How I organise my learning process

I think that we all know, how important it is to keep learning process organized instead of just spiraling down from resource to resource.
In this post, I want to share a few tips and techniques, which I hope will be helpful also for you.

Even simple goals can be split into smaller ones to make our plans less abstract. It is important because of two things — first, our roadmap should be flexible, and big, monolithic strategies are not — and the second point is that big distant goal is not clear enough to give us enough motivation. The less clear our plan is, the higher the probability that we will not be able to stick to it day by day. Anything unexpected can happen, that will break your daily routine, and you will quickly resign from working towards your goal at this day if your goal will be too distant or too abstract — so split big distant goals into smaller ones.

The truth is that we cannot predict the future and we do not know what we will be thinking or how circumstances around us are going to look in a few months, or even in a few weeks from now. The process often looks like this -I decide to learn a new language, or I choose to commit myself to working out this year. I start by watching some tutorials, reading recommended book or by going to run for 15 minutes to the nearest park. At this moment I have some basic orientation about the direction I should follow to reach my big, distant goal but nothing more.

Soria Moria by Theodor Kittelsen (1881)

Like on the painting above, I can see the golden castle at the horizon on top of the mountains far away from me, and I know very well where I am standing now, but who knows what’s down below in the valley — everything down there is covered in a fog. So that is the road to my goal, seems encouraging, isn’t it? I cannot plan the whole way before I leave and there is no way to know if I will need to cross the river or go through a desert or climb or run. However, if I will be watching carefully, I will be able to see small signs that will guide me in a good direction. I do not know them now — I do not have even the slightest idea about where to look for them — I just need to watch for them all the time. Those signs are checkpoints that are splitting long road into smaller parts. The moments when you realize that you see them are also the convenient points to stop for a moment and reflect about your road. Do you still feel that your goal is worth achieving? What did you learn so far? Summing up your newly acquired knowledge, how do you think, which way through the foggy valley will be shortest or most pleasurable or most rewarding for you? You can only try to take a guess and keep learning.

That is why we must account for the unexpected in our learning plans or when we want to transform our lives by forming some new habit. Our plan must be a flexible one, built from small, clear goals. Small tasks are easy to adjust, and when they are clear for you, you will effortlessly find the motivation to accomplish them day by day.

Also, in contrary, when you meet some obstacles on your road, and you will — the big, complex tasks can quickly turn into chaos. Maybe you will even notice that you are acting without any plan more often that you would like to admit. Moreover, if your task will not be clear for you, then any excuse will be good enough, to postpone or ignore it. It is hard to do something new, and it is even more difficult to do something new that seems to be abstract and hard to imagine. Take your time to define right tasks for yourself that do not overwhelm you. It is essential to precisely recognize what must be done to consider given task finished.

When we are learning, what counts most is being able to follow with our plan for a long time, so small, flexible milestones that give us immediate feedback and are leaving us with satisfaction are more reliable than depending on willpower.

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” — Confucius

Ok, why do I write about all those things if my intention is just to describe few techniques that I find useful when I start to learn something new? Probably I should just write „Check out those four methods to organize your learning process, which I wish I had known years ago” and then proceed with pointing them out, but in this case, I feel, that a short introduction was essential.


Trello Boards

Divide your big goal into smaller tasks so that you can track your progress all the time. It can look like on the image below.

On your boards, you can create columns like for example:

  1. All things I want to do
  2. Tasks in progress
  3. Finished tasks
  4. Everyday and recurring tasks

or:

  1. All ideas
  2. Planning
  3. Developing
  4. Testing
  5. Done

alternatively, if you think that browser bookmarks are not the best solution when it comes to keeping track of things that you want to read later, you can create another Trello board and use it like this:

  1. All materials (Just keep adding interesting tutorials, articles, links, books to this column as cards. You can also add appropriate tags to any card.)
  2. In progress (Drag card from “All materials” here if you started to work with it)
  3. Finished (Drag card from “In progress”, when you have done your work with given material)

Flashcards

It can also be a good idea to use flashcards to stop forgetting about important things that you have learned (you can also set recurring cards in Trello using a plugin like Card Repeater but this in not exactly the same thing as flashcard). There are a lot of apps and websites that offer this functionality. The idea is to write a card with some brief information that you want to remember, and you should be reminded about this in a few days.

Have a place to write down ideas

Create a separate place in Trello or your notebook, where you will be able to immediately write down ideas for projects or activities that utilize the knowledge that you have gained that day. When something crosses your mind, just write it down quickly before you forget it. When you have some spare moment, you will have a list of interesting things to do or to create to extend your understanding of some topic.

Don’t break the chain

Persistence is so important when we want to learn anything. If you have continuous, unbroken chain of 10, 20, 30 days during which you have succeeded with sticking to your new habit, you will more likely hold to it for another one. Mark with a green color every single day in your calendar, during which you have done anything to be closer to your goal and keep it in a visible place.

If you combine those things, you can get a very intensive, well-organized learning experience that is trackable and filled with satisfaction gained from being able to achieve small, daily tasks. Even if you struggle with some frustrating problem for many days — you have still tried to solve it — mark this day in your calendar with green because you did not break the chain. Even if you are tired of attempting to resolve some hindrance, you have the list of ideas that you can start working on to regain the momentum.

So if we look again at Theodor Kittelsens painting — our goal is a golden castle at the horizon. The foggy valley is the learning process that we have only partial control of, the obstacles, failures, and victories that we will face down below on our journey are the moments that are giving us reflection about our road and idea how we should adjust our plan to make it even more efficient. Also, when we look at this painting it is easy to understand one more thing as well — that even if sometimes we share common goals with other people, even though we can and should help each other — everybody has an individual path and everyone’s journey is unique.

What now?

Time to turn “just another day” into “day one.” Decide which tools or techniques will be most efficient and create a system that will help you later on the road. Pick things that are worth packing to your backpack.

I hope that you will find some of those ideas useful, I am sharing them because they were useful for me.

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