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The Value of Learning Something New (In 15 Minutes or Less)

Chelsea Iversen Mar. 25, 2020

In these unprecedented times, it’s possible that we're all a bit...underproductive.

Whether we're working with unlikely coworkers (some who need us to teach them math and feed them lunch), we're checking news updates, or we’re simply trying to stay above water when routines have been turned on their heads, we are in this together.

Plenty of us are also hungry for ways to get back some of our focus. There seems to be a collective desire to realign our lives to this new normal so there’s some semblance of routine (humans thrive off of routine), regularity, even joy.

The truth is, we all have a powerful tool at our fingertips that can supercharge our lives: We can learn something new.

We can do this anytime we like. The trick is, especially now, to learn new things at short clips at a time — just 15 minutes will do sometimes — to retain the most knowledge.

Here are some benefits of learning something new in 15 minutes or less:

You’ll feel better

Learning something new can actually make you happier. When you learn, your brain releases happy chemicals like dopamine throughout your body, giving you that I-want-more feeling. Fifteen-minute learning means you'll actually get to finish your task before being swept up into a work project or having to cook dinner. This has its perks too. Finishing a task actually gives you another dopamine hit — two for the price of one.

The positive feelings you get from learning can go a long way toward staving off the loneliness that's a common side effect of working from home — a way of life we're all adjusting to, like it or not.

Taking 15 minutes to learn is also a quick way to invest in yourself — another reason to be happy. Not only can learning new skills help you advance your career and stay up to date on industry trends in the short term, education is actually linked to mental acuity and life expectancy.

You’ll explore what you like

Learning something new, especially in a short amount of time, allows you to dabble in various topics and explore your curiosity. As you do so, you may discover topics that pique your interest — topics that you wouldn’t have been able to explore otherwise. Part of the beauty of short snippets of learning is that you can develop the skills you need to become proficient in your areas of interest, aligning your curiosity with your skillset with little to no risk.

As adults, we rarely allow ourselves opportunities to embrace our curiosity. But the truth is, curiosity is part of being human. And autonomous learning can lead you closer to concepts, skills, and topics that draw you in. Exploring through brief learning sprints could lead to new skills that can move you forward (or laterally) in your career.

You’ll unleash your creativity

Continuous learning can increase your creativity and capacity for innovation. On the other hand, doing the same things every day — getting stuck in a routine that doesn't include learning new things — can actually have the opposite effect. Without novelty, we are essentially less creative.

You’ll remember better

Short courses allow you to focus on other things between learning sessions. During this time, when you're presumably working, enjoying leisure time, or learning something else, you're giving your mind a chance to forget the material you learned earlier.

Though it seems counterintuitive, forgetting is actually essential to knowledge retention. Dips in memory give your brain time to process the information you've learned. "Forgetting your experience is essential to being able to transfer skills from one job to another," says polymath Danny Forest. In other words, the space between learning is where ideas synthesize.

You’ll avoid cognitive overload

The other benefit to learning in short, rather than long, periods of time, is to avoid getting bogged down, cognitively speaking. Your brain works hard to prioritize the things you learn — and you can remember approximately seven new things at once, give or take two. The fact is, we don't need to remember everything we learn, and our brain knows this. It automatically makes room for the important things and classifies the rest as background noise.

The problem when you learn too much at one time is that your brain actually stops learning at a certain point. What you learn after that is categorized as superfluous and won't be easily retained. Short bursts of learning are ideal to combat cognitive overload to help you maximize retention.

Try this course during your next 15-minute break: