- Some concepts can be confusing, especially if you’re coming from another language.
- It’s hard to find the time (and sometimes the motivation) to learn.
- Once you’ve understood something, it’s all too easy to forget it again.
- The tooling landscape is so vast and constantly changing that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
1. Don’t Let Future Decisions Stop You from Progressing Now
One way to help get out of the indecision trap is to have a road map for what you need to learn. For example, to become a front-end developer, your road map might look like this:
Breaking it down further, you can make a functional web page with just HTML and CSS. Seeing the individual steps laid out like this, it becomes easier to see what to focus on now so you don’t waste time worrying about things that should come later.
For those who would find it helpful, I’ve written a more detailed learning road map for becoming a front-end developer.
2. Don’t Let Confidence Trick You into Forgetting Things
When you read something and it makes sense, it can be tempting to move on to the next thing immediately. Maybe you’ll understand the next thing and then move on again. But soon, you’ll arrive at a point where you realize you’ve forgotten some of the previous things you’ve learned, so you need to go back. You give the previous concepts a quick glance to refresh your memory and then move on again. But now you’ve forgotten something else. You keep repeating this back-and-forth dance until you get to a point where you realize you’re completely lost. You get discouraged, take a break, and then when you try to come back, you’ve forgotten everything.
Fortunately there’s a simple two-step cure for this problem:
- Limit the amount of stuff you learn at one time.
- Practice for real — actually write code.
When you learn a new concept, make sure to try it out, play with it, get comfortable with it, and even combine it with other concepts. It’s so important to actually type out the code in any examples you are following, because that’s what helps you absorb it. Also, limiting the amount you learn at one time will help you retain the material, for the simple reason that it’s easier to remember fewer things.
This process feels like it takes longer than just reading through things and moving quickly, but it actually takes much less time because you won’t need to backtrack as much. I learned this the hard way on several occasions.
3. Approach Practice with the Right Mindset
Try this mindset shift:
With a more playful mindset, you’ll learn much faster, you’ll remember stuff longer, and you’ll have more fun.
4. Find Time to Code Using the Facebook Trick
One of the most common problems people have is that they can’t find the time to code. Often, the same people will spend hours on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, or Reddit. Whether or not this describes you, there are still lessons to be learned here.
I’ve definitely had times when I only meant to look at Facebook for a while, but I ended up staying on there for hours. How does that happen? It happens precisely because I didn’t intend to go on there for long. Getting started on something is the hardest part, so by keeping the initial commitment small, I find it much easier to jump in. If someone had asked me if I was prepared to spend hours on Facebook, I’d say no because I don’t have that kind of time. However, I’m much more receptive to the idea of just checking one thing quickly, and that’s how I get sucked in.
The good news is that you can use this same psychology to your advantage when learning to code. Don’t try to commit to several hours of coding because then you’ll never find the time. Just tell yourself you’re going to try some code for three minutes. You’ll never struggle to find time again.
5. Think Slower and You’ll Learn Faster
This one sounds counterintuitive, so I’ll explain it with a story.
“Hold on!” I said. “Slow down, and walk me through each step of this.”
My friend proceeded to give me an overall summary of what was happening in the code.
I stopped him again. “You’re still rushing. Try again, but this time, I want you to literally go through each line of this and tell me what exactly is happening in each line.”
This time, my friend was better able to explain what was going on in the code. The key was that he had taken the time to step through each piece of it instead of trying to understand all of it at once.
In cases like this, thinking slower actually makes you learn faster.
6. Write Complex Code in Plain Language First
If a piece of code is going to be complicated or unfamiliar, write it out in plain language first. That way, you can figure out what you want the code to do before you actually have to write it. Here are two benefits to this approach:
- Your code will be easier and faster to write because you won’t have to constantly stop and think about how you want it to behave.
- You’ll catch bugs before they happen because you’ll have a clearer idea of what the code should do.
- Stop worrying about future decisions and dive in.
- Make practice fun by treating new skills like toys.
- Find time to code by only making tiny commitments the way you would with sites like Facebook, YouTube, or Wikipedia.
- Slow down, take smaller steps, and you’ll learn faster.
So how do you approach learning? Do you have any tips or tricks I didn’t cover here? Or maybe you think it’s all baloney and the only way forward is to put in twelve hours a day. Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.