Last Updated on January 27, 2021

Top 12 Active Learning Strategies for Busy People to Try

Top 12 Active Learning Strategies for Busy People to Try

Sustained success in any area requires continuous learning. It goes without saying that to succeed in a job or business, one needs to keep learning pretty much nonstop—read books, attend seminars and conferences, and continually seek new responsibilities. You’ll have to find active learning strategies if this is your goal.

The same can be said about parenting or relationships—books, conversations, continuous personal reflection are a must if you want to be fulfilled in this area of your life. The same is true of your health—eating better, exercising better, and understanding and dealing with any diseases that may come your way often requires learning new knowledge.

What learning strategies can one employ, particularly those suitable for a person with a busy schedule? Ideally, learning should be active to ensure you thoroughly process the new knowledge instead of just skimming a book or an article.

So-called New Year resolutions exemplify our common failure to change, and it also pertains to learning new skills. We get carried away by a shiny new idea, be it learning Chinese, taking martial arts lessons, or meditating, only to realize that we have neither time nor motivation to sustain it. Daily sessions become weekly, which then become biweekly, and so forth until the whole initiative is but a distant memory.

How can we—real people with real limitations and obligations of busy adult lives—most effectively use active learning strategies to learn whatever skill we set out to improve?

1. Sort Out Commitments

You should sort out your commitments by making an internal commitment. Decide that the new skill is very important and that you will do whatever it takes to make progress. For best results, write down your commitments.

Also, you should learn to scale down other commitments. After all, we only have so much energy, yet we always aspire for more.

A specific technique is “one in-one out.” If you cannot seem to find time for working on that new skill, pick something else you have been doing regularly that you are prepared to let go of—at least for the time being.


2. Adopt a Long-Term Orientation

Active learning strategies involve adopting a long-term orientation. Daniel Coyle describes a fascinating study of kids studying piano in his bestselling book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.

The study demonstrated that having a long-term orientation, such as ”I am going to be learning this skill for ten years or the rest of my life,” as compared to a short-term orientation, such as “I am going to be learning this skill for the next few months or years,” had a dramatic effect on one’s learning progress.

While the number of hours invested into daily practice was also significant, children with a long-term orientation who practiced for half an hour each day mastered the skill as well as those with a short-term orientation who were practicing for up to two hours every day! Unfortunately, the study did not detail how one could cultivate this kind of long-term orientation, but knowing it is important is surely a start.

3. Learn Without Motivation

People naturally rely on motivation and make great progress when they feel pumped and optimistic. But then another day comes and they are not feeling it. You must remember that your mind keeps learning automatically, whether you feel like it or not. Therefore, whenever you are not feeling motivated, behave as usual—dive right in!

Moreover, you can try to organize a boot camp for yourself. Whether you are studying Spanish, piano, or meditation, dedicate a few full days or even a few full weeks to focus on the new activity nonstop. For best results, participate in an existing training program or hire a coach.

Continuing with the same idea, joining a regular training regimen is best in terms of both accountability and structure. While not all training programs are high-quality and aligned with your goals, the method is powerful nevertheless.

You can also start reading books about your field. Books are supplementary to more active kinds of learning but can be an important piece of the puzzle. If you feel your progress has been plateauing in recent months, look for a new book, and make sure it’s a good one.

4. Talk About the Skills You Want to Develop

Ideally, you will have experts as your teachers and mentors during the learning process, but even ongoing casual conversations with skilled practitioners can help sustain your progress when employing active learning strategies. Even talking to random strangers about your field can still be helpful.


Don’t be afraid to discuss technical details. If you are learning Chinese, talk to everyone you meet about linguistic nuances. If you are studying martial arts, talk all day long about fighting and self-defense.

5. Be Picky About Your Knowledge Sources

Googling answers is fine for a quick factual question, finding entertainment, or even sparking your creativity. Yet, this is not the way to make consistent, in-depth progress.

Just as you did not learn the high school curriculum by googling random facts, you are also not going to acquire a solid knowledge base by following this method in any other area. Find reputable books or a reputable teacher, and then learn from them.

It’s best to learn from the best. It definitely helps if you have a teacher or a mentor, especially if they are highly knowledgeable in the field. Better yet, find those who are also great at teaching students similar to yourself and who will encourage problem solving.

You can also attend conferences and other events. Meeting others in the same field and engaging in a structured, multi-day program can only boost your progress. While a single weekend event can never bring the same results as sustained daily effort, it can broaden your horizons and help ensure your efforts are going in the right direction with active learning strategies.

6. Participate in Competitions or Performances

Any competition or public performance, such as role playing, will challenge your current level of skill and push you to new heights. If anything, you will discover where you stand. Participating in competitions or performances is a must in having an active learning technique.

You can also aim to obtain certifications. This is not useful if your skill level is high. However, if you are just getting started, many fields have designated levels for beginners. Even if you do not need to get certified, it can be an interesting way to once again test your current level, as well as to systematize your knowledge.

7. Introduce Leverage

If you are not putting in the hours, set some rules to punish yourself, whether by denying yourself certain pleasures or by having to donate a certain amount of money. For best results, use a friend or a mentor who will hold you accountable. If you respond better to rewards, those can work as well.


8. Practice Using Time-Efficient Exercises

Many fields have key skills that can be efficiently practiced in just a few minutes a day, so long as you bring a lot of effort and concentration to this practice. Stay in the forearm plank for 2 minutes. Meditate for 3 minutes. Go through a 10-minute singing warmup.

Such time-efficient exercises are also great in keeping the momentum going during periods when you cannot commit to a more involved regimen of active learning strategies.

9. Volunteer Using Your New Skill

Even if what you are learning is not directly contributing to your income, there may well be a way to do it for free—whether by singing at a charity concert, becoming a language partner for a recent immigrant, or teaching kids at a community center.

Volunteering is an active learning strategy that will help you practice your craft. There is hardly a better way to solidify learning than by using it to help others.

Many different platforms exist for matching volunteers with opportunities. Some, such as VolunteerMatch, are generic and have every kind of opportunity under the sun. Others such as the Taproot Foundation focus on opportunities for volunteers with business, finance, or marketing skills. The United Nations has a wide range of skilled volunteer opportunities in many different countries.

10. Use Visualization

Take a few moments—or a few minutes—to imagine performing your new skill perfectly. This exercise can be practiced in a quiet room, before going to sleep, or immediately prior to performing the activity in question. For some people, this technique works very well, but for such results, it also requires significant effort.

Imagery has long been used in sports and in the performing arts, such as by the dancer Erik Franklin.[1] However, the same techniques have found their way into many other domains—from business to parenting. Visualization has also been used for teaching language[2].

11. Journal About Your Progress

Jot down notes about your progress on a daily basis or when needed. The notes can describe your long-term goals, debrief any particular event, summarize lessons learned and things to do differently in the future, or hone in on important observations.


This technique is highly individual and takes a lot of experimentation, but many top performers swear by it.

12. Never Give Up

Perhaps, the most important strategy is to keep going. If your approach is wrong but you keep trying, keep putting in the work. Eventually, you will make a correction and get on the right track. However, if you give up and quit, future progress is impossible.

Educational theorist Paul Tough became famous largely because of his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. In the book, he argues, citing some compelling evidence, that grit, or perseverance, matter so much more than intelligence.

Adults could also receive Tough’s message and focus on perseverance before considering any other active learning strategies. As success expert Brian Tracy puts it, without discipline, no method for achieving success works. With discipline, every method works.

The Bottom Line

The busier we become, the more important it is for us to keep learning. Active learning strategies can help us use our learning time wisely and build on the skills we already have.

The tips above contain several helpful suggestions. However, the most important one is to commit to finding time for this learning and to never give up. Get started with any of the strategies today.

More Learning Tips and Strategies

Featured photo credit: Daniel Bosse via


[1] Eric Franklin: Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance
[2] British Council. Teaching English: An introduction to using visualization

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Dr. Sergey Orshanskiy

Founder of SocialNerd, Data Scientist at tech startups, and trained dancer.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

How Serious Is Information Overload?

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.


The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.


You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

1. Set Your Goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

If it does, then ask yourself these questions:


  • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
  • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
  • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

(You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.


4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

Summing It Up

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via

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