Before you dive into this article I must mention that learning anything there is to know about everything is impossible. While it may be obvious that this is a fact, many of us struggle to accept the fact that we know enough about anything. I am one of those people.
As a web designer, developer, and entrepreneur I have this struggle day to day. I feel so far behind other peers in my community that I instantly feel incompetent in my skills. I strive to learn anything and everything I can but often find myself at wit’s end when I just can’t digest the new skills I’d like to acquire.
To overcome this obstacle one might think they must stop and learn this fancy new sought after skill immediately, but in reality, this is why we all have different job roles. Most people are great at a few sets of things and not so great at others. Combining forces and skills is what ultimately makes a great team. Teams can do more.
I often have to remind myself to niche out my skills and seek to improve those over others I’m not fully comfortable with. With those polished skills, I can stand atop many others who aren’t as great in the same niche.
This same principle can be applied towards a business. Establish a niche first and win the hearts of your consumers. Once they trust your brand then you can start to branch outside into unfamiliar territory assuming you need to.
Never stop learning
Even if you are niching out your offerings or skills you can still always be learning. I for one enjoy learning new things about the web design industry. New design patterns, guidelines, programming languages and more fascinate me. To learn these things I have to submerge myself in the community.
Doing this can happen both physically and through the internet. Forums, YouTube, Slack Channels, Newsletters, Blogs and more have become my blueprints towards fast paced learning.
Video, in particular, helps me tremendously which is why I set out to make Web-Crunch.com. A publication dedicated to showing the latest to do with the web.
Seek Guidance and Feedback
You can learn a lot alone. In fact, I learn best alone simply because I can go at my own pace. Until you apply your knowledge will you know if you’re indeed learning. The best way to do this is to dive right in and practice.
I, for example, begin building things when I want to learn a new language or form of web development. Books, guides, documentation, and videos only get you so far until you apply it.
The best way to validate your work is to test it. Put it in front of others. Apply what you learn and broadcast it to seek feedback or guidance from your community. Doing so will both allow you to confirm what you have learned as well as connect with others who may be doing the same.
Distractions can hinder progress a great deal when it comes to learning something new. Practice makes perfect. If practice ceases to exist your knowledge may do the same.
Limit social media, phone calls, texting, television, and opening tons of new tabs on your computer’s internet browser ;).
To learn you must focus on the task at hand. To learn fast you have to submerse yourself in the task.
I recently learned an entirely new framework known as Ruby on Rails. The framework itself is very approachable for a novice web developer but the knowledge of getting things up and running took me a long time. To understand the framework I spent an hour or two nearly every day for a couple months submerging myself in the Ruby on Rails community. I visited forums, watched YouTube videos, created very basic apps. I tried, failed and tried again until finally, things started to click.
Now some 6 months later I’ve successfully built my first web app that I plan to launch within the next year.
If not for focusing all that time on Ruby on Rails, I would still be learning and probably would have given up on it if it wasn’t my priority to learn.
We all have commitments. Being a human is a challenge. Often times family, work, travel, and more become things that can halt the learning process.
A good learner can schedule around these commitments and still devote time to obtaining new knowledge. Even if you only have a spare 15 minutes on some days to learn something new it is still worth it!
To learn you need to plan accordingly. Learning fast requires planning period. You don’t need to build a highly detailed calendar of learning or anything of that nature but I would suggest shooting for a set number of hours a week.
Allow yourself to get lost in your learning. I do this at times and as a result, come out the other side with so many more ideas. Learning is inspirational. Use it to your advantage.
The Downsides to Multitasking
One might think that multitasking is the most efficient way to learn.
Unfortunately, multitasking can actually hinder learning progress. It may even cause you to learn the wrong things as a result of constantly going back and forth between tasks.
We can only do so much at once. While multitasking is a good thing for skills you already have, it isn’t for obtaining new skills.
Spend some devoted time to learning and you will learn it at an accelerated rate.
Going back to my example about learning a new web development framework; had I not gone head deep into that learning experience, my knowledge would have suffered and that’s not counting the things I still don’t know.
Give yourself a free day every week
In a given week I tend to devote a single day to work on the things I have been meaning to. You can classify this day as my “side projects” day. These projects tend to be things I’m building, planning, or learning about.
To build some of these side projects I need to obtain a new skill I already didn’t have. As a result, large chunk of my “side projects” day is spent doing research, reading the trial and errors of other people learning the same thing and applying that knowledge.
These days in return give me immediate satisfaction in terms of applying new knowledge.
At your normal job, you may do repetitive things that are pretty mind-numbing or just uninspirational. While these tasks make the world go around, they don’t cause you to learn anything new. Your brain goes unactivated and as a result, you get caught in a comfort zone.
Until you step outside this comfort zone will you be able to digest new knowledge and learn new skills.
To learn anything faster you have to be all in. Submerge yourself into what it is you want to learn. Talk to others who are trying to accomplish the same goal. Together you can bounce ideas, questions, and concerns back and forth which ultimately makes you learn more while doing so.
Learning takes time, patience, and tons of practice. No one I know can truly learn something until you apply it. Give it all you got and you will come out the other side with new knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.