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Repeated Practice Without Strategy Won’t Help You Learn Faster No Matter How Hard-Working You Are

Repeated Practice Without Strategy Won’t Help You Learn Faster No Matter How Hard-Working You Are

When you are excited to learn a new skill, progress seems to come naturally. The first few weeks of practice fly by with tremendous growth and a feeling of satisfaction. Yet, all of us are familiar with what happens next. You grow bored, your progress slows, and you feel like you’ve hit a wall. At that point, you may be tempted to quit, but here is a better alternative.

Take Breaks when Your Progress Slows

Instead of giving up on your new skill when you hit a wall, give yourself permission to take a break. Remind yourself that any new ability takes time to develop. You would not expect a young child to become an expert reader overnight, but we often set ourselves up for disappointment by demanding that we achieve mastery in a similarly unreasonable timeframe. Free yourself from this kind of unnecessary disappointment by planning to take a break when you need to.

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When to Take a Break

For many people, progress slows after 4-6 weeks of consistent practice. While you can take a break to practice a completely separate skill or work on a different goal, you will benefit most from turning your attention to a similar or complementary skillset.[1] For instance, if your goal is to learn French, you can take a break to cultivate your poetry skills. Even though you will be writing poetry in English, you will still be focused on improving your confidence with language in general. When you return to practicing French, you will approach your lessons with a fresh energy and greatly reduce the chance of burnout.

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Research Says: Add Variety

For years, musicians and athletes were taught to practice the same skill over and over again in the same way. The idea was to create unconscious competence or “muscle memory” in a certain area. Results from a recent study at John Hopkins University, however, show that adding variety to practice sessions increases learning and retention.[2]

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What the Research Showed

The study followed 86 volunteers as they learned to use a squeezing device to move a cursor on a computer screen. Volunteers were placed into one of three groups, with each group given a different way to practice the skill. All three groups completed the same first training exercise. Six hours later, one group completed the same exercise, another group completed a variation of the original exercise, and the third group did not get a second practice session. The researchers wanted to see which group would perform best on a subsequent test of their skill mastery. Defying previous wisdom about the importance of repetition, the researchers found that the group who completed the second, slightly varied practice session performed the best.[3]

If you are just starting the journey toward learning a new skill, congratulate yourself! Most people don’t even get that far. They either get distracted, lose interest, or tell themselves they will begin tomorrow. If you have already overcome these challenges, you are well on your to mastery. As you practice, remember not to let your enthusiasm push you past your limits and lead you to burn out. Make sure you take breaks when you sense your progress waning and that you add variety to make the most out of each practice session. With no burnout and lots of variety to keep you engaged, you will be able to tackle each new challenge that comes your way.

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Reference

[1]Better Humans: How to Learn Many Things at Once (And Stay Sane Doing It
[2]John Hopkins Medicine: Want to Learn a New Skill? Faster? Change Up Your Practice Sessions
[3]Science Alert: Scientists have found a way to help you learn new skills twice as fast

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Lindsay Shaffer

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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