Mind the learning gap

Learning new things is hard work. When you finally complete a project, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Everything is going your way, you’re smart and you can tackle anything. You deserve to take a break for a few weeks because you did such a good job and completed your project earlier than planned. It’s a dangerous time because you may fall in the learning gap, stalling your overall progress.

What is the learning gap? It’s the period between reaching a learning goal and starting to work on the next one. It’s dangerous, because if you stop for too long, you’ll break the habit that you built. Once you’ve stopped, it’ll be a lot harder to restart. While you’re still in the habit, it’s easy to swap the habit to work on the project you just finished for a new one. But if you have nothing productive to replace your previous project, you’re at risk to create a World of Warcraft or TV habit to fill the void in your schedule.

You’ll also break the momentum you have built if you stop for too long. If you keep working on a subject, it stays in the front of your mind and you’re building on the momentum of the previous sessions to improve. But if you want to keep improving on the same subject, but let things slide too far, you’ll need far more time to refresh your memory before getting started. It’s like when you come back from a vacation at work: you did not forget everything, but you’ll need some time to get your brain started again on the subject.

How do you fight this? You need to have a new project or a task already ready to go when you finish something so you can cross the gap. When you finish a task is the worst time to decide what is the next thing to do. You won’t be in the right state of mind for planning when you’re celebrating your completed project. It can easily lead to procrastination: if what you have to do next is not clear, your brain will do its best to avoid the problem by redirecting your attention to less productive pursuits.

So, when a project is coming to a close, you should already have taken a good look at your bucket list and have chosen what is the next thing you’ll do. When you’re done, you can more to something new immediately, and since you’ve been planning for a while you’ll anticipate playing with your new toys.

I’m not against rewarding yourself with a few days off, or taking a vacation to disconnect completely from everything computer-related to come back to it with a fresh perspective. But in that case, you must be mindful of the gap and jump back into learning when the break is over, or you’ll have to start from scratch building the habit. Keep the momentum going to fight procrastination and you’ll thank yourself for it.