It’s not just the speed of learning that is important, but also making what you’ve learned stick.
Here are 9 ideas to learn smarter (and yes, faster!):
- Do your hard work first. Your circadian rhythm is telling you the best time of day to focus, all you need to do is tune in and listen. If you want to let your analytical brain take over, do your hard work 2 hours after waking up. So, if your alarm goes off at 8, your peak focus times are 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- Focus in short time increments. If you’re working throughout the night or sitting at your desk all day, you’re not helping your brain do its best work. It performs better when you space out your work. To focus more effectively, use a timer to work in one hour time blocks or for 25 minutes (the Pomodoro technique), then take a break: go for a walk, have a snack, run errands, prepare your next meal, or do a short burst of physical activity.
- Test the waters. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know everything in the book you covered or the course you completed. Chances are, you may be over-confident, and when the time comes to recall what you’ve learned, you may have a hard time. Keep yourself on your toes by testing yourself often: when you complete a chapter, close the book and try recalling the most important concepts. Which ideas did you remember? Why are they relevant?
- Boost learning with delayed exercise. Scientists found that people who exercised four hours after their study session retained new information better a few days later than those who worked out either immediately after studying or students who didn’t exercise at all. Brain scans from the study show that delayed exercising affects the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for learning and memory.
- Teach someone else what you learned. Teaching is not just for experts; it’s actually an excellent studying technique. Grab a close friend, then tell them the main points of what you read. Write an outline on a sheet of paper, explain the key concepts, and give an example or two of why they’re important. Ask them what they think and how they understood the material. You might even get a fresh perspective on something!
- Visualize your progress. This technique involves imagining in detail what you expect to happen as you learn something new. For example: visualize covering a certain amount of material (chapters, paragraphs, sections), taking notes on the important concepts you discover, writing down questions to research later. By telling your brain a story, you train it to anticipate next steps so that the entire learning process is easier to understand.
- Get more learning on the go. Forget the traditional methods and turn to technology when you’re on the move, for example when you’re commuting to school or work, or when you’re out walking or riding your bike. Listen to podcasts so you can feed your brain, learn a new skill, find ways to work on a life goal, or to get inspiration on your creative endeavors. It’s like having an audio encyclopedia at your fingertips!
- Use power naps for a memory boost. A power nap can maximize your productivity by helping you memorize new information faster. When we’re napping, our brain is still busy and the hippocampus is getting supercharged. When we wake up, the hippocampus re-activates the neural firing pattern that was active during the learning process, making it easier to recall the new material.
- Reset your brain with plenty of sleep. Don’t miss out on sleep, thinking that cramming before an exam all night will help you retain new information. Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce your cognitive abilities, can impact your concentration, and can even reduce your IQ. Train your brain to wind down at the same time each night with a simple nighttime routine that will help you chill out faster and more effectively.