As an entrepreneur, you’ll be doing a lot of learning — if you want to be successful, that is. You’ll learn skills, which you can apply to your daily tasks and operations, facts and information about your industry, vendors, and competition, and of course, lessons on how to improve yourself.
But while you’re juggling the daily responsibilities of entrepreneurship and wracking your brain to solve the problems associated with them, you may find it difficult to learn new things.
These nine steps will help you learn anything, faster and more efficiently:
1. Talk to someone who’s already learned it. Think of something challenging you learned how to do, possibly on your own, from the ground up. You probably made a lot of mistakes along the way, and in retrospect, you probably know some shortcuts and tips that could have saved you a lot of time. This is almost universally true; even the most technical and complex subjects have shortcuts that can be taught by anyone familiar enough with the material. Your first step, then, is to seek out and talk to people who have already learned what you’re learning; ask them for advice, and you’ll probably get it.
2. Immerse yourself in the learning process. By now, you should know that multitasking is bad. When your brain tries to do multiple things at once (consciously), it usually ends up failing at everything. If you’re going to learn something, you need to immerse yourself in the learning process. If you’re taking lessons, or are reading a book, or are watching online videos, isolate yourself and focus only on that task. Turn off notifications, and don’t let yourself get distracted. You’ll learn much faster and easier this way.
3. Learn in short bursts. The best way to study (and preserve your attention) is to focus your efforts in short bursts, as in 20–30 minute chunks. Any longer than that, and your attention will start to dwindle. Try to schedule your learning sessions in these short blocks, rather than aiming for occasional marathon sessions.
4. Write everything down. For multiple reasons, we tend to remember things better once we’ve written them down. It could be because we’re forced to repeat what we’re hearing and thinking in a written format, or it could be a psychological “trick” that teaches our mind that this particular information is worth remembering. Either way, it works. Whether you’re taking notes or committing a lesson to memory, write everything down that you can.
5. Focus on the fundamentals. When learning something new, it’s helpful to ignore the fluff and focus purely on the most important elements of your subject. For example, if you can learn the 2,000 most common words of a language, you’ll be able to cover roughly 80 percent of the language. If you’re learning chess, memorizing openings probably isn’t as important as mastering the mid-game and basic tactics like skewering.
6. Find a way to self-correct. Our minds learn best when we’re met with immediate feedback. If something’s right, we need to feel rewarded. If something’s wrong, we should be corrected immediately; this also prevents us from practicing or rehearsing the wrong things. Your system of feedback may depend on an outside party, or semi-constant checking with a source (e.g., a book) to ensure you’re getting things right.
7. Practice consistently. There’s a common belief that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for anyone to get good at anything — perpetuated by the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Empirical evidence suggests this isn’t quite true, but there’s certainly a wealth of evidence that practice and repetition are your best tools for learning. This is the way our brains are wired; the more we do something, the more important it becomes, and the more entrenched it becomes in our memory.
8. Explain what you’ve learned to someone else. If you want to test your knowledge on a subject, try explaining it to someone else. This forces you to reword your innate knowledge, and revisit it from the ground up. It’s a perfect test to see if you’ve truly internalized something — or if you’ve just been going through the motions of learning.
9. Avoid the dip. The “Dip,” a term coined by Seth Godin, occurs when you reach a point of dissatisfaction or disinterest with your learning. You might no longer see the novelty in your subject matter or you might be feeling burned out; in any case, you’ll lose momentum, you’ll stop studying, and you’ll fail to master your skill or knowledge. You can avoid the dip by making your studying habits continuously rewarding; set up milestones along the way, and experiment with new learning tactics to keep from getting bored.
Learning new things while maintaining your role as a leader, visionary, and committed worker can be challenging, but it certainly isn’t impossible. With these strategies, you’ll be able to learn faster and more efficiently than ever before.
Give them a try while taking your next class, or learning a skill from a mentor or peer.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!