How I Got More By Learning Less

I used to hate vacuuming. And not just for the obvious reason that chores suck. Vacuuming meant that I had to pause the podcast I was listening to while cleaning since I couldn’t hear my headphones over the hum of the vacuum.

This was at a time when I was addicted to learning. I was reading a book for 10 minutes during a carefully curated morning routine, skimming email newsletters on my bus commute, listening to podcasts in the car, while walking, doing the dishes, or anytime I could pop my earbuds in.

It was the best. I was inspired. I had powerful quips logged away in Evernote.

And I was exhausted. I wasn’t retaining anything. I was chasing ideas in every direction.

I was taking in so much information yet taking so little away. There was next to nothing I was able to synthesize and meaningfully act upon.

Around the time I was hitting the peak of my learning, I hit a career and life plateau. My full-time job started to stall and my relationships were pushed down the priority list since I was always taking in so much new information.

The consequences of too much learning

Too much learning actually has many potential consequences as I’ve experienced on both sides — the learner and the one reacting to the heavy learner.

  • You become addicted to finding a non-existent magic bullet.
  • You don’t give your brain enough time and space to sit with new information.
  • You start to feel stuck.
  • You feel you should be doing more, doing something different, doing something better, or you’re too overloaded with information to do anything at all.
  • It’s easy to become distracted from your main priorities by a new shiny thing.
  • You lose the trust of your people or audience by constantly course-correcting.
  • You have trouble getting started. Just one more blog post, you tell yourself. Then you’ll have all the necessary knowledge to get started. Finally, you look up and a year has passed and you still haven’t started.

Does learning help us grow and evolve? Unequivocally, yes.

In doses.

Learn a little less. Think a little more.

Choosing the way of the well-paced learner

The goal is not to stop learning. The goal is to consume new information at a stable pace. Give yourself the time and space for your brain to work its magic.

Here are four rules to become a well-paced learner:

  1. Apply the wait 10 minutes after eating rule to see if you were still hungry before getting seconds. The same logic of waiting to let the new information soak in applies to learning, too. Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach when it comes to learning.
  2. Self-select your learning focus area over near-constant fluid learning. Don’t let a new best-selling book drive your learning schedule. Select what you focus us to sharpen or deepen your skills.
  3. Spend time in that focus area. Reading one book and moving on is not enough time to build in the depth of knowledge. You’ll also get overwhelmed jumping so regularly from one topic to the next.
  4. Don’t get imposter syndrome. Many people post and boast about how many books they’ve read. That’s great for them.

By following the way of the well-paced learner my career is unstuck in that I have been able to advance and find a role that brings me more overall happiness. I have more time for the many things that matter like time with people, time outside, and time taking care of myself. And I’ve been able to devote enough time to grow my weekly newsletter by consistently sending value every Monday morning.

The goal is not how much you can learn. The goal is to create a stable pace to maximize what you learn.

Choose the way of the well-paced learner.

Hi, I’m Grant. I write the weekly Sustain newsletter about how to prevent burnout from work based on research and my own experience. It’s a fresh approach called Holistic Burnout Prevention which treats the causes, not the symptoms of burnout. Join me and let’s create a world without burnout. Subscribe >

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Grant Gurewitz

Grant Gurewitz

Writing about how to quit burnout without leaving your corporate job @ GrantGurewitz.com. Marketing pro, kayaker, and gardener in the Pacific Northwest.