“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune”— Jim Rohn
If you invest in your education every day you’ll experience compounding benefits — for the more you learn, the easier it is to acquire new knowledge.
Today, I’ll share 14 simple learning habits you can include in your daily schedule to help you broaden your knowledge and deepen your understanding of the subjects you want to learn more about.
I’ll also go over six principles for effective self education and three example self education daily routines, including my own.
6 Principles for Effective & Sustainable Self Education
Below are some things to keep in mind when creating a self education plan. Following these principles will help you get the most out of the time you devote to self-directed study.
Follow Your Curiosity
Listen to your interests and study the topics, books, and courses that captivate you the most.
By doing this, you’ll pay close attention when you’re studying the topic, and as a result retain more of what you read or hear.
Too many times have I created self-education plans filled with books that I felt I should read. Every time I make this mistake I end up giving up after 1-2 books in the plan. Then I feel like a failure.
Pick your interests, whether it’s US military history, biology, or cars, and learn all you can about it. Don’t feel guilty for studying something you love. You’re nurturing something big and powerful within you that’s crying to be fed.
To learn another strong reason to follow your curiosity like a child follows its mother — close behind and ever trusting — check out my article on how to use reading to find your calling.
Aspire for T-Shaped Knowledge
“Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” — Thomas Huxley
When someone has T-shaped knowledge it means they have depth in one subject/skill and basic knowledge of many others.
Someone with t-shaped knowledge might be an expert in political philosophy and have a working knowledge of the big ideas in every academic discipline.
Elon Musk is an expert in business and rocket science but also has a familiarity with philosophy, history, and other subjects.
If an annual self-education plan took the form of a reading list of 40 books, it might include 20 books on one topic and 20 books spanning 20 topics. This would surely improve your T-shaped knowledge base.
Make Daily Learning Part of a Bigger Plan
When you make your daily learning habits part of a bigger plan, you’ll feel more motivated to do them.
You’ll know you’re working towards something grand and that each 30-minute session of studying is a step in the right direction..
Put Aside at Least 30 Minutes Every Day for Learning
30 minutes is doable for most people. For example, you could read for 30 minutes in the morning, or 30 minutes before bed (though you’ll probably read more deeply in the morning).
Audiobooks and podcasts allow you to double this to an hour pretty easily. You could listen to an audiobook every evening while cooking dinner or during your commute.
Of course, feel free to do more than thirty minutes. In general, the more time you spend learning, the better the results.
Always Look Stuff Up
If you don’t know a word while reading, look it up. If a friend is talking about a current event that makes no sense to you, read a news article about it after the conversation.
You’ll be surprised at how much random knowledge you’ll pick up if you live by this rule for just a year.
I’m currently staying in Minnesota on a cross country road trip. I knew nothing about the state so I looked it up.
Now I know that it has the most golfers per capita out of any US state and, because of its lakes, more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined.
Will facts like these help your career or life in any way? Taken alone, the answer is most certainly not.
But over time you’ll accumulate facts and soon be carrying your trivia team on your back, which we all know is the best indicator of success.
Apply What You Learn
This could be as simple as talking with a friend about what you’ve been reading about. I have a weekly zoom call with a friend, mostly to have fun, but we always end up talking about stuff we’re learning or reading.
Every fact, idea, or concept that I reference or discuss with him is immediately forced deeper into my long-term memory.
And as a well-read lawyer with a slightly disagreeable temperament, he often shines light on my half-baked ideas or incomplete understandings of whatever I’m talking about, usually with an obnoxious tilt of his head, a soft smile, and raised condescending eyebrows.
As you can imagine, initiating this infuriating reaction is something I’d like to avoid, so I take more care when discussing my learnings with him, which makes me a more precise and thoughtful speaker as well.
Applying what you learn could also be as intensive as starting a YouTube channel or blog about a certain topic, like military history or Russian literature. You can make money by doing this.
Teaching your topic through writing will uncover your gaps in knowledge, and also force you to learn more in the research process.
If you’re learning practical knowledge, like cooking techniques or ways to be better at your job, actually make an effort to practice these new skills in real life.
14 Simple Ways to Educate Yourself Every Day
There are so many ways to squeeze learning into the nooks and crannies of even the busiest of days.
Below I’ll cover 14 strategies to do so, from reading a classic every morning to watching a Ted Talk at lunch.
There’s no need to integrate all of these methods into your daily routine; that’d be a bit of a tall task.
Just test out a few and see which ones work best for you.
Do the Bradbury Trio Challenge
In a lecture to a group of aspiring writers, Ray Bradbury, the famous novelist, gave his listeners a challenge.
He instructed them to, for the next 1,000 nights, read 1 short story, 1 poem, and 1 essay.
This is a great way to develop literary and intellectual range at a slow and steady pace. His thinking is that it fills your head up with all sorts of ideas that clash during sleep and help you produce original ones of your own.
Read a Novel Every Night
I’ve been doing this for a while now. Night is the perfect time to slip away into your imagination with the help of a good book. Novels also educate you, albeit in ways that aren’t immediately noticeable.
They improve your empathy by forcing you to think about characters and how they feel. They expand your vocabulary by exposing you to new words, and increase your knowledge by exposing you to new ideas.
For more reasons to read novels, check out Harvard’s article The Case for Reading Fiction.
Read a Non-Fiction Book Every Morning
Even reading just 20 pages of a non-fiction book every morning will allow you to finish a book every 2 weeks.
By a conservative estimate, that’s around 24 books per year, far more than the average person reads.
To motivate yourself, consider creating an annual reading plan of the 24 books you want to get through this year. Here are some groundbreaking non-fiction books to consider reading.
Watch Ted Talks at Lunch
In college when I was feeling introverted, which was often, I used to grab sushi or chick-fi-let and take it to some table outside where I’d watch a Ted Talk on my phone.
One of my favorites is the one on fear-setting by Tim Ferriss, one of the most impressive living autodidacts:
Ted Talks are a great way to learn one big idea that’ll help you lead a more successful and fulfilling life, and they’re usually under 20 minutes.
Read 1 News Story & 1 Op-Ed Every Morning
Want to stay informed on what’s happening in your country or across the globe? Read one news story from a trusted, preferably unbiased, news source, as well as one op-ed (aka opinion article).
Op-eds are one of my favorite forms of news media. They’re short articles in which one person gives their opinion on something — a social trend, a political event, or cultural icon, etc.,
They usually contain concise and persuasive arguments that test your judgment and critical thinking while also expanding your understanding of the given topic.
Another thing you could do to stay informed just enough to know what the hell people are talking about is to skim the headlines and subheadings of the newspaper or news site.
Study the Classics Every Morning
Consider following a reading program like The Great Books of the Western World that includes the most influential books ever written.
You could also create a list of your own that’s confined to one subject — for instance, the greatest novels ever written in the English language.
After creating a reading program, read each morning, treating your studies like a devout Christian treats Bible study. Read closely and deeply, for 30 or so minutes.
And approach your studies with the knowledge that hard mental work will lead to wisdom, ideas, and understanding.
To enhance your intimacy with the book, jot down your thoughts and reflections in a notebook, and mark up the passages and quotes that speak most to you.
If you want to embark on a transformative journey through the most important books of all time,
here’s a link to the 60-volume collection of The Great Books of the Western World (affiliate link that helps me grow this site).
Many of the books are old and can therefore be found online for free. But this is a pretty cool set to have in your library for reference.
Play Freerice.com When You’re Bored
Freerice.com is a site that helps you improve your vocabulary while feeding those in need. For every correct answer, ten grains of rice are donated to the UN World Food Programme.
I used to play this all the time in high school. It was one of the few teacher-approved computer lab activities I didn’t mind doing.
Listen to Audiobooks During Commutes
With an audiobook app like Audible, you can listen to books while you commute to and from your place of work.
Audible offers a 30-day free trial where you get 1 free audiobook (2 if you’re an Amazon Prime member).
For denser, more complex works of fiction and non-fiction that I want to really study and write a review on, I prefer physical books so I can mark them up.
But audiobooks are great for books on the easier side. And you can still take notes if your hands are free.
I find that listening to fantasy novels in bed in the darkness of the night allows me to vividly imagine the events and settings in my mind’s eye, something that’s a bit harder to do when my eyes are open reading a physical book.
I also get to feel like a kid again, being read a bedtime story, which is always nice.
Listen to Free Online Lectures During Walks
Consider listening to lectures during your walks. I love the free lecture series from real Online Yale Courses.
Recently I’ve been listening to the Civil War history course lectures:
This is a great way to get part of a Yale education for free during your breaks in the day. Plus, I find that walking helps me retain what is being said. I could never pay attention to lectures while sitting in a classroom. My mind would always wander after twenty minutes or so.
It’s as if walking allows my body to wander so that my mind can stay still.
Listen to Podcasts While Showering or Cooking
Podcasts are an excellent and entertaining way to learn and hear multiple perspectives on one issue or question.
This is especially true if you watch podcasts that cater to people who like to be intellectually challenged, like the Lex Fridman podcast.
Lex often interviews academics and authors from a wide range of fields — history, philosophy, art, physics, computer science — and isn’t afraid to push back when he disagrees with their arguments or feels greater clarity is needed.
He recently did one with Zuckerburg. Here’s a clip from it:
My appetizer is often a hearty podcast. I love listening to them while I cook. You could also listen to them while showering or driving. They pair well with any rote activity.
Take Online Courses After Work
Open Yale Courses offers free recordings of Yale lecture series on a variety of subjects, from the rise and fall of capitalism to the frontiers and controversies in astrophysics.
You can also find informative online courses on sites like Coursera or Udemy that come with quizzes and assignments.
Whatever topic you’re trying to learn about likely has a corresponding online course that’s affordable and well-crafted. Google is your friend here.
Read Blogs While on the Toilet
I have a bit of a confession to make — no, it’s not that I write my articles while sitting on the toilet and therefore think that they should be read on the toilet for maximum effect.
It’s something a less disturbed than that, but still a bit silly in some circles.
When I worked in sales I picked up the habit of sitting on the toilet when I peed (I’m a man).
Working in an open office (an office designed by extraverts to torture introverts), it was only in a stall that I could escape the eyes of managers and co-workers and buy some time for myself.
Sometimes I went into a stall even when my bodily functions called for no such thing. It was my “me time”.
What I found was that this was also an excellent time to read blog posts and learn about freelance writing.
And ever since, even now that I don’t work in an office, the habit is still with me. To this day I often pee just to spend some time reading a blog post or two, and I recommend doing the same.
Watch Documentaries Instead of TV Shows
At the end of a long day I default to Netflix and snacking. It’s a habit that’s hard to kick, and one I haven’t put that much thought into quitting, because, hey, we all need our vices and a few hours of tv and chips and salsa isn’t actually bad.
But, lately I have been trying to use that time to learn about something interesting by watching a documentary instead of the latest drama.
Binge Crash Course
I’m a big fan of using Crash Course to get an outline of whatever subject I’m studying at the time. I’ve also used it to just gain some basic understanding of the big ideas in the major fields of study.
Each series is around 30-40 videos long, and each video is playful and entertaining while still maintaining an educational function. These are great for watching during a break or while you’re eating lunch.
3 Example Self Education Daily Routines
Below are three potential self education routines to consider copying or borrowing from. Each includes a mix of several self-education methods that I covered above.
Hopefully seeing some examples will help you structure your own daily learning routine and identify gaps in your day that you can devote to study.
My Daily Self Education Routine
Here’s a glimpse at my daily self-education routine at the moment. It changes from quarter to quarter but always tends to follow the same general structure. Also, I often miss study sessions. I’m far from perfect. This is just the ideal day:
|9:30 AM (pre-writing)
|Read non-fiction for 30 minutes.
|1:00 PM (lunch)
|Read a classic novel for 30 minutes.
|3:00 PM (afternoon walk)
|Listen to a Yale online course lecture or podcast.
|6:00 PM (cook dinner)
|Finish the Yale online course lecture or podcast.
|8:00 PM (study session)
|Read a non-fiction book (history or philosophy) for 30 minutes.
|11:00 PM (pre-sleep)
|Read a novel. If my eyes get tired I switch to audiobooks.
Self Education Routine for People With Busy Lives Example
Below is a self education routine that could work well for someone with a 9-5 job who’s also raising a family.
|8:30 AM (before work)
|Read news related to your industry.
|12:00 PM (lunch)
|Read 15 pages of a non-fiction book.
|5:00 PM (commute)
|Listen to an educational podcast or an audiobook.
|7:00 PM (cooking)
|Continue listening to the podcast or audiobook.
|10:00 PM (before bed)
|Spend 5 minutes journaling about your learnings, then read a novel until you go to sleep.
Intensive Topical Expertise Self Education Routine Example
Below is an example of a daily self education routine that someone trying to gain expertise in a specific topic or subject might follow.
For the example, I’ll use political philosophy, since it’s one of my favorite subjects. Know that the structure could be applied to any subject of interest.
|6:30 – 8 AM (morning studies)
|Study a classic work of political thought (e.g., Plato, Rousseau, Marx)
|8:30 – 9 AM (commute)
|Listen to the news and think about how the classic writer you’re currently reading may react.
|12 – 1 PM (lunch break)
|Work through your online political philosophy course.
|7-8 PM (night study session)
|Read a more modern work of political science.
|10 – 11 PM (pre-sleep)
|Reflect on your learnings in a journal then read a novel with political themes.
If you want to become an authority in a few select fields of knowledge, check out my guide for how to become well-read in 1-3 years.
Follow a Systematic Approach to Learning a Subject
The best way to stay motivated when engaging in ongoing self education is to choose a learning goal and orient your daily study activities around it, so that each activity supports an exciting long term mission.
If you want to find ways to self-learn a topic systematically, whether it’s psychology or art history, I highly recommend checking out the self education roadmaps section of Knowledge Lust.
Reviewing a roadmap or following one will teach you how to approach your studies in a deliberate and focused manner.