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I have a lot of computer learning to get through in the next 3 months. Given my current pace of learning and productivity system, I have no chance of succeeding.

The courses are similar to those offered by Coursera right now, some are all CBTs, some have some video lectures with exercises. They are all technical and have "tests" at the end.

How can I comprehensively and thoroughly improve every aspect of my productivity system tailoring it to learning and retention of computer courses delivered over the web?

Any technique, routine, system, useful tool, insight, etc. would be really appreciated. Reference material would be appreciated as well, but I will probably put that specific question to another forum on this network..


Material to learn

  • Video lectures (can control playback speed: 1.5x, 2x)
  • CBT, connect concepts, find answers, some interactivity to cement learning
  • Books, available as PDF
  • Slides, available as PPT and PDF (just for revision, all slides are in videos)
  • Topic: computer science


  • 3 months, give or take a few days (exam dates unannounced)


  • Learn material enough to pass the exam (mixture multiple-choice / exercises)
  • Multiple exams in the same week (can't just retain one, then another...)


  • Laptop computer
  • Tablet
  • Old graphics tablet (doodling, mind-mapping, handwriting side notes, etc.)


  • Very limited money (very!)
  • Almost unlimited time in the day, adaptable sleeping pattern
  • Flat-rate Internet connection
  • All required software already installed, tested, working


  • Can use/find quiet place to study, uninterrupted, undisturbed

About me

  • Age: in my 30s
  • Disposition: tranquil, motivated
  • No health problems (e.g. no back pain, ADD, etc.)
  • Good memory but below-average patience
  • Learn best by reading, understanding, applying concept, moving on (with some revision later on)
  • Have been successfully learning in the last years (not "rusty")
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What are you trying to learn? Very different techniques can apply for different fields. Learning programming, math, philosophy, history, science, music all take different approaches. – Muz Mar 25 '13 at 3:56
Computer science topics.. – Robottinosino Mar 25 '13 at 3:58

First: Take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep, nutritious food, and about 10 minutes of exercise each morning. Sleep is vital for memory management. Food and especially constant blood glucose levels are needed for your brain to function. You can't think well on sugar spikes and crashes, nor with over 12 hours between meals. Aim for low GI food.

The biggest threat to constantly learning at home is pushing yourself to breaking point, and then some more. Your brain will likely crash and burn, leaving you exhausted for a week.

You should look at the Pomodoro Technique if you haven't, which is generally studying for 30 minutes, then taking a 5 minute break. For more difficult subjects, I find that 45 minutes of work followed by a 15 minute break works better.

You want to pace yourself like a runner. If you push yourself too hard, you will tire early. Instead, push yourself moderately and sprint near the deadline. Most people can afford about 200 minutes of concentrated work a day. Note that I've stated it as minutes, not hours - many people sit at work 8 hours a day, but in reality spend about 4 of those hours zoning out or doing side tasks like answering emails.

You're best off being completely honest with yourself and forcing yourself for a few intense hours, instead of zoning out the whole day on difficult topics, but trying to hit 12 hours a day. The 25-45 minute full concentration sprints work best for this.

Every morning, get a good breakfast, then aim to do the most difficult thing at the start of the day. You'll likely have too many things to do, so go for the hardest (and usually the most important) while you're at your peak.

You will definitely need some entertainment despite the lack of time, so aim for it at the end of the day (not the start!) or as a reward for putting in your 25-45 minutes of work. Just be sure to limit the time spent on your entertainment, i.e. don't watch more than a TV episode without having done an hour of work and so on. But be careful not to punish yourself either.

share|improve this answer
Sleep: too right. Without it, I just stare at the page making no progress whatsoever. No sugar spikes: again too damn right, will follow that. Pomodoro technique: I'll try that! Only 3 hours (200min) per day? I am doomed then! My biorhythm is: mentally active at nights (I have worked night-shifts at a tollbooth and sometimes still do). Rewards? THAT IS A GREAT IDEA and, I must say, it works with me! Thanks!! You don't answer the critical section of the question, though, a lot to get through.. limited time. Otherwise I would accept! – Robottinosino Mar 26 '13 at 12:45
200 minutes is actually the amount of productive time most people use 8 hours for. Believe it or not, most office workers are unproductive half the time, as they get distracted by email/phone/coworkers or simply trying to "get into the zone". This is mostly in 'forced' time.. doing something that takes no effort, like listening passively, doesn't count. Everyone has limited time, which is why you should tackle the hard problems in shorter bursts, rather than tiring yourself out working long hours on the easier low quality things. This varies, but I'm assuming you're doing difficult topics. – Muz Mar 26 '13 at 15:36
I think you are not too far off when you say 200 mins of "hard" stuff, but one can use the other time intelligently! (schedule less intensive but necessary tasks for times you know you are sub-par mentally..) – Robottinosino Mar 26 '13 at 16:29

Do you know the type of learner you are? If not follow the questions on the below link which will help you answer that question:

Personally I'm a kinaesthetic learner (i.e. I learn by doing), so the best advice I can give is to start a project which involves drawing on the skills you're learning. Putting these skills into play will allow you to understand the why behind the theory, which for me helps retention (i.e. I don't need to recall specifics; I can use my understanding to work them out for myself). For other types of learning I can't say, but finding out how you learn will help you to optimise your approach.

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Thanks a lot for answering! I can't use that website as it requires a plugin I can't install. I think I might be the same type of learner as you, I have updated my Q with that info.. Do expand on your answer if you have some more ideas.. and, again, thx! – Robottinosino Mar 26 '13 at 12:41
Nice test! I am a kinaesthetic learner too. +1 – Gaʀʀʏ Apr 4 '13 at 19:41

If you have a lot of videos to watch, try increasing the playback speed if your player allows it. Windows Media Player does it well (for .wmv anyway). With a little bit of practice, you can watch videos at twice the original speed and, hence, watch it in half the time.

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That is golden advice, thanks. I already mastered that but it's useful as a reminder nonetheless.. any more ideas? – Robottinosino Mar 26 '13 at 12:42

First of all, don't stress yourself into finishing all the lectures you have lined up. It's not wrong to want to learn everything but you should be able to concentrate more and be motivated if you have a specific goal in mind.

Try to focus on a specific technology, for example, if you wanted to learn web programming, make sure that you focus first on the 3 basic technologies related to the web namely HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

After you limited your scope, make sure to prioritize. In my example, you should prioritize learning HTML since it's essentially the key in starting your journey to web development as it provides the data. Next thing you should learn would be CSS which provides the layout and lastly, JavaScript which provides the logic of a webpage and is much harder to learn than the other two as it not only involves learning all the syntax but also it requires you to think more deeply.

Only expand on other technologies once you are confident in your skills because concentrating on one skill set is much better than trying to learn everything at the same time.

share|improve this answer
So, your advice is: set clear goals.. (maybe daily? hourly?) I can't follow the advice of doing one thing after the other, need to test on all tracks in the same week (this is common in Uni-like courses, isn't it?) – Robottinosino Mar 26 '13 at 12:42

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