I Don't Have Time to Learn!

I Don't Have Time to Learn!

Oh, the age-old phrase, "I don't have time," (originally attributed to a caveman, ca 12,000 B.C., when asked by his wife to skin a mammoth). It's as common as it is untrue; the fact is, we are all given 24 hours in a day. The trick is to determine what it's best worth using for.


Setting aside time is merely just one aspect of learning. You need to look at it from different angles and determine why and how you're doing it.

Learning How to Learn

One of the most important aspects of learning is understanding how to go about it. Chances are, the way you learned things in school may not be the best for you or in general. Exploring alternative learning techniques based on modern research is a great start.

Yes, everyone has their own unique ways of learning, from harnessing a strong visual memory to listening to audio books. Your school may not have taught you to find the best way for you, so do some soul searching to explore the scenario in which you best retain information.

I personally love video - and it's the reason why I teach through video format. You have to find what works best for you.

Make it Fun

This shouldn't be a big surprise: you need to make learning as enjoyable as possible. 

At school, I loved science and history. I had some great teachers that made it fun through unique learning experiences and engaging experiments. 

Inevitably, most experiences weren't that positive, usually because they applied a one-size-fits-all approach which didn't account for your unique learning style.

Luckily, there is no need to dwell on things that didn't work for you: make things fun by learning through the right format (video? audio books? workshops?) and in a subject you are passionate about.

Decide Your Personal "Why"

Learning can be a struggle at first. Heck, we all start off being pretty bad! So put it into perspective: why do you want to learn how to sculpt a human character? Surely you have a reason to, otherwise what's the point?

Maybe that sculpted human character is to be part of a fully animated/textured character in your next big game, so that gets you excited. Knowing proper topology for your character to be rigged and animated gets you one step closer to that goal.

That goal can make your whole process more worthwhile. If not, well, it's going to be difficult to push forward during tough points (and yes, they will come).

The Struggle Towards Mastery

One of my favorite books is Mastery by Robert Green. He argues that what we consider a gift or an incredible talent is really just the result of deliberate, relentless practice.

Becoming a master at anything takes time. The irony - and the reason why the absolute majority of people doesn't get there - is that until we become great at something, it will more than likely feel like a chore to continue practicing and learning. 

As you've probably experienced, certain elements of learning become easier the longer we learn, creating a snowball effect when things start to fall into place and make sense.

How do you get to that point? From learning in pieces, to chunks, then massive pieces. Think of it as a mountain. When you first start, you can't even see the top and you have a massive amount to learn from the bottom, but once you're halfway up you can see there's less and less to learn and your experience improves dramatically.

Goldilocks Rule and Seeing The Path Before You

The Goldilocks Rule, as stated by James Clear:

Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right. 

Bottom line: it's tough to truly enjoy learning when you step too far out of your current abilities. This applies to all forms of learning. Try something too far out of your current comfort zone and you're likely to feel confused and, what's worse, discouraged.

Learning is far more manageable and easier to progress through when you have a logical pattern of progression. It's one of the main reasons we here at CGCookie have learning flows, so you can see the beginning and the end - and all the bits in between.

It makes sense: you can't jump into developing a Tower Defense game without understanding the basics of the game engine or programming .

We also have exercises which help you to put into action what you've just learned. Finished learning about basics of modeling? Great, here's a simple exercise that is not too tough not too easy but right at your Goldilocks sweet spot.

Build the Habit

We are a collection of habits: from when we wake up, to what we most often eat, to how we think. Majority of our actions is dictated by habits we've engrained into ourselves. Good or bad, habits make who we are, so make them work for you - and make learning that much easier.

I'm a big fan of tracking things down on paper. As the saying goes “What gets measured gets done", and I like to keep track of my habit progression by using the X Effect. You can read more about it here: https://www.reddit.com/r/theXeffect/, the general gist is that you mark an X for every day that you accomplish your habit over 49 days. Make these habits specific. Instead of "learn 3d modeling", you instead say "create one 3d model". Make it measurable and easy to track.

Start small, don't try to create 5 new habits all at once because then you won't create any. Instead create one, two at most and track then daily. I like to keep my X Effect grid taped to my desk so I am constantly reminded of what I want to accomplish.

A great book on the subject is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, in it Charles discuss the habit process and breaks it down into different sections. It has some amazing stories about how some people work on autopilot through their habits. Also check out our favorite 5 tips for creating a new habit.

Just in Time learning: The Penguin Approach

Often, we get too ambitious and want to learn everything: I want to be a great programmer, animator, 3d modeler. I want to build a massive skill set to include on my resume. These things sound great in theory, but won't hold up over time.

Think about all the times you really understood something. If you're building a game and you don't quite understand why you're getting a bug, you'll eventually figure it out after searching online and testing out various methods of fixing it. Had you heard about that bug from someone else prior to it happening to you, you would've dismissed it or completely forgotten about it. You simply didn't get the information at the right time.

When I was in the military we often had condensed training that felt like taking a sip from a fire hose. When we learned something new we would often say "well, one more penguin just fell off", thinking of learning something new as a penguin on a sheet of ice. We only had so much room on that ice for a new penguin, before another was booted off. You can only retain so many things in your brain before you start to forget, so why not make those things important to what you're working on now?

I have a habit of wanting to learn some new skill, but have to stop myself and say why am I learning this? Why am I learning Python if I'm not actually using it actively in my daily life?  It's like trying to learn about the 10-mile path you're on when you can't see more than 2 feet in front of you.

Just in time learning is about learning what you need, when you need it. Keep those penguins on the ice if they're necessary. Don't load up on what you don't need to know at the moment. Make room for what you need to know now and swap out the unnecessary.

Just Get Started!

Getting started is often the hardest part. We like to see things as big mountains we have to overcome, but once we get started, these mountains soon turn to hills and we wonder what we ever feared. I myself like to create a daily task list. This includes everything I want to accomplish for the day to feel like I've done something useful. Having these tasks crossed off is a great visual indicator for me.

Create small, manageable tasks you can accomplish everyday. Don't watch an entire course in one day, instead dedicate yourself to watching one lesson. Make it so easy that it'll be ridiculous to avoid doing it.

Create a blank C# file in Unity, rotate a Cube in Blender, draw one brush stroke in Photoshop. Once you've started you'll find that you'll end up doing more than you initially thought, and if you did it right it might actually be a ton of fun to learn. Learning is never ending process. Make time for it, you deserve it. 

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  • Nestor Arellano (asoretzu)

    Great post, Jonathan! I'm definitely going to read the "The Power of Habit" and "Mastery" books these next month. :)

  • Matthew Fricker (frikkr)

    Thanks Jonathan , that was very informative :)

  • Irena White (increasy)

    Thank you, that was a great read and awesome book recommendation (I know and appreciate "The Power of Habit", gotta check out "Mastery") :)
    I'm personally a fan of the flow theory and try to utilize that :)

  • Omar Domenech (dostovel)

    Great post, Jonathan. Next up is to tackle "Overcome sleepiness when watching video training". Far too many people tell me, tutorials make me sleepy, no matter how engaging it is.

  • Spicy Birb (lasernate217)

    This type of talk was really needed for most people like myself, who enjoy the art of 3D modeling, game design, etc.
    Sometimes I have an idea in mind that seems brilliant in context, but I can't seem to do it unless I get better with Blender, so I usually gave up from time to time because the amount of work that I had to do was incredibly time consuming and draining. Eventually, I visited Blender again to give it another try. Of course, I did fail the exercise for digital sculpting and that slowed me down quite a bit, but I still managed to get some hope back and continue practicing what I love. I'm getting better with Blender every single day, so I dedicate as much of my time in order to create the ideas that I love. So in short, I'd say that learning Blender is like waiting in line for a roller coaster. The wait is long, but the reward is satisfying and gives you an adrenaline rush to keep you going for more.

    (Now all I need is a guide for how to stop procrastinating, haha)

  • diaoheyhey

    Totally agree with your opinions :)

  • Laura (tomato-cactus)

    Awesome article Jonathan! That Goldilocks rule is especially true. It's so tempting to jump into really complex (the "cool") things. But one step at a time indeed.. I'm still trying to not delve into projects too complicated (which I often do), it's hard to keep the motivation going many times. But I'm slowly working on improving all these different aspects :b

    Again, really informative, great links to check out, thanks again for sharing :)

  • Wiktor (happygamer)

    I really needed that post, today I started school and I was worried that I wont have time for blender but this post helped me understand that i crate the time and i choose to improve on my 3D modeling skills. thank you for the post :D

  • Jasmine Wongus (jazze)

    Wonderful post here! This is my problem with learning--I try to take on too much, I get discouraged, and then I fall down and freeze. It's nice to read this info about learning, just to know that I don't need to worry about taking more on than I should at the time. I just need to make a habit of keeping this assurance in mind. :)

  • Grady Pruitt (gradyp)

    For 6 or 7 years, I only dabbled in learning Blender. But when I decided to take it seriously and spend time every day working in Blender and at least some time every week learning something new, my skills exploded. I haven't been perfect on that commitment, but I've been far better over the last 4 years since doing that, and I'm always seeing improvement in my work and skills. My stuff today is night and day difference.

    It doesn't take a lot. If you just spend an hour a day learning something new for two or three months and spend at least an hour a day working in Blender, you'll find yourself far further along than if you just "dabble", working on a project here and there, occasionally learning something new.

    There will always be excuses...Back then, it was a lack of tutorials, poor internet, "not enough time".... Today, it's "old equipment", "not enough time", too many tutorials...

    Just start with what you have and focus on what you need to learn next for a particular project that you want to complete. Try to learn something new for each project you do, and you'll be on your way!

  • Xander Cornett (roboyed)

    Thanks Jonathon! Both motivating and informative!

  • Xander Cornett (roboyed)

    llasernate217 This, thousand times this (especially the last part)! That was my issue as well, had ideas but couldn't execute them due to my lack of knowledge, so I just stopped. I've recently gotten back into it with a new mindset that " my old thinking hasn't gotten me anywhere", and so far it's really beneficial for me at least, both mental and physically.

  • Spicy Birb (lasernate217)

    roboyed Thanks mate! I'm glad that someone can relate to how I felt when I first started learning Blender. :D

  • Peter Humphries (percy)

    very good might get me back on track, like the old saying in sales , plan your work and work your plan.

  • sowibra2002

    Very informative. Thanks Jonathan

  • Kyle Blaine (arcangel_zero7)

    Excellent post! A strategy that's really helped me is to start a somewhat ambitious project that's as close to the "Goldilocks Zone" as possible, but still forces me to learn something new. With Blender, that's been using my modelling skills to make a low-poly Battle of Hoth diorama (Will post it soon!). I didn't know how to rig a character before, or much about post-processing effects for starters, but I have been learning a whole ton "just in time" as I need it, as the project calls for it. :)

    My biggest sticking point is drawing and coding. Those are my hardest subjects to motivate, but I know I need them so! Will try out this "X habit" method. :)

  • emptym

    Wow, very inspirational! Thank you!

  • crew
    Jonathan Gonzalez (jgonzalez)

    Wow a lot of these comments I'm just seeing for the first time, didn't quite realize how many people enjoyed this article. Glad it could be useful for your all. I think this notion of not having enough time to learn usually comes down to your commitment to really improving even if it's difficult.

  • George Asiedu (gasiedu)

    very much what i needed to read. Iv had an account for ages and various other tutorials. i think my problem is the mountain. Making a game is definitely the goal but not knowing how to break that down into small chunks has been difficult. Gonna set the bar low and go from there. cheers for the insight and its been encouraging reading other comments. i plan to get mroe involved in the community side of CG cookie now as an absolute beginner

  • George Asiedu (gasiedu)

    llasernate217 haha ditto on the procrastinating, hope it goes well

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