How to Learn More in Less Time
Still wondering why you bungled an exam despite your preparations, hard work, prayers, and four bottles of Red Bull? Or had you experienced days when the planets magically aligned and everything you did in your basketball game fell into place, only to find later that the zodiac changed when you were manned by a foul-mouthed trashtalker who had an equally foul-smelling armpits? Is it possible to replicate the master-wizard proficiency of Floyd Mayweather in professional boxing, and Miyamoto Musashi in swordsmanship, who had never tasted defeat?
These are the questions that entered my mind when I contemplated the meaning of life, even if I’m not really that philosophically inclined, because I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder induced by my subpar (translation: dismal) performances in basketball games or exams despite my diligence and preparations. I noticed that in everything that I do, and in all areas of my life, my results started to go north when I began to ask the preceding questions and started to develop a system composed of tools, mindsets, and hacks that helped me to perform better and more consistently. This article is part of a series about the tools that I used in my system, which had greatly helped me to become more productive, focused, creative, impactful, and did I say happy, awesome, amazing, and ubercool?
This is not an exhaustive survey of all the tools out there, but I will only limit myself to the tools that I had actually used and are battle-tested in the great arena of life and in the real world of Warcraft. I don’t want to offer conjectures about the merits of tools I haven’t used because clairvoyance and precognition are not really my strong suit, despite dabbling in the I-Ching and Tarot. I want to focus instead, on the scant knowledge that I actually derived from the empirical use of these tools. Besides, at the end of these series, there would actually be too many tools that may be too cumbersome for you to use as a system—but this should not pose a problem because designing an optimum system for yourself means picking up and using only the tools that make sense to you. I myself no longer use all of them because I continually look for better and slicker tools, and I discard like a soiled, sweaty, and smelly pair of socks, the tools that are no longer as useful on my journey. Happy picking! Or pick at your own risk?
ACCELERATED LEARNING SYSTEMS
- DiSS-CaFE Method by Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is one of my favorite wizards and he is one of my virtual mentors. His book, “The 4-Hour Workweek,” catapulted him to fame and he published more bestselling books, such as “The Tools of Titans,” “Tribes of Mentors,” “The 4-Hour Chef,” “The 4-Hour Body,” and “The Tao of Seneca.” He is also the creator of the Tim Ferriss podcast, an entrepreneur, a venture capitalist, a Yabusame (horseback archery) practitioner in Japan, a National Chinese Kickboxing champion, and a Guinness record-holder in tango (no kidding). He calls himself a human laboratory and a professional dilettante on peak performance and his exceptional exploits speak a lot about the efficacy of his system, if you want to look for a proof of the pudding. DiSS-CaFE is his mnemonic for this system, which sounds like that ubiquitous brown bottle of caffeine overloaded magic potion that boosts your power level. Which is close enough actually, as to how this system works.
“D” stands for deconstruction or analyzing or taking apart the skillsets or areas of the field that we want to study. In basketball, we can deconstruct this into shooting, dribbling or ballhandling, passing, defense, speed and strength training, etc., plus toilet training for child prodigies who start really that young.
The second step would be “S” which means selection. This is the process of choosing or evaluating the important skills or the metaskill which is the most important skill that impacts how you use the other skills. The Pareto Principle is a good framework for evaluating 20% of the skills that may account for 80% of the results of the training.
The next “S” is sequence or the order of how we will train for the different skillsets. In my case, I usually do first the metaskill because the other skills will just fall into place. Sometimes, I also opt for training first in the area which is the weakest link in my repertoire of skills. Other times, I may go for a Band-Aid approach on my weaknesses and just cover them up, to focus instead, on optimizing my strengths.
The third “S” means stakes or committing to a voluntary and unpleasant task that will penalize your failure to achieve the timelines for achieving the goals. Ferriss suggests giving donations to organizations that you hate, like the Ku Klux Klan. Or why not the Lady Gaga or Blackpink Fans Club, or Trump for President Movement? I like Lady Gaga and Blackpink just so you know. Trump? Uhmmm…ahhhh…uhmmm…my lawyer-friend is telling me to invoke my right to remain silent.
“C” stands for compression or how to make the most of our time by using methods or materials which compress or accelerate the acquisition of skills. In football, playing futsal is the training which compresses the skills because futsal players have more contact with the ball because of the fewer players and smaller area of play compared to football. In exams, compression means using materials which significantly reduce the learning curve, or the time required to master the topics such as summaries or cheatsheets. BTW, cheating is not considered as compression—it’s acceleration.
The next step is “F” or frequency of practice or study. According to Daniel Coyle in his book, “The Talent Code,” the frequency of deep practice has a direct relation to the amount of myelin in our body. Physiologically speaking, myelin is basically, the building blocks of talent. The 10,000-Hour Rule, or sometimes known as the Ten-Year Rule, is the popular conception that it takes this period of time to produce world-class talent. This was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller, “Outliers.”
Tim Ferriss does not believe this, and he interposes the view that high-level skills can be developed in twelve weeks, or even six, based on his experience. It is respectfully submitted that the latter is entirely possible, because modesty aside, I was able to achieve world-class mastery not in twelve, not in six, but in as little as three weeks, in playing Plants vs. Zombies by neglecting my job and my social life.
The last step is “E” or encoding, which refers to the method for remembering the skills or process, in order to achieve consistency in performance. This may refer to a framework, an X-step process, or mnemonics, such as that used here by Tim Ferriss, and other similar methods. Keeping, and staring at the rejection letter that you had received from the head coach, or from your puppy love, is way more vivid and works much better and faster.
- Speedreading, Memory Techniques, Mindmapping, and Study Techniques by Tony Buzan
There are many books and articles treating these topics separately, but all of these can be found on “Use Your Head” by Tony Buzan. He has many other books about these topics but I had only read two of his books.
In essence, speedreading is done in the following steps:
- Reading in groups of words, instead of single words.
- Reading not at the normal speaking speed, but as fast as you can.
- Using a pen or index finger as a pointer.
- Not pausing at difficult passages but continuing on to the end. The parts that are hard to understand may be contextualized and understood, if you have seen the entire picture. Besides, you will have so much more time to review the difficult parts compared to conventional reading.
- Memory Techniques
This book contains different systems on how to memorize concepts, names of persons, number strings, a deck of cards, etc., which unfortunately, cannot be elaborated on the limited space of this post. These are similar to the methods used by Dominic O’Brien, to win at the World Memory Championship eight times. O’Brien also published books along this line. The time you’ll spend to study the memory techniques which are applicable to your specific field, or for your education in general, is really worth it, like all the time you’ve spent shooting terrorists and fighting avatars on your mobiles.
Mindmapping is a method for jotting down, organizing, and presenting ideas. It is organized around a central idea or the title of the concept which branches out into subheadings which are organized according to the relative importance of the ideas. The main topics or headings are found near the center while the more specific subtopics and subheadings are projecting outwards.
- Easier and faster to read than conventional notes because it’s less verbose and wordy.
- The ideas are presented in a more logical manner.
- The relationships between different ideas are more apparent.
- Better aesthetics because of the spiral pattern like a galaxy’s, and may incorporate drawings, symbols, colors, graphs, and other visual cues.
- There is better comprehension and retention because of the preceding reasons.
- It takes more time to prepare.
- Not suitable for lectures where full attention is required—the thought required for organizing the mindmap divides one’s attention and focus away from the lectures.
- During lectures, it draws a lot of stares, questions, and sarcasms from seatmates. Trust me on this because I speak from experience. Unless, you want your crush to notice you…
- Study Techniques
Tony Buzan has a system on how to study faster, more efficiently, with better retention, and greater mastery which he calls BOST or Buzan Organic Study Techniques. Lack of space precludes me from discussing extensively his system except that it incorporates speedreading, memory techniques, mindmapping, a method on how to study, and how, and when to review for optimum retention.
- Photoreading and Direct Learning by Paul Scheele
Paul Scheele is an author of books and courses on photoreading and other mind hacks. If speedreading is badass, think of photoreading as speedreading on steroids. In our information age, the ability to process information faster is a god-send whether you are consuming books, articles, blogs, or girly sites. Photoreading is a 5-step process:
To prepare means bringing our mind to a relaxed state of awareness and stating our purpose for reading. Our purpose, whether to have an overview of a new material, master a difficult field, to just read for sheer pleasure, the ultimate and most decadent bacon-wrapped meatloaf recipe, will determine how we will finetune the other steps.
Previewing means to browse the material and mentally note the structure and organization by going over the front and back covers, inside jacket, table of contents, keywords, highlighted or bold fonts, summaries, index, and other visual cues.
It is said that only about 10% of our mental processes is at the conscious level, the rest is subconscious. In essence, photoreading is different from conventional reading because its process seeks to leverage the power of the subconscious mind. This is done not by reading in single words or group of words as in conventional and speed reading respectively, but as its name implies, by taking snapshots of the pages at the rate of about a page a second. This is done by using “soft” gaze or peripheral vision to scan the whole page. Soft gaze and photoreading are superpower, but the gaze used by Cyclops to obliterate an entire library is not the kind contemplated here.
At this point, the reader has the option to continue with the next step, or take a break to allow the material to sink in, and give the subconscious mind more time to process the material, especially if you’ve photoread an entire book, a very lengthy online article, or an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Kidding. Spare the encyclopedia, or your eyes. Sleeping, the domain of the subconscious, helps a lot, if you have the time. Activation is done by super-reading and mindmapping, whether a mental or physical one. I usually do the mindmapping first so that I can organize the material and test my understanding of the topics.
Super-reading is done not by reading entire pages but by sort of, flying over a page and homing in on the parts where instinct, or inspiration, or similar terms, used to signify the action of the subconscious takes you. If a difficult passage is encountered, it is better not to linger too much and continue the super-reading because the difficulty may be clarified by the other contents, or by seeing the entire perspective of the book.
- Rapid Read
Rapid reading is done by reading the parts that you still need to work on. Like super-reading, rapid reading also does not require reading the entire material, but only the more important passages because not all pages or chapters are created equal. You should focus on the passages, pages, or chapters that provide the knowledge or information that you need. The exception is when you’re reading Fifty Shades of Grey for pure reading pleasure (translation: voyeurism) and you want to read the book in its entirety. You’re saying? Did I read it? WHAT A DUMB AND INSENSITIVE QUESTION!!! Of course, no self-respecting gentleman like me would do that! Not trying to change the topic, but shall we continue?
- Direct Learning
This is another of Paul Scheele’s accelerated learning system for mastering new fields in a short period of time. In essence, direct learning is done by collating the best books on the field that you want to master, and using his photoreading system as a metaskill to master the skillsets required to accelerate learning in this new field. Direct learning does not imply reading all the books from cover to cover but also uses survey reading or partial reading of books, depending on its relative importance or the needs of the reader.
- 3-Pass Method by Tai Lopez
I like this dude. His “67-Steps Program” made him famous at a young age. But he became even more famous for interrupting our Youtube viewing pleasure with his ubiquitous ads. On second thought, I unlike this dude. This is his 3-Pass Method:
- First Pass
Previewing the entire book. Browse the front and back covers, inside jacket, about the author, table of contents, summaries, or anything of significance. Do this for about 5 minutes.
- Second Pass
Skim through the chapters until the end of the book. Find the chapter that looks the most interesting to read. This can be done for about 30 minutes.
- Third Pass
Read an entire chapter or two, for about one hour.
Wise asses will object that this is a very superficial way to read. It is. But so are a lot of books out there. So many full-length books are best written as an essay (which has little or no prospect for royalties), and can be summed up in a single paragraph, or even a single sentence (compound-complex, hehehe). These kinds of books are inflated with anecdotes, examples, repetitions, redundancies, circumlocutions, and other fillers. So unlike this scholarly article which is not only full of substance, but is also backed by the highest standards of research and scholarship, written in elegant prose, conforms to the most meticulous APA standard for format and style, and presented with all the complexity, depth, nuances, and subtlety of zombie movies.
The 3-Pass Method can be used as a filter for these kinds of books and to determine if a book deserves the full treatment. BTW, since the devil is in the details, the fine print, or the Terms of Agreement with a red “Accept” button, there is actually a secret Italian sauce for the 3-Pass Method to work—the Pareto Principle. Choosing the chapter or two to focus on, is all about finding the kernel or golden nugget of the book, which is the 20% of the pages that accounts for 80% of the main ideas of the book. As a rule of thumb, or any available finger in case you have none, this is usually found at the preface or introduction, the first chapter, the last, or if there is a planetary alignment—in a summary or chapter summaries. When the zodiac does not so cooperate because of a certain guy named Murphy, you should don your Sherlock Holmes hat and stalk this kernel at the table of contents.
Now you know the secrets of those who claim to read a book a day. Or those who trounced you “effortlessly” in academics. But a few reminders: First, these systems may take some time to get used to. Do not learn them in the middle of your preparations for important exams or competitions, unless you are prepared to risk a temporary confusion and dislocation of your methods for a longterm upside. Secondly, not all readers are leaders… If you read the profiles of celebrities and leaders profiled in Tim Ferriss’s “Tools of Titans,” a lot of them emphasize the importance of taking action. Success is not about how well you read, but how well you execute. As Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, would put it, “If information were the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” Finally, don’t raise your expectation bar too high because you will not become the wizard of Hogwarts yet—there is more to achieving excellence than meets the eye. As a counterpoint to the tools, Einstein would say that “Too much reading creates lazy habits of thinking.” Comprende?
Now, how’s that for an anticlimactic and demotivational ending for an article on how to pursue excellence. If you have ubercool tools on your belt, toolbox, or two-thousand square foot walk-in closet, feel free to share your tools at the comment section, or you can email me at my “Contact” page. I will update this in the future after I have used better and slicker tools. Watch out for Part 2 of these series. Pax, pax!