Boost Your Learning, Boost Your Productivity: Six Simple Ways to Learn Faster and Better

“A happy life is one spent learning, earning, and yearning.” – Lillian Gish, legendary Hollywood actress.

Nowadays, experts revel in telling you how to “hack your life” to make it easier and more worthwhile, and best of all, how to use your time more effectively. You can also “hack your body”; for example, that exercising a muscle via martial arts, dance, tai chi, or similar repetitive workouts not only makes it stronger and increases your stamina, but also entrains muscle memory that establishes a routine that makes certain actions automatic. We don’t have to actively think about them to do them anymore.

I guess it’s time to jump on the “hacking” bandwagon, so here are a few potential “brain hacks,” all simple to implement, to improve your learning, and boost your productivity:

  1. Repetition, not length. It isn’t how long you study that matters, but how many times you review. It turns out generations of academics were right about rote memorization. A colleague who once worked as a Teaching Assistant in the Liberal Arts discovered his physics and engineering students who’d taken his classes as easy electives were struggling, because they didn’t know how to study for such courses. In their core classes, they rarely cracked a book because all they needed were formulae they could derive and the numbers provided, and they could calculate the answers. When it came to learning names, dates, and cultures, they had to study via repetition to learn and memorize the material.

  2. Overlearn. Rather than learn a process until you achieve base proficiency and then stop, keep practicing for twice as long. A 2015 study of Drexel University med students proved “overlearning” this way enhances long-term skill retention; plus, the overlearning group did the work faster and better than the control group.

  3. Exercise your memory. In all things, not just work tasks, stretch your memory muscles. Games and word puzzles help, though lately experts have become skeptical about the value about crosswords, the classic brain-puzzle. Sudoku still seems to work, as do logic puzzles and repetitions that helps you remember people’s names and other facts. Choreographer Twyla Tharp tries to recall 12-14 corrections she wants to suggest whenever she watches a performance. Most people can remember no more than three.

  4. Exercise your body. As with so many productivity tips, if your body feels well, so will your brain, so you’ll have an easier time learning. Heightened energy helps your mind store and retrieve facts better, and it’s possible that neurochemicals triggered during exercise, like endorphins, boost memory.

  5. Create a learning routine. As with sticking to the same few outfits repeatedly, using routines and learning habits—like mnemonics, taking notes a certain way, saving files starting with YYMMDD (so they sort by subject chronologically) and storing new facts using a standard operating procedure—saves time for other important things.

  6. Make learning a game and reward yourself. Much of the time people say they spend studying or learning they actually spend checking the clock, answering emails, chatting with study partners, fidgeting, shuffling papers, looking things up, and the like. Gamifying your learning can help you learn faster by increasing your focus, assuming you don’t take shortcuts. Tell yourself you can walk around out in the cool air for ten minutes after the next run-through of your project notes or promise yourself a Pumpkin Spice latte at the end of a profitable day on the phone, and you might get done more quickly.

  7. Eat dark chocolate. This one’s a lagniappe, and only slightly tongue-in-cheek. There’s good research to back it up. Dark chocolate contains dopamine, a natural chemical that improves memory. This doesn’t mean you should head to Sonic for a deluxe chocolate shake, but a few bites here and there certainly can’t hurt— and it fits right in with Tip #6 if you make your bite a reward (just a little one).

Faster, Better

Any second you save while learning new things you can use putting those new things into action, and thereby increasing your productivity per unit of time. Exercise your self-discipline so you don’t check your Twitter feed with those newly-freed seconds—a function you no doubt excel at. After all, despite iffy engagement levels, we’re more productive now than at just about any other time in history. But records exist to be broken, so keep “hacking” and pushing the envelope!


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

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