Enhanced autodidactism for the chronically lazy and hyperactive

19th Dec 2011

If you find it difficult to concentrate: you might think it is difficult to finish projects or learn new things. This requires protracted effort, not something you are able or willing to give. Maybe you’ll give up: why bother forcing yourself to continue when you have no natural inclinations.

But don’t.

Don’t try to push harder when you start to lose concentration. Do what you are most comfortable with: change direction and keep your energy levels high.

Here are my suggestions on the changes which I’ve found have made me a more productive learner:

  1. Set yourself very short-term goals. Goals that can be achieved in mere hours. Break tasks up.
  2. Build habits; avoid long-term goals. Build habits that ensure you progress. Goals, once set, will cause you stress. Habits become second-nature. (Particularly build the habits around the fundamentals.)
  3. Reduce transaction costs for habits of learning and productivity that you want to reinforce; increase transaction costs on habits that you want to stop. This was the strategy that I used to learn the guitar when I was younger. By carrying around my guitar while at home; placing the guitar in places where I did other leisure activities; and generally making sure that it was always in hand, it often caused me to spend hours more practicing than I would have otherwise. Additionally it removed ‘dead areas’ of time in which I wasn’t being engaged. Matt Might also writes about this idea here.
  4. Don’t force yourself to do something that you’re losing interest in. Very few people would be able to manage that without negatively affecting their mood and making themselves worse off.
  5. Move onto the next difficult task if you’re losing interest. To remain productive, all you need to do is challenge yourself: make sure that everything that you move to is difficult, useful and requires learning. Don’t take shortcuts. You can always come back at a later date when you’re less bored by the topic and have smarter solutions. Distract yourself with other work, not entertainment.
  6. Always do what you love (if you can). This is for your sanity but also your productivity: you can’t work as hard when you’re not enjoying yourself.
  7. Write every useful non-obvious bit of information down. Write in as concise and clear a way as possible. And write for yourself: what you find illuminating; what you found challenging; the example which exemplified the problem most. Every couple of days pick up one of your books and skim it. It will jog your memory and give your frames of reference so you are able to quickly pick things up if you need them at a later date.
  8. Network with people that have skills you want. Find mentors.
  9. Don’t overdo it. If you’re close to a burn-out you need to stop and find balance.

Discuss on Hacker News and LessWrong

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