Learning tips for those who hate being bored — for UX learners and beyond

Sharing some personal experience

If by any chance you are like me, staying still more than 15 full minutes gives you goosebumps and constantly feeling the urge to discover the world and everything that is out there RIGHT NOW, there is a good chance you might have already started learning a a new thing or two, switched your career to something more fulfilling or have a lot of awesome hobbies.

However, this is not always as glamorous as it sounds, as this can easily lead to either burn-out, or the lack of consistency in the efforts can back-fire, leaving you with just another half baked life checklist. Since I already gave away one of the key concepts I wanted to write about, let me start with it.

Consistency is key — for everything from learning how to cook, to human relationships. We are wired to look for instant gratification, beat ourselves up when we are not the best version of ourselves one day. Doing something consistently comes from the same family with “baby steps”. From my experience, it`s better to make smaller efforts in the long run, rather than burning all the fuel a day or two and then give up, invalidating all your efforts. If you don`t believe me, check out Janis below, I think he captures the idea quite well.

Move your tasks from your mind to paper — We all get overwhelmed by the amount of work we have, from work to personal obligations. If we are learning something new on the side, our schedule can easily turn into a nightmare. Imagine someone working in a very noisy environment, with some clients waiting impatiently in line, with the excel spreadsheet taking ages to load, they boss just dropping a pile of documents on their desk. Sounds like a (bad) ice tea or beer commercial from the 90`s, right, when the protagonist is about to have a break-down and run on a beach? Your brain is constantly bombarded with things to do and thinking about all of them at the same time, well..it turns into a bad commercial.

Of course the traditional checklist can work and is a valuable instrument, but one thing I like to do is take a couple of sticky notes, write everything I want to achieve for the day and then put them on one side. I will then move them on the other side when the task is done. You can of course use digital stickies if you like to or if you don`t have the space. I am a Miro fan, but you can use whatever works for you.

If I want to distinguish between priorities, what I like to do is put a dot on them — red can be highest priority or hardest to do, to green being the most pleasant or short tasks. But do whatever feels right for you.

If like me, you are a fan of both sticky notes and classic calendars, plus keeping screenshots and ideas close, I might have found the perfect solution. Why not use one in Miro? There are a lot of templates out there, but you can also create your own if you like. I recently discovered this one.

Never rely (just) on memory— This is something I have been practicing a lot more since I started my UX boot-camp (Mento Design Academy) and it proved to be extremely helpful and pleasant at the same time.

After each step in your learning process, take a step back and ask yourself why are you doing this. Something that helped me immensely was a habit I picked up recently: whenever I am working on something (be it user interviews, a user flow, brainstorming ideas etc) or simply doing my own things and I notice I feel a certain way or have an “a-ha moment”, I instantly write down my thoughts. It doesn`t matter if on paper or digitally. Digging into those thoughts later on makes the learning and discovery process so much easier. Everything starts to make sense and come well together, and bonus points: I become more aware of myself, my habits and my learning style. Otherwise, if I let my thoughts slip, there is a great chance I will forget about them.

Yes, you are reading an expanded version of my thoughts right now.

One thing I started using (one of the 100+ ways to write your thoughts) is Mind-Mapping. Although it can be used for way more purposes than just writing your thoughts, I sometimes use it to write down whatever comes to mind, and then expand on each of the words or sentences I write. It really doesn`t need to be perfect for this purpose, it is just a tool. I always say that my brain is the land of no return and chaos and this helps me get some structure.

Talk to an imaginary friend— wait, what? That sounds weird, but let me explain, I swear it`s a great exercise and it`s my personal favorite. You probably already have a good answer when people ask about what you do for a living, to make it sound cool or just to make them leave you alone, depending on who is asking. But how about the details of what you are learning? Can you explain them?

There is always a process to guide us, but following it blindly will get you stuck fast. Imagine you spent some good hours to learn about something, apply a framework, a new methodology. Now the imaginary friend comes and asks you: why are you doing this and why is it helpful to you? You should be able to explain to him, in words he can understand, why you spent time doing this effort instead of just having a coffee with him. You are allowed to slip in some swear words in there, but please, just don`t tell them “because the process says so”.

Talk to these friends whenever you want, the advantage is you can summon them anytime. You can of course talk to real ones, but make sure you don`t torture them with too many concepts on account of my advice.

Don`t force the flow — Those productive moments when you cannot stop reading, typing or drawing for hours are awesome, right? Feels like nothing and no one can stop you. Once you get a taste of them, it`s hard to cope with 2 lines squeezed in 4 hours, probably between an urgent e-mail, a call from someone, a pet to feed or a pipe that just burst in your kitchen. But you keep trying to get back, put yourself in front of the screen and put your smartphone away. 2 hours later, you have commented on 3 Instagram posts, browsed 2 articles and have chosen some colors for a project that (might) start in a month or so because you saw something nice on Dribble.

Happens to the best of us. Sometimes, you simply cannot stay in a flow state, no matter how hard you try. You feel uninspired or demotivated. From personal experience, a way to solve this is to not force it, or you will end up in the same pick up smartphone- browse- watch cat videos — put phone down — get frustrated vicious circle. It might not seem new, but what works for me is going outside for a walk, a run, talk to someone, water my plants (although they are almost dead), change the sheets — anything that gets you out of the rut and some additional oxygen. I promise you, you will get back in the flow state when you get back.

What if the flow is interrupted just by external factors? Airplane mode will be just as good!

Divide and conquer — It would be cool to divide power and be the next Julius Caesar, but the least we can do is divide whatever we want to learn in small blocks and give ourselves the time to really digest them. Never compare yourself to others, everyone has their own pace.

Speaking of pace, imagine running a marathon after training for only a month. Even if you do manage to finish it somehow, you might need to lie in bed for a couple of days after — or even more so — get yourself injured and be forced to stop running for good. And I mention this because I was just about to do the same mistake, but running 10k this time was the best decision.

Be proud of your work and what you have learned, even if it`s not perfect. Why will this help you learn better? Well, I can`t even think of how many brilliant ideas or projects are tossed away just before they have a chance, because they didn`t seem perfect in the beginning. And how much time and effort would be lost, starting everything from scratch.

When I was in Architecture school, I had an amazing drawing teacher. She encouraged us to draw and then draw some more. Needless to say — 80% drawings seemed worthless to us. When we were just about to go home at the end of the lecture, she used to cheerfully come to us and pick up the pen. She patiently looked at each of the drawings we considered a total fail, told us what is great in each of them, then just with a single touch of a pen, she added a line, or a color in one corner, something quick. We looked at her amazed how our drawings turned to works of art. They were not bad, they were just missing that tiny little detail, help or feedback.

For those of you who are studying UX/UI Design like me, you are for sure thinking about iteration, right?

There are still a couple of tips that I wanted to write about, but at this point, I fear that I might be taking too much of your time already. So, moving to some honorable mentions:

Explore your learning style and act accordingly — when I was a high-school student (nerd), I used to learn more when I was writing down what I`ve studied, over and over again, from memory. For those of you who would like to know more, here is a link to explore your learning style.

Get your hands dirty — practice, the advantages are self-explanatory;

Do something you love — Well, as much as I hate to insert way too overused phrases like “do something you love and you will never work a day in your life”, I have to admit it is kind of true.

All of those however, might not work, if we don`t actually start. So go ahead, make that first step!

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Raluca Maria Angelescu

Raluca Maria Angelescu

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UX/UI Designer .Everyone deserves a better designed world! Starting with the morning coffee cup and all the way through digital interfaces.