I wrote this emergency plan for myself in preparation for prolonged periods of little/no free time, and I figured other people might benefit from this, so, after some adjustments, here it is.
It also would be great if you could add any thoughts you might have about the plan and the general subject.
Assumption: you have all the time you need to do your job well and to take good care of yourself (sleep, eat, exercise, interpersonal interactions, other personal needs) and of your personal responsibilities (family, bureaucracy, whatever), but no other time for any hobby or small side thing.
(These are some scenarios I have in mind when this might occur)
You have a normal job and some other major thing going on, like: a side job, a long and tiring commute, someone in your care that requires continuous attention (like a baby or a disabled relative), some medical condition, some other activity that has to take all your free time (like volunteering, an agonistic sport, where you can’t cut down the hours). These are your priority, but you may find yourself in need of some extra knowledge - to improve your career, to better care for your loved ones/yourself/others, for some other practical purpose, or really just because you crave some more understanding/knowledge or extra mental activity. So…
Question: what is the best way to go about learning things in this context?
Here is my idea of what could help.
If you are not yet in the no-free-time period, you can prepare in advance:
- Make a list of your routine idle moments (when you can more actively think, memorize, or read) and movement moments (when you can be listening to a podcast/audiobook/lecture, or even think a little bit too)
- Prepare palaces:
- Make a list of all the memory palaces from places you already visited, with all their locations
- Prepare a list of the kinds of memory palaces that you could easily build in a minute
- Have ready a bunch of materials for making handheld memory devices which you can build one piece at a time in your idle moments.
- Prepare a few palaces for only temporary storage
- Prepare for what you want to learn:
- Make a list of the things you want to learn most (books, lectures, lists of names, etc)
- Make characters/images of the main concepts/things in the subjects you’re interested in (ex: countries, elements, authors, laws of physics, body systems), either building on what you already know about them or just on the name, and place them in their palace (so later when you will learn new things you’ll just have to attach the new knowledge there where it belongs)
- Prepare a calendar on which you can write a couple lines per day (physical or virtual, whichever is easiest to access)
- Do now as if you already were in the no-free-time period, and note any adjustment you can make to improve the process (of course if you have a lot of extra time now you can learn more and in different ways, but keep things separate: the stuff you learn for your no-free-time testing should be different from the stuff you work on in the real free time you still have now.)
If you are in the no-free-time period:
- In case you had no preparation time and skipped the previous part, now what you really need is: a calendar, a quick way to make palaces, a book/audiobook, and some moments in your day during which you can do the activities below
- During the movement moments:
- Listen to stuff you want to learn from. (Remember that you can go slower or pause.)
- Either during idle moments or during movement moments (depends on preference and context):
- Recognize the main points you want to remember (Main points = whatever the lecturer thinks are the main points + things you could use in real life + things you might help others with + your personal epiphanies from the lecture. Leave out everything else)
- Convert them to some good memorable image/story.
- Put them in their palace (If their palace is not ready yet, put them in a temporary one and later today transfer them to the final one.)
- During the idle moments:
- Write in the calendar a title for what you read/listened to today and where you stored it
- Look up on the calendar what you learned yesterday and where you stored it, and review it
- Also do this for the day it was one week ago, one month ago, three months ago, one year ago, and then once a year forever (adjust times as needed)
- Mark the thing you reviewed so you know you’ve done that. If you reviewed something from a year ago, write it again on the current day marking it for yearly review.
- If you skipped the review yesterday, do it for yesterday too (and any day you might have skipped)
- Prepare your next palace (build it or, if pre-made, just go through its locations so it’s ready for use)
- Read if you have extra time
- If you forgot something, that’s fine, think why might that be, fix the reason for the future if possible, and move on.
Here are more details in case they’re useful:
Special cases when time doesn't exactly fit the plan
- If you don’t actually have enough time to take reasonable care of your job/self/responsibilities → you should focus on how you can improve the situation
- If you tend to fall behind in reviews but have time for listening → review while re-listening (maybe at double speed)
- If you don’t have time for reviews and feel rushed → take a break - just listen for some time to something interesting you don’t care to memorize, don’t worry, and review anything missing once you have time. Get back to the routine only once you feel it’s okay.
- If this is way too much for your actual spare moments → just memorize lists of things/facts, one bit of information at a time (like: one item every three days), but still use some places for storing and a calendar for reviews.
- Favor things that you might encounter in real life so later you can build on them spontaneously. Ex: if you talk about music with your friends, memorize all the titles of Verdi’s operas; if you hear about sports from your colleagues, memorize all Champions League winners; if you like thinking about philosophy, memorize a list of philosophers.
Other small adjustments
- You can reuse the same palace, attaching new things on things that are already there, but at some point it will get overcrowded. Experiment with what level of crowdedness you feel comfortable with.
- You never listen to chapters/lectures beginning-to-end, but usually start from somewhere in one lecture and end up somewhere else in another lecture. That’s okay, just write down what is the chapter once you finish it (so it’s easier for later reviews), but don’t wait too long for reviewing the first part even if you didn’t finish it.
- When you review something after one year, it’s probably a good idea to make things more compact at this point, like, if you learned the chemical elements over a month’s period, now after the first year, instead of writing entries like “chem el 11-18: frozen section at closest supermarket” on each day, you just write “periodic table: closest supermarket and park” on one of those days.
- Learning something one day practically means that you are committing for some time in the next few days to review it, but your actual spare moments vary a lot over different days. So maybe if you have some extra spare moments one day you can just do something else, just to be kind and avoid overwhelming your future self.
Examples of idle moments
- At work: waiting for someone’s answer that’s blocking your immediate task, waiting for something to process/compile/load/start, during breaks (if you work at a desk you must get up and look away one minute every 20-30 minutes anyway, and take a much longer break every few hours).
- At home: waiting for the microwave, waiting on the phone
- Other: when on a line, waiting anywhere safe, commuting
Examples of movement moments
- At work: whenever the task is more manual and less mental (carrying light boxes, driving, etc)
- At home: doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, exercising
- Other: daily walk/run, commuting
More on palaces
- Palaces already experienced:
- Non-spatial: songs, real stories, fictional stories
- Spatial: houses, public buildings, walks, video-games, objects
- Palaces you could build in a minute:
- Artworks: paintings, statues
- Example: Monna Lisa: veil, eye, nose, mouth, neck, dress, drape, sleeve, hands, chair, wall, road, rocks, water, sky.
- Just the quick act of identifying the places will make them easy to remember. You can go more or less in detail whatever is easiest for you.
- Make your books on art easily accessible, make a list of sites that have varied artworks
- Ads or pictures on magazines might work too.
- Artworks: paintings, statues
- Palaces to physically build: lukasa, bracelet
- Keep next to your desk a bunch of stones, cardboard pieces, glue, beads, objects, strings, markers
- Palaces for temporary storage:
- Hands, body, pegs