Learn Like a Pro Book Summary - Learn Like a Pro Book explained in key points
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Learn Like a Pro summary

Barbara Oakley and Olav Schewe

Science-based Tools to Become Better at Anything

4.4 (313 ratings)
22 mins

What is Learn Like a Pro about?

Learn Like a Pro: Science-based Tools to Become Better at Anything (2021) looks at the most powerful strategies for staying focused and learning effectively. Both coauthors draw on their past struggles with learning, and use insights from experts and research to find out what works and what doesn’t. 

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    Learn Like a Pro
    summarized in 7 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 7

    Use the Pomodoro Technique to focus in 25-minute intervals, stay on track, and minimize distractions.

    It’s tough to focus in today’s tech-heavy world – so tough, that you may yearn for a bygone era when life was simple and distractions were limited. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t any easier to focus in the past than it is today.

    You’ve probably heard of the French writer Victor Hugo. He wrote the novel Les Misérables. He lived in the 1800s. And he also struggled with focus. According to one legend, he motivated himself by working in his study completely naked, with nothing but a pen and piece of paper. His attendant was instructed to unlock the door only after he’d finished writing.

    This worked well for Hugo, but what are you supposed to do if you don’t have an attendant and prefer to work fully clothed? Fortunately, we have modern methods for staying focused and overcoming procrastination. Perhaps the most powerful of these is the Pomodoro Technique.

    The key message here is: Use the Pomodoro Technique to focus in 25-minute intervals, stay on track, and minimize distractions.

    In the 1980s, Italian university student Francesco Cirillo took a stab at tackling his own tendency to get distracted. He did this by dividing his learning time into 25-minute chunks of intense focus, separated by five-minute breaks. He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to time himself, and called each chunk a Pomodoro, the Italian word for tomato. It works like this.

    First, remove anything from your workspace that might distract you. This includes unnecessary clutter and open tabs in your browser. And turn off notifications on all your devices.

    Then, set a timer for 25 minutes and work with as much focus as possible. Actual emergencies aside, everything else can wait until you’re done. If you finish your task early, use the remaining time to check your work.

    When the timer rings, relax for five minutes – but keep away from your phone, the internet, and reading, since these don’t allow your brain to recharge fully. Instead, make a cup of tea, or go for a walk. This short mental break gives your brain time to transfer the material you’ve just studied into your long-term memory.

    So why is the Pomodoro Technique so effective? It stops you from multitasking, which hurts focus. In fact, a University of Michigan study found that participants who switched to a second activity before finishing the first showed 30 to 40 percent drops in cognitive performance.

    Only about 2.5 percent of people can successfully transition among multiple complex tasks. For everyone else, there’s the Pomodoro Technique. 

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    About the Author

    Barbara Oakley, PhD, is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in California. In addition to teaching several popular MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on Coursera, Oakley has also written numerous books on learning, such as Learning How to Learn and Mindshift.

    Olav Schewe is founder and CEO of Educas, an education start-up in Oslo, Norway, that helps students learn more effectively. He is also a consultant for Kahoot, one of the largest educational companies in the world. Schewe’s book Super Student has been translated into 17 languages.

    Who should read Learn Like a Pro?

    • Students looking to supercharge their learning
    • Anyone who has struggled to learn something new
    • Education gurus

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