are distracted by different things.

    Blanket advice about distractions won’t work. For some people, background noise is essential because silence makes their own thoughts distracting. For others, background noise makes it impossible to stay focused.

    The same goes for things like listening to music, having the television going, and working while waiting for food to cook.

    You’re the only one who knows what distracts you. If you’re not sure how to identify distractions, follow these steps as you try to focus:

    • Take note of anything that makes you lose your place or makes concentrating hard.
    • Take note if you have to reread the same sentence again and again.
    • Pay attention to whether music makes focusing easier than silence.
    • If your mind keeps wandering, try to figure out what’s making it difficult to pay attention.

    #5 Get Organized

    If you’re scattered, mentally or physically, it’s harder to learn. Not only is it hard to keep track of information, but you have to devote more time, energy, and stress to figuring out where everything is.

    Different organizational systems work for different people. You can experiment in different areas of your life until you find one that works for you.

    A good organizational system should:

    • Have a designated place for everything

    • Be easy to navigate

    • Be detailed enough to make finding specific information easy

    • Work for your brain

    Those are the only rules. There are tons of different organizing ideas on the web. Have fun with them! Experiment! But don’t believe anyone who says there’s just one organizational system that can ever work.

    #6 Rewrite Your Notes By Hand

    Did you know that writing by hand is actually beneficial for your brain?

    Modern technology has made it easy to gather and share information. Many lessons are available fully online. In classrooms and lectures, most students type because it’s faster than longhand writing. Some even use their phones to snap pictures of the whiteboard rather than typing.

    Typing may be easiest in a lecture where you need to jot your thoughts quickly so you don’t fall behind. But afterward, you should rewrite your notes by hand.

    This might seem time-consuming and pointless. But doing this lets you concentrate on what you’re writing more thoroughly than you can when you type.

    Writing by hand also gives you time to parse the information in your own words. That means you have to analyze and comprehend it, which makes it much easier to remember.

    #7 Use Memory Aids

    Memory aids are learning hacks to remember information. Typically, they’ll be either verbal or visual. Some people may gravitate toward one or the other, while others might benefit from both.

    Visual memory aids are learning hacks that associate information with certain images. When the mental image is paired with the information, it becomes easier to recall.

    Verbal aids like mnemonics let you remember certain phrases that each starts with the same letter as the items in a list. Or they might set words to a song. Some people also use stories to remember information.

    It’s hard to remember numbers, sequences, long names, and specific facts if they’re not grounded. Using a memory aid helps to ground the fact in your brain by associating it with something that’s easier to recall.

    #8 Space It Out

    This ties in with a few of the points we’ve already covered.

    Part of why it’s good to start early is because then you can space out your learning. Even if you have the best focus in the world, you’ll still struggle to keep learning after forty-five minutes without a break.

    Your brain needs space to sort new information into its long term memory. After you’ve learned something new, take some time away from it. Then when you quiz yourself later, you’ll be looking at the information with fresh eyes.

    Not only are these learning hacks good for your processing, but they also make it much easier to study. To study effectively, it’s not helpful to just reread information over and over. You need to have a clear sense of what you do and don’t remember, so you know where to focus your attention. Learning hacks help you identify what to study.

    And you shouldn’t try to learn everything at once. For short lessons, you can digest it all in one go. But for longer, denser knowledge, take it a piece at a time. If you try to learn too many things too quickly, your brain will have more trouble holding onto them.

    #9 Make Connections

    It’s a thousand times easier to learn when you can connect the information back to your own life.

    This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Our brains are wired to most clearly remember the things that we can use. Things we can’t use become background noise that’s easy to filter out. So one of the most helpful learning hacks is to make information usable.

    When you’re trying to remember something important fast, the quickest of learning hacks is to connect it to something you care about.

    Imagine that you’re doing new customer service training for your job. The lesson is walking you through different scenarios for how to respond to customers and how to resolve questions. It’s all specific to your company, and it’s not very interesting.

    But how can you use what you’re learning in your overall life?

    Sure, you probably don’t need to soothe angry industry-specific customers outside the workplace. But you do probably want to understand how to deescalate conflict, how to understand where the frustration comes from, how to create problem-solving solutions, and how to ace boring quizzes.

    You can learn about all of those things by paying attention to the lesson!

    Stop asking, “Why am I learning this? Why do I have to learn this?” Instead, use learning hacks and give yourself a reason.

    #10 Test Yourself

    Once you’ve taken in all the information and given yourself breaks, you need to test yourself. This works with learning hacks to let you know where you need to study.

    Some self-testing learning hacks include:

    • Flashcards
    • Practice tests
    • Summary writing without looking at the information
    • Teaching someone else the information

    In Conclusion

    You don’t have to have the highest IQ in the world to be good at learning. All you need to do is train your brain to retain information through learning hacks.

    Your brain is capable of amazing things when it’s given the right conditions. When you use learning hacks like sleeping enough, eating healthy, staying hydrated, and taking breaks, you give your brain a chance to work at its full capacity.

    It’s vital that you learn how to learn. Once you do this, you can master any skillset or breadth of knowledge. You have the power already.

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    Focus IQ

    Do You Want To Know Your Focus IQ?

    Takes 3 minutes

    Focus IQ

    Do You Want To Know Your Focus IQ?

    Takes 3 minutes