Study Hacks Blog

On the Art of Learning Things (Ultra) Quickly

August 8th, 2019 · 13 comments

In the first chapter of Deep Work, I argue that the ability to concentrate is important in part because it’s necessary to learn hard things quickly, and in our economy, if you can pick up new skills or ideas fast, you have a massive competitive advantage.

Some readers subsequently asked me how to best deploy their concentration to achieve these feats of accelerated autodidacticism. My answer has been to direct people toward my longtime friend, and occasional collaborator, Scott Young, who has spent years mastering the art of mastering things (c.f., his MIT challenge.)

I’m happy to report that as of earlier this week, instead of simply waving vaguely in Scott’s general direction, I can now point to a brand new book that he’s published on the topic: Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career.

In this book, Scott walks through his step-by-step process of breaking down a major learning project and pushing it through to completion much faster than you might have imagined possible. It’s important to emphasize that he provides no short cuts. If anything, he highlights the surprising hardness — in terms of concentration and drive — required to succeed with these endeavors; a point I’ve been underscoring since my early books on study habits.

But if you’re willing to invest the energy, and are looking for the right techniques to make sure this energy is not wasted to the friction of ineffective activity, this is the book for you.

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On an unrelated note, my most recent New Yorker article was published earlier this week. It takes a look at the history of email and applies ideas from my academic field, the theory of distributed systems, to help explain what went wrong with this innovation. If you like this blog, you’ll like this article

13 thoughts on “On the Art of Learning Things (Ultra) Quickly

  1. EA says:

    Got it on release day, I am halfway through it. It’s a very useful book, especially if combined with your Deep Work.

  2. I’m only on Chapter IV (Principle 1 – Metalearning), but it’s very interesting so far. I’m looking forward to applying the principles.

  3. andrea casalotti says:

    Why are you linking to Amazon?
    Surely you are aware of how evil they are.
    If we all stopped using the monster, we would all be better off.

  4. I am excited to read this Cal. I firmly believe that we can accelerate our learning – and personal growth – by consciously re-engineering our habits. And I can’t agree more – the ability to focus and concentrate has become a skill in and of itself. Like any other skill, the ability to focus, concentrate, and enhance how we work can be improved through training, repetition, and practice. Should be a great read!

  5. Mel says:

    There’s some good critique on Quora about Young’s “MIT Challenge” — extremely lenient grading combined using a low cutoff for passing:
    https://www.quora.com/How-do-MIT-students-and-professors-feel-about-Scott-Youngs-MIT-Challenge

    Young presumably learned some interesting things doing his challenge. But what verifiable proof do you have that he’s actually mastered anything, aside from selling a blog?

    1. Study Hacks says:

      As the capstone for the MIT challenge, he actually tackled my graduate level theory of computation course. I gave him my final exam and graded it myself — he did well, and that’s pretty subtle material…

      1. Mel says:

        Good to know! Thank you.

  6. Alex Ilin says:

    Why is there a tick box to confirm that one is not a spammer?

    1. Raphi says:

      To prevent robot spammers from posting, i guess.

  7. EA says:

    Finished the book, I really liked. Some of it is common sense (which is not necessarily “common”), however the ideas contained within the pages are truly outstanding. All of it is very practical and doable.

  8. I do think you are a more eloquent book writer, having more experience with the medium. That being said, Scott’s book contains quite a few fascinating ideas. It was worth the read, and came at just the right time as I was considering starting a difficult computer science project.

  9. BN Dhakal says:

    I liked the blog and would like to read the book too.

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