Over the past year, I have put a lot of time into personal growth and learning. I decided if I am stuck at home due to the pandemic anyway, I should take advantage of the time saved travelling and use it to learn things.
One problem I have encountered over this time is building and optimising a workflow for learning. One of the biggest lessons I learned from university is that scattered, disjointed studying is nowhere near as effective as a focused process1.
So I’ve spent time trying out different processes throughout the year to see how they go. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is the power of a workflow. You can use as many fancy to-do lists or organisation techniques as you like, but if they don’t fit together, then it doesn’t matter; it’s merely a collection of disconnected processes. The overall workflow is greater than the sum of its parts.
The way I currently study is to do at least 30 minutes of dedicated reading on a morning. I do this as a habit to make sure I am always making progress and treat it as mental exercise - it is good for me whether I enjoy it or not. While reading2 I make sure to have a physical notebook to hand for taking down any notes or ideas that come to me as I read. It may seem like this slows my reading down, and it does, but it helps enormously with understanding and retention over the long term.
Later in the evening, I spend another 30 minutes reviewing the notes I took that day and transforming them into more comprehensive, fleshed out notes with references that I can keep in my digital notes database. I find that spending the time to let the ideas percolate in my head for the day is more helpful than simply digitising the notes immediately, and if I do it the same day, I haven’t forgotten anything yet.
I apply this process to anything I am trying to understand. The more widely I can use this workflow, the more effective it becomes to focus on the process and make progress through consistency.