Learning How to Learn: Tackling Procrastination


Recently I’ve discovered a new addiction to MOOCs – free, online courses, on a huge range of topics. I’ve picked up and dropped a dozen so far, but this post marks the final assessment of one I’m actually finishing: Learning How to Learn.
So what’s made this one so different? Several things, but most importantly – for me – is the ‘meta’ nature: the content is helping me to figure out perhaps why I’ve dropped so many courses before, and how going forwards I can learn ‘better’ – and therefore be more content in my Scanner nature!

As a slight aside: what is a Scanner, and what does that have to do with learning? Barabara Sher coined the phrase in Refuse to Choose, a wonderful book for people like me who have more interests than time and don’t always find the world very understanding of that. Indeed, when I tried (admittedly rather hastily) to describe some of this in my initial LHtL assignment, I got a rather brusque feedback of: “Choose one thing and focus”. Yeah, not helpful: one of the key elements of learning well (especially in terms of independent, lifelong learning – who wants to spend their life feeling stuck in the most boring of school lessons?!), is having a degree of passion for your topic – sticking to just one thing drains me terribly of anything approaching motivation. I could push past that, I suppose – heck, I did for years of formal learning – but this learning is now just for ME and dagnamit but I want to have fun!

One of the most important topics, for me, covered in the 4-week Learning How to Learn (LHtL) course has been procrastination: something I am hugely guilty of, in so many aspects of my life! I’ve read tons on the subject before, including Eat That Frog!, which suggests tackling the most difficult problems first – LHtL echos that advice, but also suggests an alternative: that of starting with the difficult problems, then switching to an easier one as soon as you get stuck. No, it’s not about running away from the tough bits! Rather, it’s about using two different ways of thinking: the focused and the diffuse modes.

Focus is an obvious aid to learning and achievement: concentrate on a problem – and on a single task, too! – to get things done. However, I’m sure you’re also familiar with the idea of walking away and ‘bingo!’ the idea comes to you when you least expect it: this is ‘diffuse’ thinking, or letting a concept rattle around in your brain a little without looking at it too hard, and letting the more creative aspects of your mind have a turn.

In terms of Scanning, the beneficial switch between focus and diffuse sounds a lot like a great excuse for following at least two passions: say (as per this blog!) switching between coding and writing or drawing, using the creative time to let ideas from the more academic work swirl and settle. Heck, even doing chores should be more fun if viewed as a chance to enter diffuse mode! 🙂

In practice, I can see this making great use of another technique LHtL bigs up: the familiar anti-procrastination and time-management technique of Pomodoro. The Pomodoro technique suggests using the focused mode – concentrating intently – for a span of 25 minutes, followed by a complete break for another 5 minutes. This stops tasks being overwheming, as you can do just about anything for just 25 minutes, surely!?

Which brings me to my final point – for this post – from the LHtL course: my absolute ‘wow’ moment from all the material: the idea to focus on the process not the product: that is, just get on with doing something – anything – for a span of time, without being too concerned about the end goal. For me this is just wow: so much of what I want to do is long-term, not quick wins, and it’s so easy to get discouraged. But that ‘process not product’ reminds me of a recent article that suggested approaching any gym time in the same way as yoga. When we talk about yoga, we call it ‘practice’ – it’s not about pushing yourself to be able to spend five minutes standing on your head, it’s about the journey, the process. And truly, going for a run thinking about how joyful it is to move, to be doing something beneficial for my health – and, according to LHtL, hugely helpful for learning, too – rather that how far/fast/better I’m going is making exercise MUCH more enjoyable! I’m going to start seeing how I can apply ‘process (or practice) not product’ to just about everything in my life!

There is a slight irony that – in learning lots of cool techniques to help me tackle procrastination – I left this assignment rather late. I’m also aware that some poor soul from the course (hello, fellow student! :)) will have to peer-review this, so I didn’t want to waffle on for too long. Those two things being the case, look out for more tips from the course, and from me as I put them into practice, in this space soon! In the meantime, I’m going to put the course’s BIGGEST tip into practice and go make sure I get enough sleep to keep my brain in excellent working order! 🙂

(If you’re interested in learning any of the above for yourself, the next session of Learning How to Learn starts on October 3rd, and runs for 4 weeks. Give it a go – you might just surprise yourself how much you can learn!)


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  1. Pingback: calypte 8th September | ftfers

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