Effective Learning: Minimize Effort, Maximize Results

learning 2

Recently I watched a video of Tim Ferriss talking about his new book The 4-Hour Chef.

To be honest, I wasn’t enthusiastic about learning to cook, but watching that video changed my mind.

Apparently the book isn’t only about cooking, but most of all about how to learn anything.

This made me look into efficient learning and here are my notes about it:

Key points

  • Seek to understand, not memorize (If you necessarily want to memorize instead of learning, check this out)
  • Your brain learns by association – How one idea relates to another, making you understand the whole entirety better
  • Look at the big picture and break it down
  • Identify and learn the most important stuff (basics) first for strong foundation
  • Mercilessly cut everything non-essential down. You want pin-point focus instead of dabbling here and there
  • Experiment and play instead of following the book all the time (this is where dabbling is ok)
  • Teaching is a good way to learn
  • Doing is the best way to learn
  • Diversify with the material: watch videos, read books and listen to audios
  • Don’t give up if you don’t learn something as fast as you would want to
  • Read this for the best (and worst) studying practices

Break things down

If you want to learn something effectively, you should always break it down.

The beauty of this is that you don’t have this “one big thing”, such as “learning to play guitar”, to stress your mind with, but several small ones which are easy to tackle in short sessions.

Here’s an example how to break down “swimming”. Notice that he doesn’t just break down the action, but also his own short-comings.

Breaking things down isn’t enough

When you start to put a puzzle together, where do you start?

You look for the pieces that you can use as the foundation for the others parts of the puzzle.

Try to recognize what are the most essential things to learn.

Then decide what is the best order to learn them for minimizing effort and maximizing results.

Then expand on that solid foundation.

This kind of thinking is called the Pareto principle, which is applicable to almost every part of your life. 80% of your results will always come from 20% of what you do.

For example, if you want to learn a language start from the most common words and most common phrases (20%). After that you fill the blanks with other words. (80%)

Tim created a 13 sentences that he uses to break down any language and recognize the most important phrases (the foundation) for his learning process.


An acronym coined by Tim to help you remember how to do it:

  1. Deconstruction – break it down
  2. Selection – select the most important parts to learn
  3. Sequencing – in which order should you learn those parts?
  4. Stakes – motivate yourself by putting something (usually money) on the line

Few additional tips:

Teach / create material

I’m currently working on creating new educational material for people who are willing to study for the proficiency test on my field.

While I’m researching and making the material, my only purpose is to pick the most important things in the most compact form for easy ‘consumption’.

I’m learning it amazingly well myself, because creating this material requires me to understand the concepts well enough.

When you are having hard time reading

Difficulties to focus and lack of interest – two things that I hate the most when reading.

You aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong: your mind just isn’t engaging with the subject.

If it feels like burden to try to read every word and every sentence, feel free to skim. Try to find the “main points” of the book first.

Then, if you want to, you can go back and fill the blanks. I might skim through a book that doesn’t interest me and if I encounter something interesting, I come back to it.

I’ve realized that this lessens the burden on my mind and helps me to loosen up.

Resources for more


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