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How do I find time to study? 5 keys to successful learning

Mattias Andersson
Mattias Andersson

So you’re jumping into learning something new because you want to advance yourself and your career! I’m very proud of you. This is an excellent goal, and I believe you can do it!

But if you’re anything like me and most other people, you might also be struggling to find space for studying in your life. Sometimes, it’s hard enough just to get through the day, and you don’t have enough time or energy left over to learn. Don’t worry – this problem has solutions.


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All learning is forward progress

First, make sure you understand that learning is not an all-or-nothing process! Any small amount of learning moves you forward. Let’s break down how small steps can advance big goals. 

1. Find the Little Minutes

My first tip is to aggressively use the “little minutes”—those tiny bits of time in your life when you’re not 100% focused on something else. Don’t just box your learning off into special hours-long blocks of activity. Instead, create opportunities to do little bits of learning, and then seize those opportunities as much as you can. 

Little minutes happen all over the place: while standing in line at the grocery store; during your commute; taking a shower; on your break; hoping the kids will get in the car soon; falling asleep; in the waiting room at the dentist; or whenever your brain isn’t otherwise occupied. First, try just noting how often this happens during your day so you can appreciate how much time you do have. 

2. Fill the Little Minutes

Once you’ve observed this extra space in your life, you need to find something to do in those little minutes that is compatible with the situation. For example, training videos can be a really powerful part of your learning plan, but not while you’re driving a car! However, what if you can still learn something if you listen to that same video? I bet you could if you’ve already watched it before and you just need a review. You could even test yourself by imagining the diagrams that were on the slides. 

When I’m standing in line somewhere, I find it really valuable to bring up documents on my phone, such as the Frequently Asked Questions page for a service, or an article that was linked from a video lesson I’ve watched. Even just reading a few sentences can get your mind thinking about the topic in a way that primes you to learn more deeply when you get back to it.

What about falling asleep? Some people do get something out of falling asleep to the sound of a recorded lesson, leading to some reports that course authors have started narrating learners’ dreams! But what if you just use this time to wonder and imagine about some technology—and then your drifting-off-to-sleep curious thoughts can lead to supercharged studying when you do sit down for a longer session. 

3. Mix up your learning

Changing your study habits to reflect what you’re doing in your little minutes (and your big ones!) is important because when you’re learning, you need to mix it up! Learning science tells us that we humans study much more effectively this way. Even thinking about things that seem unrelated can help our brains to grow new interconnecting pathways. And those pathways make up the mental models that are the foundation not only of our learning but also our long-term decision-making. 

My point is that you’re not “wasting” time by thinking about different things than the specific one you want to learn. The biggest blocker to our success—learning and otherwise—tends to be our blind spots, and this type of open-minded exploration can often reveal and address those.

4. Break apart your learning

Having some time in between your focused learning sessions really helps your brain process information. In fact, it is better to break apart your learning into smaller, separated bits. If you’re curious about how that works, check out these Wikipedia articles on Distributed practice, Serial-position effect, and Perceptual learning

Trying to cram your learning into fewer concentrated sessions leads to worse study habits. Giving your brain time and space to “mull things over” is super important. Sure, you’ll still learn more if you have one seven-hour session instead of a single hour on just one day—but you’ll learn far better if you spread out those seven hours across a week, instead! Of course, do whatever actually works for your schedule. But don’t feel bad if many of your study sessions are short.

5. Keep moving forward

To wrap this up, I’ll leave you with the idea that you should do whatever you can to learn something every day. That will move you forward far more than you realize. When you do finally look back, you’ll be able to appreciate how much you’ve managed to stuff into that brain of yours.


Looking for something new to learn? Here’s an idea…

If you’re looking for a new feather to put in your cap, how about a cloud certification? Until the end of the year, you can sign up for free certification prep with Pluralsight Skills or A Cloud Guru. You can access courses on AWS, Azure and GCP for free – and when we say free, we mean genuinely free. There are also courses on Kubernetes and Terraform!

Doing these courses are valuable even if you’re popular in a cloud platform already (here’s an article on why it’s good to know multiple clouds), or don’t plan to take the exam. If you take up the challenge, we highly recommend reading the following articles:

Why not take advantage of this great opportunity while you can? And as always, keep being awesome!

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