We would all love to skip past the frustration that comes from learning new things and go straight to the point when it finally ‘clicks’.
Particularly when you’re growing a business or adding to your professional skill set, the faster you get the hang of things the better. The mountain of knowledge you have to climb to get to where you want to go often looks staggeringly high, and it feels like there’s not enough hours in the day to learn at the pace you really want.
But what if you could learn new concepts and start applying them to your business in half the time?
What would that allow for you? How much quicker could you scale that mountain and start actually ticking off some of the massive career goals you’ve set for yourself?
As it turns out, it’s very possible. Learning itself is a skill, and when you know the right heuristic shortcuts to take when you’re hitting the books, you’ll be amazed at how fast everything comes together and clicks in your head.
Here are 8 powerful tricks you can start applying right away to grasp new business concepts and enhance your long-term memory faster.
1) Use mental associations
Colours, acronyms and word associations can be especially useful tools to help you hold on to thoughts, patterns and concepts.
When going through your latest marketing book or accounting textbook, use different pen colours and write notes on what you’re learning in the margins. To grasp crucial concepts, try fitting them into an acronym like KISS. Remember that periodic table song from 9th grade? See if you can use a rhyme to etch that social media strategy into your memory banks.
2) Apply the 80/20 principle
Otherwise known as the Pareto Principle, 80/20 means looking at the big picture of what you’re trying to learn, and figuring out which 20% of the concepts within it will bring you 80% of the benefit. It’s mentioned a lot in business materials, especially ones about leadership.
To apply this to your own study methods, look at a concept you’re trying to learn as a whole, and identify the minimum bare bones you need to know to get a grasp on it. Then, learn those ones first. You’ll create your own learning shortcut.
3) Break it down
If a new concept feels overwhelming, break it down. You can divide any task into basic elements, intermediate ones and advanced ones. Even if it feels like a small concept already, it’s always possible to split it into even more parts no matter how simple they are.
Take the skill of networking, for example. It’s pretty daunting at first, but if you break it down into smaller slices – identifying events in your industry, contacting organisers, researching potential connections and then greeting them warming when you see them – you can focus on each individually and better understand how they all fit together.
4) Write it down
Writing information down uses a different part of the brain to reading. Instead of just scanning and soaking up external stimulus, writing forces us to process it, organise it, and apply it in our own way.
If you’re getting the hang of how accounts payable and receivable works, write notes in the margins and occasionally sit down and write about it like you were explaining it to a friend. Write down anything you think about during the day about the topic. Keep a pile of notes, or use a note app on your phone. Your brain will get used to the processing and you’ll easily reveal which elements of a concept do and don’t make sense to you.
5) Connect existing knowledge
Connecting new concepts to our existing knowledge is one of the best techniques to build a strong long term memory in hours rather than years. It’s why metaphors are so effective in the classroom.
When studying, take what you’re learning and find a way to attach it to your current knowledge of the subject. A new accounting principle, for example, might be similar to how supermarket aisles work. Perhaps it brings up a memory of a family member. If a surprise relation springs to mind, it’s your brain attempting to connect the dots. Go with it.
6) Try Brain exercises
Keeping your brain active with puzzles like crosswords and sudoku greatly increase your brain’s ability to process complex information, retain data relationships and think critically. Repetition and consistency build up our neural pathways.
The more you exercise those pathways, the stronger and faster they’ll be. Between study sessions test your mind with Sudoku, crosswords, single-player card games or anything else that uses similar brain skills to those you’re trying to build your business knowledge.
7) Learn your way
You may have heard of the different ‘modalities’ of learning. Everyone processes information a little bit differently, and we all have preferred inputs which help us soak up concepts faster.
Are you a visual learner, and like looking at sales charts or pictures? Do you most enjoy listening to marketing podcasts? Or do you need to get out there and start using new technology like a website for things to really sink in? Find out which method suits you best, and prioritise it.
8) Teach other people
Have you ever found a concept elusive to grasp, but as soon as someone asks you to explain it you suddenly seem to ‘get it’? That’s no accident. Teaching information requires a different way of processing and organising ideas, much like you do when writing it down.
If you want to progress faster with your learning, find a small business community to discuss it with, and look for opportunities to share what you’ve learned with others. There are a number of marketing, design, IT, accounting and similar forums and groups out there already discussing the tools and techniques you’re picking up – join them and help newcomers with the information you’ve just learned.
Melissa Penn writes for First Class Capital, one of Australia’s most progressive lenders and supporters of small business. She is driven to provide practical, educational information to help small businesses succeed.