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Ask HN: How do you manage multiple learning projects?
161 points by jansho on Nov 5, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 78 comments
Hey all and happy Sunday,

I have a lot of learning projects in the pipeline, and selected three for this season (3-6 months.) I don’t aim to master them; I just want to have a good (non-superficial) understanding of the overall picture, and to be moderately proficient in applying the principles/tools.

For background, the projects are art (moderately skilled), data science (only interested in foundation/background level) and reading (practise covering as much as possible, without sacrificing thoughtfulness.) There is also a new language but I’m keeping that very light (radio and penpal exchanges only.)

Even though they are meant to be recreational, and I have learning strategies for each of them, I sometimes struggle to juggle between them. I also have other commitments (I would say the ratio of commitment:recreational is 60:40). It’s a bit frustrating and I feel that it’s more of a personal flaw, as I know that many others have even less recreational time, yet successfully diligent with their learning projects. (I don’t beat myself too much though, haha)

So, I am interested to hear about your learning projects, how you manage them without losing your sanity, and how you maximise short time periods. Plus your own tips for learning. Thanks :)

Sorry for the non-answer but my advice is to not have many projects going on at once. 3-6 months feels like a long time but they'll go by quickly.

Maybe it's just me but every time I try do more than a few things at once, even if they are fun (programming, book or many books, language learning, deep dive into a director's films, and even stuff like long story-heavy video games) I end up making very slow progress, not retaining much, and feel "stressed" about time management.

My solution was to do less and allot more time to relaxing. Nothing bad's going to happen if I push some of my lower priority projects to a later date when I am done with others. I do work full time and have a fairly active social life so I may have less time than you. What I learned I personally a) do not have time/energy for more than two projects at the same time b) cannot last more than a few weeks being "productive" 24/7 - I need non-sleep relax time.


For a more concrete answer - make a schedule and realistic goals. Looks like reading and data science and fit into a schedule of at least an hour a day (never more than every other day) in which you can make progress. Try to make a schedule and stick to it - once you have a routine it's easy. Not sure what the art one is, but if it's more about creativity than raw practice you can wait till you feel inspired to make something and clear out some time. Do give yourself time to relax though.

This is the dilemma that I have, I have a burning desire to do everything. Actually I had eight (eight!) projects, and naturally found it overwhelming. Finally got the list down to (about) three, but it’s still mentally-taxing to switch between them and keep track of progress. Despite all that, I love learning them... this up-and-down feeling is really tiresome

Two projects is a lot. The only reason I attempt two is that I like some variety. I'm not sure why you think people are doing more with less time...they're probably not.

I know exactly how you feel. This was a sign of bipolar disorder in my case. YMMV

From my POV it's a great answer and good advice!

I had trouble keeping focus on one project, because I feared missing out on the other things I wanted to do. In the end I not only overworked myself but in retrospect had no long lasting contributions I would still feel proud of. For me it worked to reduce the amount of projects I'm involved with and then make big and useful progress. And to guard some time off to just do nothing (which in fact is time for the brain to reflect and should be taken very seriously regarding mental health).

I second the advice, and suggest Anki SRS software https://apps.ankiweb.net/ for remembering what you have studied.

I have a different problem, not just it is difficult to study simultaneous subjects, but due to family or professional duties, sometimes I spent sometime without studying it I feel that I forget a lot of stuff. Anki helps me stay sharp and space more my study sessions.

I am with you on this one. I tried to 'do it all' in the past, without really good results. Now I just try to work, practice my religion appropriately, and exercise a few times a week. Everything else is done whenever I feel the urge only. Seem to be getting more done, paradoxically

I've come to the same conclusion myself. I have a 3-6 month project/learning goal generally called "The Big Ticket" that is priority number one, and anything else I learn is secondary to that. This way I don't end up being scattershot in my priorities for the long-term (which is easy to do in the short-term).

What's been helpful for me has been organizing projects into a hierarchy (you can use something like Trello, or you could just wing it like I do)

  - Unproven ideas aka "disposable things I want to just play around with"  
  - Things to explore further aka "ooh maybe I could flesh this out into something cool!"  
  - Things to polish aka "okay let's do the grunt work to ship this"
Otherwise, I've just become okay with having a billion unfinished things. I spent the last few months learning OCaml, and put code[1][2][3][4] on GitHub without feeling like I need to "finish" or "ship" anything.

The code might prove useful to a passerby, or it may not. To me it doesn't matter too much - no real downside to just "putting it out there"

My motto is basically: Feel free to rm -rf, git push, or even go as far as to make a fancy landing page. Just have fun and don't forget to share whatever you learn.

[1]: https://github.com/jdan/ocaml-micro

[2]: https://github.com/jdan/ocaml-data-structures

[3]: https://github.com/jdan/ocaml-calculator-game

[4]: https://github.com/jdan/ocaml-web-framework

This is exactly what I do. The last few months learning rust I've created a lot of "disposable" things to play with[1]. I use GitLab groups and subgroups to sort my projects into essentially those categories.

[1]: https://gitlab.com/iron-oxide

I like the way you prioritise! You say that you have a billion unfinished things, do you have a way to keep track of them, so that in the future you can pick one up right away?

I used to use Trello but it didn't prove to be too helpful - it led to me thinking I was being productive just by shuffling cards around, when in reality I was wasting my time.

So I pretty much just wing it, and when I get a wave of motivation for something (compilers, frontend tech, blah blah blah) I just ride it. When I don't, I try not to fret too much.

Create a website for each. Add to it as things come up.

A lot of people are suggesting that you limit the number of projects, but an alternative approach is to limit the amount of time each day that you spend on each subject, yet maintain a consistent schedule.

I always remind myself "15 minutes a day is better than an hour every three days". But in order to prevent getting over-stressed about time and how quickly you're learning, you have to put your ego aside and simply stick to a schedule of learning a little bit of each subject every day.

That means limiting yourself when you want to go on a binge just as much as it means making time to get your 15 minutes in. Three days of binging on a subject can start to build pressure that you should maintain that level, and that's not sustainable.

Small amounts of new knowledge, every day, until you've hit your goal.

No matter how old you are, you still have plenty of time to take things slow.

I agree about the schedule. I currently have 2 hours a day for learning. I spend an hour at a cafe reading (currently Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari) every morning before work. And an hour at home after work before anyone else gets home to do software stuff (currently learrning/implementing Stripe payments). Then on top of that if I have free time in the weekend I spend it on whatever project excites me the most(learning to sketch atm).

I think that building up strong habits around what you are working on makes it easy to maintain momentus.

I also agreee that even small increments of time can incredibly productive, like listening to an audiobook during a 15 minute commute.

How do you find Sapiens? I started reading it (about pg. 50 now) but I find it too full conclusions/statements that are not really founded on data. Basically, it tends sets up two or more premises and then somehow draws a conclusion that isn't in anyway related to the original premises (i.e: almost pseudoscience).

I am nearly finished now and really enjoyed reading it. The book leaves me with more questions than it answers, I appreciate this in a book though.

It provides just enough information to interest you in a subject, then offers a few common theories with a reasoned most likely case (this is especially prevelant in the beginning of the book due to the lack of information available about humanity tens of thousands of years ago). Most of the assumptions made though are not the author's and there are references in the Notes section at the back if you do want to pursue these further.

I agree on limiting time the amount of time you work per per day to maintain momentum, but for me (and perhaps some others), its also really helpful to limit the number of things you work on per day to cut down on context switching costs -- for three projects, spending 45 minutes per day working on one project (and rotating which one i work on each day) as opposed to 15 minutes per project each day. Thought this also strongly depends on the type of learning.

I do a combination of the two which so far has not let me down

I totally agree with you. The "every day a little bit no matter how little" can take you way farther and I believe it's usually the most sustainable way to approach personal goals or learning projects.

Actually I followed that motto to build https://everydaycheck.com which is actually about that, to work on goals every day. One of the tricks I always share is to quantify the daily milestone, like "15 minutes of learning js" or "run 3km"

This is interesting as I’m attempting to replicate a normal school’s curriculum. At school, we often take 4-6 subjects a day, which I now realise is the aspect I enjoyed most, and missed terribly at university. But now, it’s not so easy with other commitments, and also there is almost no mentor/peer support.

15 minutes per subject per day is a bit controversial for me though, as when I get into the swing of things, I work really hard. But I’ve never thought about this affecting momentum, perhaps my getting overwhelmed is actually a sign of burnout

I used to go through one or two Coursera courses at a time. Just whatever seemed useful and/or interesting at the time. I had my employer pay for their certificate program on one course (the first part of the Nand to Tetris course, which might be my favorite course on there).

Now I have them paying for an online MS and I have no time for any other projects, as much as I'd like to.

Something I found when I did have time for side projects (and which I now employ for some schoolwork), is that it was immensely helpful to have milestones. I do this when I'm programming an intimidating program, too.

I start by taking a tiny piece that can technically run on its own. Then I write and debug until that piece works and I can add on another piece. By seeing the thing actually working as I go, it keeps me motivated and focused on the next small step rather than getting overwhelmed by the overall project.

Debugging as I go also keeps the defects at any given time at a manageable number, which probably has applications in other places as well (such as regularly practicing a language to weed out bad pronunciation habits early or what-have-you).

I am a bit biased here, but I actually made a project to solve this issue for myself.

I always found myself spending a lot of time trying to find the 'best' resources to learn a thing or sometimes even researching what learning a thing even means. So I decided to build a tool that helps visualise these learning tracks for any topic you want to learn about.

Perhaps you've seen this popular repository for learning Web and Mobile Development (https://github.com/kamranahmedse/developer-roadmap). This is very similar, but interactive and for every topic.

It's also Open Source and we often stream the development of it.

[Website] : https://learn-anything.xyz/

[Code] : https://github.com/learn-anything/learn-anything

[Stream] : https://go.twitch.tv/nglgzz

Are you the owner of learn-anything? I like how the pathways are mapped out like a tree. It’s great for guidance, but isn't taking the time to figure out your own learning pathway also beneficial? Because you have your own needs and way of learning after all

Technically since Learn Anything is fully Open Source website published under MIT licence, there is no owner. But I did start the project, yeah. :)

And I understand your concern with a learning path being a personal thing and something that is quite helpful to make yourself. However this website will very soon be completely open to the community and thus anyone will have a say in what they they think the best path for learning some topic is.

This is really awesome, thank you for starting the project. When I research for a learning plan, I often look at other people’s learning plans for guidance. Then as I go through the plan, I adjust accordingly. I like that the learning plans on the website can be community-edited, but because there can be no best learning plan, it would be even more awesome if you can have multiple high quality (based on votes) learning plans for a single subject. Hmm

Ever look into the pomodoro technique?[1]

I use it with the pomotodo app: https://pomotodo.com/

Give it an earnest try for ~3days, I'll bet you're addicted by the end of it.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPC9zPnmXRk

Variation on the pomodoro theme: Zen Programming. Coders code for the long pomodoro beat and meditate during the 5-10 minute short break.

What a coincidence, I’m waiting for my tomato timer to arrive! I am definitely trying this, thanks

Are you waiting on a hardware timer to use for Pomodoro? because there a lot of software software Pomodoro timers available (e.g. "https://tomato-timer.com/"). Since most of my study is on the computer (Coursera, edX, etc.) a Pomodoro app fits perfectly into my study workflow.

I actually prefer hardware because I find phone timers distracting (i.e. I start procrastinating on the Internet!)

I do agree with you. Actually, excuse my shameless plug, I am selling "hardware" pomodoros https://PomodoroHourglass.com

I use Beeminder to keep myself accountable. Learning a language and taking 2 courses currently.

Woo-hoo! Thanks for the Beeminder plug!

I was about to sign up with my google account, but the app requested permission to allow beeminder to .. view my email messages and settings. Is that a mistake?

It's because of our gmailzero.com integration where you can mind your Gmail inbox. But, yes, it's super dumb that we don't separate out those permissions and are freaking people out by asking for them just to sign up...

Thanks so much for pointing this out!

I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with a lack of focus in my learning projects. My focus tends to cycle between some 6-7 subjects. In an effort to tame this, I have come to believe in the power of (a) concrete milestones and accomplishments, and (b) external accountability.

For example, I have wanted to learn Sanskrit for some time. Rather than pick up a book and work through it yet again, I enrolled in two correspondence courses that gives out certifications. I also have classes roughly once a week with an online tutor.

Similarly for Mathematics and Physics, I am preparing for and plan to write a nation-wide exam meant for MSc/BSc students in India as a minimum validation of my knowledge. I am also doing a correspondence course in BSc Physics/Maths from an accredited (in India) distance learning institution. Their assignments and exams, while easy, provide a basic timeline for my progress.

For Machine Learning and AI, I have completed several courses on Coursera and edX, but I found that even though I earned high grades in many of these courses, my grasp of topics - especially the theoretical side - wasn't satisfactory. I am re-doing some of those courses again, and intend to work through a standard text or two for the ideas to truly take root, but we'll see.

I am also interested in philosophy - both Indian and Western - and have read some material on it over the years, but I don't know what milestones are suited for it. I have considered writing up reviews of fields (such as ethics or epistemology) as a summary of my own understanding, but right now I don't have the bandwidth for this.

This was in addition to several other learning projects, such as Karnatic music and functional programming. For Karnatic music, I had a weekly session with a music tutor, and for functional programming, I forced myself for a while to commit programming exercises to github. I later quit both these projects to make room for the other learning projects.

Ooh this I can relate. My projects are nowhere as heavy as yours, and even when I attempt to set milestones, I find that I rebel against them in very creative ways. I’ve learnt to be ‘flexible’ instead. It’s a matter of slow-training yourself I guess. Good luck with your projects

I can advise managing multiple projects because I haven't figured that out myself, but I have a small tip: You can probably quite easily squeeze in an hour or more of audiobook listening a day. I know I manage, and I have ten minute bike commute. But I also wash dishes, clean up the house and do lots of small chores. It has reached a point where I reach for my headphones even if I'm just going around the corner for milk.

And when I say audiobook, that includes MOOCs and other recorded lectures, you can access a wealth of free, university level material online if you want to move past popular science audiobooks or Teaching Company lessons (not that they aren't great).

This is interesting and very applicable. But will this work with some online lessons that includes visuals like presentations / minor viz?

Not op but I do these same things and the answer is a pretty solid “no”. I have tried so much haha.

For thay reason, this approach is limited but highly valuable. I’ll explain how I do it.

Most programming material acn’t be learned this way, but programming podcasts are good for learning about what to learn and for learning methodoloy! I have been listening to the ‘Test & Code’ podcast lately and, especially for a novice Python programmer, this podcast has a lot of this type of knowledge.

I try to avoid podcasts of news and gossip because I do enough of that and more efficiently on HN.

Lectures interspersed with visuals are basically not doable. You’ll find yourself interrupted and distracted from the central activity (commuting, chores) and you lose flow.

Probably the best use I have found for this is for spending time in “hobby topics”. This lets me sort of outsource the effort I spend with my hobby topics to when i am doing other things, preventing the hobby topics from intruding on productivity.

I love media theory, history and philosophy and these things can be discussed with no visuals, and there are many great lectures and academic courses available. This stuff often even informs the creative areas of my job.

My favorite hobby topic is art history but having to stop what I’m doing to reference a visual work is too distracting :(.

As gt says, it depends a lot on the subject. I’m very interested in biological anthropology for example and here it works fine. Sometimes I have to go back to video versions of the lectures.

Generally speaking, except for aubjects such as history I don’t think it can be used as the sole approach to learning, but many cases I think it can be a useful part. You’ll need to hear things more than once anyway!

Time taught me to focus on one thing. It removes the feeling of not making progress across multiple projects.

Can you expand a little bit more on this please? Did you gradually trained yourself to focus more?

I developed a rather simple system called 0 to life. It focuses on achieving goals in the short, medium, and long term. The main idea is that you focus on breaking down goals (like code) in periods of six months. That way, you have enough time to try something and not lose a lot of time. It also allows for you to build on top of past success.

For example, one of my goals was to write a technical book. I did not achieve it because I realized that the goal didn't fit me at that point in life. It wasn't a total loss because I learned a lot from the experience.

Another goal was to release more open source code in a six month period. This is something I did by releasing three different projects. That goal also taught me a lot of valuable info that I can apply in the future.

The beauty of this approach is that you dont have to focus too hard. Having 6 months means you can still enjoy life. It also allows you to pick your goals well (organize them).

Say you want to learn a natural language, learn ML, and go to Japan. Rather than try and do everything as soon as possible, you'd proritize which you want to do first knowing that the others will also get done. You can now organize the goals using whatever metric you want. Which is liberating because there no longer is any pressure related to missing out. If a given goal doesnt workout, all you have to do is wait until the next 6 month period arrives to move forward. This also provides the benefit of using the time between bigger goals to try new things and not feel like you are wasting time.

Look at it this way.

Let's say you're interested in, Machine Learning, Embedded Programming and VR, but you know nothing of any of them.

Really it goes beyond interest, we're not merely interested, we want outcomes. In 6 months time, I want to be able to make a nice computer vision project etc.

Let's say your estimates for how long each subtopic takes are 100% correct. A subtopic in itself, however, may not be very useful. It may be that you need to study perhaps 5 or 6 subtopics consecutively to be able to actually make something, or do something, or properly reason about something.

Then we split your focus over three major topics - given that it takes 5 or 6 subtopics to do something useful, you find yourself in a position where you're doing quite a bit of time management, quite a lot of studying, but you're not actually able to do anything for a long time. That knowledge you're building is just there, not actually useful or satisfying.

With this kind of self study, it's a bit like dieting or exercise. If you don't enjoy it, eventually, you'll stop. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be next week, but eventually, people will tend to just drop it if it's not satisfying.

Learning is hard, but I don't think it's hard in the way that topics are complex, I think it's hard emotionally, because it's kind of tough being 'not good' at something, especially if you're good at similar things. It only gets harder the longer you sit in that 'not good' zone and splitting your focus forces you to sit in that zone for longer.

That said, sometimes you're in a situation where having the ideal level of focus isn't possible - I certainly am in that situation. In which case, prioritisation helps manage learning. But at least one of the learning projects has to be progressing quickly, for me.

I don't.

I think flow and planning are on opposite ends of an uncertainty principle. The more in-flow you are the less you need a plan, and the more you plan the harder it is to get into flow.

Sometimes I fall deeply into a subject I had no real interest in previously. And I have many projects I would like to work on but never seem to have the time for. So be it. A good life is lived beyond measure.

Flow works when it is possible to keep everything in one's head and when prioritization is clear.

As I've gotten older and taken on more and more-complex work, planning has taken increasing importance.

I find planning to be an essential communication tool and most of my work involves planning. I think I miss-stated my point. My point is that I don't know where to spend my time, when learning new things, until after I learn them. That I can't predict where my struggle will be.

One thing that helps me is when the learning projects are somehow related. From the book “Make it stick” , I learned to make connections. For example to ask yourself, how does this relates to stuff I already know. So, using this principle, if I’m able to make a connection between something in project A and another in project B, it helps me remember both.

I have been thinking about this as a busy parent.

I just have one tech side project. It'll take as long as it takes. I now try to use similar tech as I do at work for expediency and to help with my job.

My non tech project is losing weight. I've made the process as lean as possible. No cardio just weights and eating less for now.

So I guess my answer is focus on few things and ruthlessly optimise.

I make notes for each project in a google doc, i.e. collecting material as if I was going to do a write-up or talk on the project. That makes it easier to set things aside for a while, and if you discover something by accident while you're not working on the project, you can make notes in the document to return to.

Great question. I guess effective time management is the key here. I would recommend blocking times during the day to focus solely on your learnings. Avoid distractions and then push through until the time is over. It´s also very important to plan in buffer times of 10-20 Minutes to get into the zone again after taking a break. Yeah, it´s also really important to take breaks! Don´t underestimate the power of breaks. Last but not least I´d recommend using some kind of planning tool. Either a simple To-Do List or a daily calendar or both. I can recommend https://zenkit.com. Zenkit is an all-in-one project management solution that lets you view your information in the right view at the right time. This way, you´ll be more efficient and can get more done.

I used to enrol this course on Coursera. It called Learning How to Learn. It would be helpful for you. http://coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Do you by chance have the summary of the course? Like your top 10 takeaways.

I'll contribute one takeaway. When you read information and in the moment understand what its saying, you feel like you've learned it, but you really haven't.

To learn it you have to try writing it yourself, then checking it against the source to make sure you didn't miss anything or make errors. Once you can discuss an idea fully and correctly, then you've learned it.

Why I still use paper and pen when taking notes.

Thats great. Thank you.

I forget who the author is but these notes were posted on HN a couple months ago:


I wrote a blog post for the final assignment (years ago, so I don't remember what the exact assignment criteria was). http://jpeeler.github.io/memory/

I would advise the opposite than most: Focus on one thing at a time, if that requires a lot of effort. Multitasking is not as good as it has been marketed to us.

For instance, I was studying for an IT certification, while at the same time reading books and working on a side project.. guess how much time went by without me accomplishing it (although I advanced some on the other 2), but my main focus was the cert. Anyways I ditched all the other disctracting things, focused and put all my effor only on the cert and I got it in two weeks.

Also, focus on stuff that you will use and/or try to apply what you learn, and make PRIORITIES of what you want at the moment, so you can choose the correct thing to focus right now.

I don’t. In the excellent words of Ron Swanson (Parks and Rec):

“Never half ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”

You could do the obvious thing and focus on a task or two at a time. I'm not sure how much more obvious it could be here.

Since these projects are merely for recreation, why are you trying to juggle them? Don't. Just focus on one at a time. Reach the point you want to reach and then move onto the next. You will make more progress this way too. Context switching has a lot of cognitive costs. Focus!

Thanks everyone for the high quality responses, really made my day. I’m going to attempt to systemise all the suggestions made, and try out those that suit me best.

And good luck with your learning projects! So humbling to see that many of you make learning literally lifelong :)

I built an app for this exact reason. I like working on a couple things at a time including usually at least one online course.


Here are my thoughts. I've managed to independently learn a decent amount of stuff and do some decent side projects, but I don't claim to have any great insight. In fact maybe everything I have to say is obvious, so take this for what it's worth.

Consider doing less. If you are working a full time job, then depending on exactly how serious you are, 3 learning projects is likely overkill. (But I tend to do the same thing myself.)

Pick the resources you'll use in advance. I've generally had a negative opinion about video lectures, preferring books, but I've somewhat changed my thoughts lately. In particular it's nice to be able to follow a course as it was taught at a serious university, with a syllabus and schedule all laid out for you.

Set a weekly schedule in advance. Something like, M/F I'll watch a data science lecture and Tu/Th I'll do art. Whatever. Include a planned endpoint: by this date I will be finished with the 9 chapters of this book I plan to cover.

Each evening, write a brief journal entry about what you accomplished that day. Also write out a schedule for the next day. I like to put at the top of my daily schedule a list of the major tasks I want to accomplish that day, and then also a couple "extras", which are things I can work on if I turn out to have extra time. The extras can be large or small, but it's nice if you have a small one because you can cram it in wherever you have free time. Even something like "Problem 12.3 from this textbook, which I couldn't figure out last week". If you randomly turn out to have 10 minutes free, well pull out your notebook and think about that problem for 10 minutes.

(By the way, I know an eminent mathematician, one of the few who has done serious work in multiple fields, who says one of the attributes that has helped him the most is his ability to efficiently context switch and get serious work done throughout the day. If he has a random 18 minutes free, he is going to make 18 minutes' worth of progress on a research project.)

Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't break the chain" idea is nice.

As far as tips for learning: engage and fight with the material, do projects incorporating what you're learning, make connections to other things you know. Incorporate reviews of earlier chapters/lectures, rather than just continually charging ahead. There's a bunch of resources for how to learn (see for instance those mentioned in this HN thread [1]), which I think are good ideas, although honestly I have only haphazardly incorporated these techniques.

A major thing I haven't really figured out is maintaining / reviewing. I can personally attest to the fact that it is literally possible to be an expert in a subject one day, and less than a year later struggle to remember elementary knowledge that every beginning student learns. Maybe there is no perfect solution to this problem, but maybe it's possible to come up with some review schedule that helps more than "every now and then I randomly go back and look at a book I once read."

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13297250

As for maintaining/reviewing, forgetting things is actually an excellent filter to see what pieces of knowledge are useful to you, and perhaps concentrate more on that in future. The stuff that you've forgot are the things that you just didn't ever needed. IMHO just let it go, let you brain do the garbage collection. You never really forget everything about the subject, all the basic concepts are remembered (even if you can't easily recall them) and if the need arises you'll just re-learn it.

I think this only works if your memory is sufficiently long term. My memory is very poor and I forget things quickly so I constantly find myself having to relearn things (for instance, relearning data structures and algorithms for interviews).

That's because you never actually use them, other than for interviews (sad but true). Happens to me too, I used to know many back at school, and now I can recall just those that I use for work at least once in a 6 months or so. For everything else I usually remember some basics, but just barely enough to be able to quickly google what I need. And then you just refresh the memory when needed. It's like back in the days when hdd were expensive, so we all were zipping our files when not used to save space - and then you unpack them when you need them :)

Very sound advice, thank you. It’s as you said, more organisation is the simple answer but it’s quite an effort to get there. Making progress slowly though..

> one of the attributes that has helped him the most is his ability to efficiently context switch and get serious work done throughout the day.

> A major thing I haven't really figured out is maintaining / reviewing

These two are particularly interesting for me. I find that switching between tasks is the most stressful, where I feel overwhelmed most often. And that of course wastes time too.

I also find that even though I was productive, its also easy to forget what I learnt. Which makes it wasteful too. I try to keep a learning journal but this itself can take time because I tend to muse - perhaps this is where I should focus on making it more efficient

> Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't break the chain" idea is nice.

He has officially stated that the X was not his idea:


I like your clearly stated purpose that you are learning to expand the breadth of your knowledge. I had the same mindset when I began my self-learning path about a year ago, and the path gets longer as your pursue it, so I would advise changing the 3-6 months to 3-6 years, if your plans is to learn. We can both agree that we are not looking to become experts, so we can relax and go with the flow—in 30 years, who knows what will happen.


My self-learning approach is chunking subject into 1-2 week blocks. Rarely less than 1-week, never more than 1-month. It’s a cyclical process that I use to give my brain time to consolidate new knowledge.


When learning a new subject, I always spend my first 2 chunk sessions to understand the big picture, and in later sessions I learn the details through deliberate practice. What I mean by big picture is when you commit time to read a book, or watch a video (@1.5x), you don’t need to read in a linear order, or watch every single minute of the video. Don’t read/watch any content with “learn ABC in less than X time” in the title. The goal is to learn best practices from experts. Only challenge the status quo once you have gained the discipline.


So in your case, spend 2 weeks learning Data Science: pickup a Wes Mickiney book on Python Data Science, or find a GitHub repository with great contributors sharing their work to help you. If you get stuck on transforming your DataFrame into Matplotlib or Seaborne, stop. Go work on your art project, or in this case, let’s read.


For reading - read Strunk and White or William Zinsser if you want to improve your writing. Read Walden, Gatsby, or 1984, if you want to see thoughtfulness in writing. I rarely finish an entire book because I’m more interested in the themes and proses than every details because I have limited memory and I want to ready many books. (1 week)


Now spend the last week writing to your foreign pen pal. Let’s say if it’s in Japanese, learn the hiragana, which is quite easy since all the sounds are romanized, and afterwards you can use the Japanese dictionary, instead of Google translate, to write your letters.


Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. (Method: Deliberate Practice)

You'll most certainly meet some asshole who tells his nonchalant story about mastering Machine Learning in a month, right after you just told your 3-year Data Science journey. Give the guy a cookie, and call Alexa--who responds “I was born knowing Machine Learning”. The point is filter out the noises, because a few will really make you doubt, but I recommend reading what you wrote and understand that you are curious to learn and don't let other discourage you.

Thank you for this. I have a lifetime plan (goodness knows how many years that will be) but I know for sure that I want to leave while knowing that I tried to understand. This may be why I want to learn everything, but this may also be just gluttony because I’m not a very good student. I may also not be that idealistic after all, I want to do a startup but lack the confidence, and I think it’s because I don’t have enough confidence in my knowledge and not enough discipline. By training myself to be a better learner, I hope to be more ready (some of my projects are related to the startup idea.)

I am going to try chunking by week and see how that goes. Maybe the switching costs felt too high because I was doing small chunks of everything in timeframes that are too small.

> Big Picture first, then the details through practice

> Only challenge the status quo when gained sufficient knowledge of domain

> Strunk and White etc, and don’t have to finish books

> Repeat everything, consistently

> Don’t let others discourage


About data science, I’m starting from rock bottom i.e. basic stats to overcome an old prejudice, and psychology to start thinking in statistics (thanks Kahneman.) And thank you again!

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." - Thoreau

Best of luck!

Pick a single thing to focus on and maintain sustained effort on it. Pump brown noise/ambient noise into your head at 3 to 6 hour intervals while you study. Tell other people to go hell if they bother you. Disconnect from the internet, use offline materials, and keep your phone in airplane mode. Repeat until goal is satisfied and move on to the next thing. If you focus on one thing you don't need a schedule since you just do that one thing every second you are free. Having less time forces you to manage your time better. Minimizing the bullshit in your life is also helpful and may actually be a prerequisite before you can get anything meaningful done.

Serious suggestion: consider amphetamines. Dangerous in excess, but not unlike any other double edged tool, relatively safe when used responsibly.

Edit: faceless downvotes? How about some actual discussion?

Since I can be compulsive, drugs are banned from my mind. Some double-edged swords are just too sharp.

(I didn’t downvote you)

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