Principles to Learn Effectively Online

I applied these self-learning principles to go from being college dropout to self-taught programmer.

With the bulk of human knowledge readily available on the Internet, we can learn anything we want. As we all know, with knowledge comes opportunity.

I’m a case study for this: You can really turn blog posts, video courses, and other online content into a new career or further your current one.

But how do you actually make your effort effective? How do you transform your time reading blog posts and watching MOOCs into truly furthering your career?

We spend so much time looking for resources and poring over information that you can’t use immediately. The process of learning online can be overwhelming and inefficient.

Try these principles and you might save some time:

  • Learn by doing is the most effective way to mastery.
  • When acquiring a new skill, learn only what you need to start. Then, start immediately.
  • As soon as you learn new information, try to apply it immediately. This is why many courses are project-based; the lessons stick when you actually solve problems yourself.
  • Learn how you learn. If you can absorb material simply by reading, then you will save a lot of money. If not, don’t kid yourself. I wasted a lot of time and money trying to learn from books when only code-along video courses have worked for me.
  • Learning is an investment in yourself. View it as so, and applying your time and money will feel justified. Every improvement will feel like an increase in your ROI.
  • If you need the skill, you won’t have to manufacture motivation. If it’s simply a hobby, your motivation will take much more willpower. Include the skill in your goals and you’ll find a way.
  • Reminder: Writing it down is not the same as learning it.

It will take longer than you expect to understand, but shorter than you expect to be effective.

Start now.

Age of Distraction

This a reminder for myself and fellow millennials.

We live in the Age of Distraction. In the age of push notifications, social media platforms, Netflix, and unlimited access to everything in our pockets, there are infinite ways to use our attention. In addition, companies are getting better at making habit-forming, or addictive, products to command our attention more.

But your time and attention are limited resources. Mind your habits. Beware distractions and desire. Be clear about your goals and care enough to be disciplined.

If we can only be effective on a few things a day, what are you choosing to spend your time on? If you on Facebook or Instagram multiples times every day, how does that affect the happiness and success of your day? How much time do you spend avoiding what you need to do? Are you pushing yourself?

Leverage Skills

Oftentimes learning a new skillset can help provide a perspective or unblock you to reach a higher level.

I’ve begun to call these leverage skills.

Leverage skills are skills when combined with an in-demand skill, make you more effective and provide leverage in your work. They can be used to improve job security, salary, creative ability, and more. They enable you to reach a higher echelon in your world. Especially in technology and creative fields, improving in one of these skills can have a massive impact on your professional life.

Combining multiple leverage skills develops a unique perspective and skillset that is hard to replace. You begin to contribute different types of value and develop an advantage over your competition.

This is where the leverage part comes in. The more unique value you add, the harder you are to replace. The harder you are to replace, the more leverage you have in your business, your job, and in your own skills.

I’m constantly trying to improve mastery in my own trade, but learning to write, lead, and be a great teammate has allowed me to become an invaluable member of any team. I’ve developed an advantage over someone else who isn’t as cross-disciplined.

Some skills that I’ve come across are:

  • Leadership
  • Design
  • Writing
  • Negotiating
  • Sales
  • Programming
  • Networking
  • Brand thinking and building
  • Product thinking and building
  • Be a great teammate

And, of course, as you learn new skills and improve in self-learning, you become more adept at picking up other skills more quickly and efficiently.

Keep an eye out for a future blog post where I talk about how learning to program has given me the freedom to travel while working and provided a great salary to boot. In addition, it will outline how programming (and other leverage skills) can change your life too!

The Learn Log: Rapid Learning and Remembering Forever

I use Evernote to learn rapidly and remember what I learn forever. It’s how my co-workers, without prompting, have mentioned that I learn more quickly than others.
This is my answer. I use this simple journaling practice, which I call the Learn Log, to radically speed up my learning process and information recall. As a result of doing it daily, it has given me a huge sense of momentum and made learning more effective.

The Learn Log

Imagine if we remembered everything we came across in a day. We would learn new information and skills blazing fast.
I think the reason why we can’t remember everything is that it takes time to move what we learn from rote to long-term memory. We also don’t have the opportunity to apply what we’ve learned at the time that we learn it.
So I’ve stopped relying on my memory when learning most new information. Instead, I rely on Evernote to record while I’m learning. Then, I leverage search to rapidly recall. I’ve stopped forgetting concepts that I learned weeks ago, and if I run into a similar problem I don’t have to Google and waste time rediscovering.
Here’s how you get started. Follow these four simple steps:
  1. Create a notebook called the “Learn Log”
  2. Every day create a note called “Learn Log – Jun 2, 2017 (Friday)”. Change the date accordingly.
  3. Start documenting what you learned.
  4. Utilize Evernote’s search to quickly find anything that you’ve learned.
  5. (Optional) Every weekend, select the notes from the week and merge them. Then, rename the note the Learn Log Roundup – June 1 – 7.


Shortcuts to Remember

Look into your keyboard shortcuts in Evernote preferences and find and memorize these shortcuts.

Search in Evernote
Evernote Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts
The above shortcut will open the Evernote window and focus the search bar. This allows you to search incredibly fast from anywhere when you’re using your computer.
Insert Date
Evernote Preferences > Formatting
Use this shortcut to insert the date where your cursor is. This is how I quickly create the note title.


When we’re starting a new habit, it’s important to take out the friction as much as possible. I’m on my computer every weekday, so I use Zapier to create Learn Log notes for me. Here’s the Evernote-Zapier zap.

Some tips

  • Document while you’re learning. If you’re watching a tutorial, take notes at the same time. Don’t wait until the end of the day.
  • Summarize don’t copy. Make the information pertinent and punchy. Then, link to the information source if you need more information.
  • Link to other notes and include source links for future reference.
  • It’s often more important to know what’s possible rather than try to retain everything you learn, so instead of trying to record the entirety of a concept, focus on making the information easy to search for. If I don’t have time to learn everything from a blog post, I’ll often write down an important takeaway and link to the source.
  • Take screenshots for visual references.
  • Delete and prune any notes that remain empty. They’ll only add more cruft when you search.
  • Create a section for questions. Try to answer them by the end of the day.
  • To help establish what I’ve learned, I create a weekly roundup of the notes and review it. In addition to being a fast reference, having fewer, medium-sized notes is faster for retrieving information with Evernote’s search results.