How to Learn Anything Quickly in 7 Days (or less)

May 30, 2007 - Get free updates of new posts here

Learning ASP

Scenario: Your boss calls you into the office and says that you are taking over this huge project that’s in an area that you are not familiar with and this is happening in a week. You, being the smart-genius type tell your boss that’s great, you’ll be ready in a week to take over the project.

Problem: You take on the new project because having more responsibility tends to lead towards even bigger things down the road. But now, what do you do? You have close to ZERO knowledge in this area? But it’s important to realize that when you feel uncomfortable you have the greatest chance to learn.

What I did: I was called in to take over an ASP/MSSQL project with 50K active users back when I knew almost nothing about these technologies. I felt like I had no choice but to take on the project because I wanted the responsibility and because of the new challenge (and because I was pretty much expected to).

So I went down the local Borders and bought four books. Two “For Dummies” books on ASP and MSSQL and two of these 600 page advanced guide to ASP and MSSQL and then I read through all four of the books in the next three days.

The rest of the time I used to get familiar with the code and with the entire system. When the time came for me to take over this project I was ready.

I have used this method to learn countless other technologies and to pass many tests in college. Without further ado, here is how to learn anything quickly online (or offline).

Here’s how and why this works:

If you are pushed for time either externally or by a self-imposed due dates, this method works great.

Step 1: Get the big picture, that’s where the “For Dummies” or “Idiots Guide” type of book comes in. Other “intro” type of books work also. It covers the matter, but does so broadly and covers all of the areas of a particular subject, so you get the big picture of what is possible, what is covered and where the limitations lie.

Step 2: Get the details. This is where the “advanced” version of the books comes in. This is where you’ll actually read the details, the nuts and bolts of the subject, the actual code and so forth. You don’t want to apply this knowledge while reading the details, that’s next step. Make sure to read the entire book or all of the details that are available.

The reason for reading all of the details is to get them into your head so that when it comes to actually applying it, you won’t remember how to do it, but you’ll remember that you read about it and you’ll be able to look back and find the code or the specific knowledge that you know already exists because you read it in the details. The goal here is not to hold everything in your mind, but to get it through your conscious into your subconscious. The goal is to oversaturate the mind and let the subconscious handle the sorting.

Step 3: Apply the knowledge. In my example, I inventoried the system, learned the different parts of it. When something needed to be changed I then proceeded with the understanding that I already know what is possible and a general idea of how to solve it. After that I would just look up the code snippets and get it done. Knowledge is only potential power, only if organized into definite plans of action and directed to a definite end.

Applying the knowledge makes the subject more real and forces the mind to sort all of the information and associate it with previous information that’s already in your mind.

Conclusion: I still use this method, because works for me. And I think it pretty much covers everything that is needed to learn something and learn it quickly with the broad approach.

How do you learn? Check out my “Dumies” post about learning SEO.

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8 responses to “How to Learn Anything Quickly in 7 Days (or less)

  1. Jason L. Baptiste Reply

    Very true. I think this comes back to the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time you only need 20% of the knowledge. Taking a for dummies book will definitely get you there. Soon afterwards you’ll need to start getting the more advanced knowledge into your head though.

    -JLB

  2. Sean Tierney Reply

    Noah, that’s pretty much how I acquire new skills as well. Piaget did interesting work in learning theory btw- you’d probably dig his notion of “assimilation and accomodation” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_%28learning_theory%29#Constructivist_theory
    It’s basically the idea that you can only “ratchet up” your understanding in two ways: either placing the bits of new info that you experience into your existing schema of the world, or altering your schema to make sense of the unfamiliar stuff.

    > you’ll remember that you read about it and you’ll be able to look back and find the code or the specific knowledge

    exactly. i’ve been saying this too- http://www.scrollinondubs.com/2006/12/01/kernal-dump-for-november-and-aug-and-sept-and-oct/
    given the volume of info we all digest these days it’s not about trying to absorb everything as much as it is forming a mental index, having broad awareness and being able to get back to the details when you need them.

    good post.

    sean

  3. Noah Kagan Reply

    Sean,

    Andre the new writer at Okdork did that post.

    I really learn the best in two ways
    1- From someone who is really really good
    2- Doing, doing and doing it again. Throw in a little bit of failing and I am set.

  4. matt snider Reply

    That’s how I learned JAVA and PHP ^_^. I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means, but I know enough to fix other peoples code. On the other hand, JavaScript and CSS I have worked extensively with over the past few years, and have learned much more than any one book can teach. The book approach is great for an introduction, but to really understand a subject, I need to spend time, lots of time.

  5. Linas Simonis Reply

    Excellent strategy. For my it works, no matter that I am in complete different area – marketing strategy.

    Only one thing I can add is after reading books, find and read blogs of this subject thought leaders. This can add newest knowledge of subject.