To learn effectively, it’s more important to have good study habits than good study skills. Study skills include activities like taking notes, reading with comprehension, and preparing for exams. Study habits cover topics like time management, focus, and prioritization. Skills and habits are both important. But even with the best skills, it’s hard to overcome poor habits. You can be a champion speed reader with the ability to write every word of a lecture in real-time. But if you start studying an hour before an exam and have YouTube videos blaring in the background, you won’t get great results. In contrast, if you consistently plan what you need to get done in the coming week, follow your schedule diligently, and cultivate the ability to concentrate exclusively on the task at hand, you will succeed even without fancy study techniques.
Good study habits don’t happen on their own, especially given the incentives of the online attention economy. You have to develop them. For a practical habit handbook, it’s hard to do better than James Clear’s Atomic Habits. This week, I’ll cover a summary of key ideas in the book. Next week, I’ll suggest ways to apply these lessons to studying technical subjects.