You should never stop learning but it can be tricky to learn new things without getting overwhelmed. We are surrounded by how-to videos, self-help books, people with well meaning advice and blogs and websites (like this one) with how-tos and tips.
So what’s a person to do?
Learn New Things Without Getting Overwhelmed
1. Figure Out HOW You Learn
You’ve probably heard before that different people learn in different ways. There are people who firmly believe in this idea and those who believe it’s all hogwash. I’m in the middle. I’ve seen with my own eyes that some people need to see something to learn it while others need to try it with their hands. However I don’t think anyone should ONLY try out the methods that work best for them.
You may just know what type of learner you are and often people are a mixture of the different ones (Auditory – Hearing, Visual – Seeing, Kinetic – Touching/Doing) Here is a test you can try to help you figure out your learning style BUT be warned that it’s just a guide. It said I was an Auditory learner but I’m definitely not. Take the test with a grain of salt.
Visual learners should watch videos. Auditory learners should listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Kinetic Learners should find how-tos that they can follow along with or have someone show them how physically. Just remember, start with the one that matches your learning style but don’t ONLY stick to that style.
2. Speed Up Your Videos
I like learning with videos because with certain skills, seeing what you will be seeing when you do it can help imprint it in your mind. The problem with videos for me is that I’m a fast reader. It would take me longer to watch a video than to read an article. I also talk fast and understand fast so when someone talks, it often sounds like they are speaking very slow to me.
Most videos however give you the option to speed it up so you can watch it at a faster speed. Even if you aren’t on super speed like I am, training yourself to understand videos at a faster speed can save you time. Watching videos at 1.5 speed saves time by 65% Certain videos can be sped up faster than others. It all depends how fast they are talking to begin with. Start with 1.25 and work your way up. Make sure you ARE understanding it though. There is no point in speeding up the video if you come away from it not knowing what you were supposed to be learning.
Speed Up Videos on YouTube – click the little wheel to get to options
3. Pick Certain Times for Research
Instead of stopping what you are doing to look something up that you have come across, make a certain time each week for research or learning. For example, maybe Sunday will be your research day. Keep a running list of skills you want to learn more about and on that appointed day, sit down at the computer or at the library and do some research. If during the week you find out about a certain thing you don’t know how to implement, add it to your list and look it up on your research day.
4. Do Something Productive First
Researching new skill scan pull us in just as much as social media does. I know I can think, “Oh I’ll just look up how to do X and then go back to work.” The next thing I know it’s hours later and sometimes I haven’t even figured out how to do X because I got side tracked. If you need to figure out how to do something and it can’t wait till research day (see above) then make sure you get something productive done first.
With blogging as an example, perhaps I’m working on a blog post and then I notice that there is an error on my website I’m not sure how to fix. That can’t wait till research day because it’s an error. But it can wait till I finish writing my post. If I stop writing to fix the error, I will have to go back to the post at some point and will have lost my groove.
5. Make Notes and KEEP Them
Watching a how-to video or reading an e-book on a certain skill is good but if the next day you’ve forgotten what you learned, it’s not really that helpful is it? There was a reason we were told to take notes in school. You need something to refer back to at a later date. Take notes but not on some random piece of paper. Keep a notebook specifically for taking notes when learning something new or use papers in a binder so you can sort them. Keep the notes.
This is especially important if you are learning about something you don’t plan to use yet. Perhaps you are trying to absorb information on starting a webinar but you aren’t ready to do that till next year. You need to keep notes on your research somewhere safe so next year when you are ready to implement them, you have all the information you learned in one spot to refer to.
6. Be Mindful While Learning
Mindfulness has to do with keeping your mind focused on the task on hand and not getting distracted by something else. If your mind is elsewhere while you are watching a webinar, listening to a conference speaker or reading a blog post it will take you twice as long to digest it which is a waste of time. Have you ever read the same paragraph over and over in a book before? It happens because you are distracted.
You can’t control everything but do what you can to eliminate distractions. Turn off Facebook, put your phone on vibrate, go into a room by yourself or sit as close to the speaker as possible. Practice mindfulness when you aren’t learning so you can bring your mind back to what you are focusing on if it wanders when you are learning. I highly recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness book.
7. You Can’t Do It All
There are millions of books, webinars, podcasts and online courses available. You can’t do it all. If you sign up for every free or paid course or download every eBook on the topic you want to learn you will just overwhelm yourself. This is what we are trying NOT to do. Take some time to look into the course, webinar or book you are interested in and find out if it’s for you. Check out the testimonials/reviews and the syllabus or table of contents. If you start a course or book and it’s not working out for you, dump it and find a better one. Don’t feel like you HAVE to finish it if it’s clearly not for you.
Trust me, I WISH I could read every book in the world but I just can’t, and neither can you.
8. Understand the WHY
When you are learning, the speaker or author or podcaster or webinar host will be telling you to do things. Make sure you understand the why. Why are they telling you to do it? Why are you supposed to do A before B? Why are you supposed to do it THAT way? You need to understand the why to really understand the skill. Following a plan someone lays out for you is not learning a skill. It’s being a follower. If they why is not covered and there is an opportunity for feedback, ask for clarification.
9. You Need Alone Time
You need time to digest what you have learned and this works best when you are alone. So many times I have been thinking about something I read or learned or heard while I was alone. I worked through any questions I had or confusions I had about the skill/task. I do my best thinking when I walk to pick up my kids from school or when I’m alone in my office but haven’t started any work yet. Or when I have migraines surprisingly enough.
When I have mad migraines (which is a lot) I can’t read or type or watch TV. I have to just lay in the dark, absolutely still with a cold pack on my head. When I’m not sleeping, I’m thinking. I’ve planned blog posts, thought about ideas I’ve had and thought about things I’ve learned or read that I hadn’t fully figured out yet. Trust me, you need alone time.
10. Learning is Only Half of It
All this learning is great but remember, you have to implement the idea, practice the skill or use the workbook to see any good come of it. At some point you have to stop being a passive learner (reading/watching/listening) and be an active learner (doing). How many self-help books have I read and ignored the questions or tasks included with them? Too many to count. All that reading was really wasting my time. Self help books and do it yourself courses only work if you DO something.
11. Learn With Others or Share
Have you ever heard the advice that if you want to start working out, you should get a work out buddy? Someone to keep you on task, bounce ideas and troubles off of and someone to share your wins with? Well I say you need a learning buddy. Find someone who wants to learn the skill too and learn together. Or at the very least, share with others that you are learning a new skill and keep them updated on how you are doing.
Status Update: Hey all. I’m learning to knit and here is a picture of my first creation, what do you think?
Status Update: Hi guys I am learning how to do X with this video here. Wanted to share in case anyone else wants to learn with me!
I hope these tips will help you learn new things without getting overwhelmed in the future.