To be successful in a rapidly changing field like IT, you need be learning constantly. So whether you need to know a new programming technique, a new management method, or everything about diagramming business processes, it’s helpful if you can learn to learn faster.

Here are seven steps to learning new things faster.

#1: Self-care.

Articles on learning are full of this stuff. Eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, take your vitamins, have a hobby, and so on. It all boils down to the same thing: Take care of yourself. If you’re hungry, sleepy, cranky, or out of shape, it’s going to be more difficult to learn.

#2: Prepare your learning environment.

When you’re going to be learning something new, set aside time for it where you won’t be interrupted and when you can focus on it. Designate a particular place to be and create a routine. That way, your brain begins to recognize that “it’s time to learn now” and gets ready for it, and better at it. Standing? Sitting? Music? No music? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is what works for you. Try different things out to see which ones work, and then stick to them.

#3: Find your learning style.

In what way do you learn best? If you prefer reading, videos, and so on, chances are you see yourself as visual. If you prefer listening to a podcast or a teacher, then it sounds like you’re auditory. If you learn best by writing things down, you may feel like kinesthetic is more your speed. But it just makes sense to use the style that works best for you. (In the movie Akeelah and the Bee, a little girl training for a spelling bee learns to spell words while jumping rope.) Each style has different techniques.

#4: Find your educational style.

Similarly, different people like learning in different ways. Some people want to start from the very beginning—“First, the earth cooled”—and go on from there. Others prefer to learn only what they need to know as they need to know it. Some people like learning individually, while others like learning in classes or with friends. Some people like having a teacher, while others like learning on their own. And obviously it depends on what you want to learn—it’s going to be easier to learn how to converse in a foreign language if you’ve got someone to talk to, for example.

#5: Use the 80/20 rule.

Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule is that 80 percent of the value comes from 20 percent of the subject. So when you want to learn something, figure out the 20 percent of it that’s the most valuable for you to learn, and focus on that. Say your goal is to learn enough of a language to communicate with staff members in it. You can probably get by with a couple of thousand vocabulary words and the present tense—you don’t necessarily have to learn the pluperfect subjunctive while you’re at it. You’re not trying to become a native speaker; you just need to be understood.

#6: Summarize what you learn.

Most articles on learning mention this but want to steer you to a particular method—usually the one favored by the writer. Really, there’s myriad methods for summarizing information, whether it’s writing it down, teaching it to someone else, drawing a mind map, or whatever. Remember #3? Use your own learning style and pick what works well for you.

#7: Practice, practice, practice.

As the saying goes, that’s how you get to Carnegie Hall. And don’t just practice your new skill, but also practice the stepping stones that teach you to learn better. Teach yourself something new just for the hell of it, so you can get practice learning. Practice reading faster. Memorize useless information so that you’ll know what works for you when you need to memorize something important.

There. Hope you learned something.

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