How Checklists Can Help You Quickly Learn Anything

The capacity to learn quickly and effectively is incredibly important in today’s world.

Technology is always changing, and few people remain in just one job for life. Underneath all this is the unwritten expectation that you never stop learning.

Keep up with the barrage of information and you thrive.

Stop learning and you stagnate.

But how can you get a handle on so much knowledge when it often outstrips your ability to assimilate it naturally?

Moreover, how can you develop new skills that strongly depend on your capacity to learn quickly?

Your Limited Memory

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Ten people might have exactly same experience, but six months later each of them could give you completely different accounts of what happened.

Ask someone to keep much more than about 7 items of information in their short-term memory at the same time, and you’ll likely short their neural circuits.

Whether we’re talking short-term or long-term, human memory is limited and fallible.

That’s why for thousands of years people have developed mnemonic systems to overcome their innate limitations. And let’s set the record straight: they absolutely work. Incredibly well, in fact.

But to develop skill in mnemonics to a very high level takes time.

You can’t just go from 0 to Rain Man overnight.

Fortunately, there’s an easier method that you can start implementing right away.

Activating Passive Knowledge

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The most important step to take when rapidly acquiring new skills is to make the transition from theory to practice as quickly as possible.

Admittedly, it’s easier said than done — especially when you’re overwhelmed with a vast amount of information AND have to work around the limited capacities of your short- and long-term memory

When you rely on your unassisted brain, it can be very challenging to execute a new skill. As a beginner you tend to suck because you can’t readily access what you need to know, when you need to know it. The knowledge you require hasn’t yet been encoded and stored in your long-term memory.

But have you considered what it might be like if you could bypass your limitations?

What if you could:

  • Free up your short-term memory, so you can devote more of your resources to clear thinking
  • Have access to the right knowledge at the right time
  • Make connections between fragmented knowledge
  • And bring all of these aspects together into a streamlined process so you can apply the knowledge early on at a level far beyond that of a beginner

Checklists to the Rescue

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Have you ever noticed how if you write something down, it becomes a lot easier to think about? It’s as if your mental workspace is freed up for you to focus more on the task of reasoning.

And have you also noticed when you’re reading a book to learn a skill, at first you feel like you’re taking it all in. It all seems so straightforward at the time. But when it comes down to actually doing something at a later date, you don’t know where to begin.

With checklists you can develop incredibly complex procedures. Rather than trying to figure out what to do on the fly, you can plan your actions in advance.

You can imitate someone who‘s already accomplished what you’re trying to do.

You can convert the skill in the book you’re reading into a step-by-step procedure.

And even if you’re attempting something no one else has done before, the processes of discovery and creation can still be distilled into checklist form. In fact, almost anything can be reduced to a series of steps — an algorithm.

A well thought out or proven strategy virtually guarantees the outcome you want. Breaking a complex action down into small chunks minimizes guesswork and uncertainty, allowing you to relax and be more decisive.

In short, you can think less and act more.

A Method for Checklist Creation

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An article about checklists wouldn’t be complete without an actual checklist, would it? So here’s a checklist to show you how you might want to go about creating checklists (kinda meta, right?)

Step 1 — Collate

Assemble all the raw data, books, guides, tutorials, observations, interviews, etc. that you need.

What you need obtain will hinge upon the vital question “What do I want to accomplish?” Also important is to consider the approaches have a proven track record.

Step 2 — Analyze

Read through your materials. And as you do this, keep the following questions in mind and write down anything you think will be important later.

  1. Does this help me achieve what I want?
  2. How can I apply this?
  3. What facts/data do I require?
  4. What actions do I need to take?
  5. How does this link with the other actions I would have to take?

Step 3 — Connect

Collect the answers you have from Step 2 and try to get a sense of how you can tie everything together into a coherent, step-by-step process to achieve your chosen task.

Step 4 — Draft

Start drafting your checklist. You might want to work backwards from the end-point. Each step might need to include:

  1. the how — a breakdown of the distinct mental or physical actions you need to take
  2. data and definitions
  3. examples

Step 5 — Test

Test the checklist.

Does it work?

If it can be improved, reiterate the above steps until you’re satisfied.

Step 6 — Use

Put the checklist into practice in the real world regularly.

Practice also in your imagination.

Visualize yourself completing each action until what was once a complex behavior becomes habitual and natural.

Eventually, you’ll no longer need your checklist, and it will have served its purpose — to free you from the limitations of your innate abilities.

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